UBC embarks on Canada-wide initiative to assess community engagement

Local and Global Engagement | Strategy 20: Co-ordinated Engagement
Theme: Collaboration

This year, UBC has joined an intensive and collaborative process that aims to transform community engagement in Canadian institutions: the Canadian pilot for the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification. With this project, the university will not only contribute to a national effort, but also be able to conduct a deep self-study of its practices and look for improvement opportunities.

Currently, the classification is only applied to post-secondary institutions in the United States – where it is granted to over 350 campuses – but the Carnegie Foundation is looking for ways to expand it internationally. Together with other 15 universities, colleges and polytechnics from across Canada, UBC will work on assessing if and how this tool can be applied to the country’s context.

To understand more about the Canadian pilot and UBC’s role in it, we interviewed Adriaan de Jager, Associate Vice President, Government Relations and Community Engagement. He is also a member of the steering committee that is coordinating this effort at UBC.

Adriaan de Jager, UBC's Associate Vice President, Government Relations and Community Engagement
Adriaan de Jager, UBC’s Associate Vice President, Government Relations and Community Engagement

Q. What is the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification (CEC)?

Adriaan de Jager: The CEC is an American-based classification for community engagement activities of post-secondary institutions. It aims to assess how universities promote and pursue community engagement through an extensive review covering everything from institutional commitments and partnerships to professional development support for faculty and staff. The classification situates community engagement as integral to academic excellence, and encourages cultural change in universities by improving how they collaborate with their larger communities in a spirt of partnership and reciprocity.

Currently, the CEC is only available to U.S. institutions, but the Carnegie Foundation is piloting it internationally (currently pilots are taking place, or are being completed, in Ireland and Australia). The Canadian pilot was launched in 2019, and UBC is currently in the midst of completing the incredibly comprehensive assessment. In doing so we will work with the cohort of participating institutions to identify how it could be adapted to the Canadian context. For example, the American model doesn’t consider Indigenous engagement, and that’s something everyone in the Canadian cohort believes is essential in our assessment of community engagement.

Q: What excites you the most about the project?

AdJ: I’m excited about the cultural change potential of this initiative. We see it as a resource-intensive process of self-study, which will allow us to learn more about community engagement efforts throughout the whole university and to provide a support for scholars in the field. Moreover, the CEC has great potential to inform and sustain transformative change not only at UBC, but also across the entire Canadian post-secondary system.

So, it’s a great way for us to highlight community engagement in the academic context, supporting and being guided by the academic community to position UBC at the forefront of an exciting transformation in Canadian post-secondary education and to demonstrate UBC’s leadership in this area.

Q: Who is involved in this project?

AdJ: We have created a strong working group comprised of community engagement experts and leaders from different units across the university. They are responsible for engaging with colleagues across the university to collect and gather information, and to create content for the application.

We also have a steering group, which I’m a part of alongside Simon Bates, Associate-Provost, Teaching and Learning, and Angela Towle, Academic Director, Learning Exchange. We are actively involved at each stage of the process to offer direction and support to the working group. We are also working actively with a sponsors group of university leaders, and will continue to share our progress with other university leadership and the broader UBC community.

As we move through this process we will be guided by Sheryl Lightfoot, Senior Advisor to the President on Indigenous Affairs, with respect to Indigenous engagement, and are also working with the Indigenous Research Support Initiative and the First Nations House of Learning as members of the working group.

Q: How does UBC collaborate with the other institutions that are part of the Canadian pilot cohort?

AdJ: This is a very collaborative process. Before applications are due in May 2020, the cohort will regularly convene to discuss the process, compare notes in terms of progress, and share lessons learned. The first of these meetings took place in June 2019. While the Carnegie Foundation is providing some guidance, all 16 Canadian institutions are really driving the bus together to shape what a Carnegie assessment could be and mean for Canada.

Q: How does CEC support UBC’s strategic plan?

AdJ: The timing of this pilot couldn’t be better: it presents a unique opportunity for us to advance on our strategic priorities. In fact, UBC’s involvement in the CEC directly supports Strategy 20 (Coordinated Engagement) in UBC’s strategic plan. This process encourages us to come together as an institution and share what faculties, units and portfolios are doing in terms of community engagement. Moving forward, I’m optimistic that this work will help inform institutional decisions that support.