What is community engagement?

In 2013, SFU adopted and adapted the Carnegie definition of community engagement, describing it as the process of collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.

While many believe this to be a good definition, others question whether the definition suffices to support the dynamic range of work taking place at SFU, especially our international role and mandate as a research university in creating knowledge and encouraging innovation.

SFU's new Strategic Community Engagement Plan retains the full Carnegie definition of community engagement, and attends to the process and purpose of community engagement as a principled scholarly methodology that can be mobilized for the public good. Rather than present the definition to contain activity at SFU, the Plan intends to moblize it as a support, and even a call to action, for developing principled partnerships upon which to practice meaningful, equitable and impactful knowledge work. 

Community engagement describes collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity.

The purpose of community engagement is the partnership of college and university knowledge and resources with those of the public and private sectors to enrich scholarship, research and creative activity; enhance curriculum, teaching and learning; prepare educated, engaged citizens; strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good.

https://www.brown.edu/swearer/carnegie/about

The purpose of community engagement

SFU’s vision for the practice of community engagement described above builds on the 2013 definition that SFU adopted and is consistent to a greater extent with Carnegie’s fulsome definition of community engagement – a definition that goes on to describe the purpose of community engagement as the partnership of university knowledge and resources and those of the public and private sectors to:

  • Enrich scholarship, research, and creative activity
  • Enhance curriculum, teaching and learning
  • Prepare educated, engaged citizens
  • Strengthen democratic values and civic responsibility
  • Address critical societal issues
  • And contribute to the public good.

The importance of knowledge creation to community engagement

The core function of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Learning is the creation and dissemination of knowledge. Therefore, community engagement is seen as an enhancement to the process of the creation and dissemination of knowledge. The first three parts of the “purpose” section of the definition (i.e. enriching scholarship, research and creative activity; enhancing curriculum, teaching and learning; and preparing educated, engaged citizens) is core to the work. If the focus is placed on the last three components (i.e. strengthening democratic values and civic responsibility; address critical societal issues; and contribute to the public good) without inclusion of one or more of the first three, then the activity, while still important and good, is not what Carnegie means by community engagement.

Within this context, Carnegie views partnership as the fundamental transformation force.

  • Partnerships are the frame to enable us to co-create the knowledge we need to address the wicked problems our society is facing.
  • Partnerships require an openness to change and a power structure that is “power-with” instead of “power-over”.
  • Partnerships are developmental and become more complex over time. They are multifaceted and purpose driven, and are slow but transformative.