About the SFU Strategic Community Engagement Plan

The following content is taken directly from SFU's Strategic Community Engagement Plan

In 2011/12, thousands of students, staff and faculty – and many thousands more alumni, friends and supporters – joined the envision>SFU consultation process to identify core strengths on which SFU might build its future. What emerged was a vision of SFU as a leading engaged university defined by its dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research, and far-reaching community engagement.

In 2013 SFU mobilized an ambitious strategic plan for community engagement, prioritizing it as a foundational pillar alongside the university’s academic plan and strategic research plan. The 2013 Community Engagement Strategy defined five priority areas for plans of action: 1) Integration, 2) Reach, 3) Relationships, 4) Lifelong Learning, and 5) Being BC’s public square for dialogue on key public issues. Much progress has been made and is documented in various reports for the North West Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) and several internal reports. 

SFU’s dynamic vision for the deep integration of community engagement has set SFU apart. We are recognized as an international leader in community engagement by national foundations and peer institutions. And we’ve gained awareness of our reputation for community engagement through NWCCU accreditation, when our progress was noted in the Initial Accreditation Peer-Evaluation Report “…with commendation [as] a remarkably rich and varied array of community engagement programs that reflect and bolster the mission of the institution” (p. 30). We are showing national leadership with efforts that demonstrate that the post-secondary sector can use its assets to support social infrastructure, and SFU occupies a key role in the Talloires Network – an international association of institutions committed to strengthening the civic roles and social responsibilities of higher education. In 2017, we hosted a successful Community College and University Expo (C2U Expo). That same year, SFU became the first university in British Columbia, and one of only 50 higher educational institutions around the world, to earn the Ashoka U Changemaker Campus certification.

Currently, SFU is a presenting partner of the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification Canadian Pilot Cohort. Together with Brown University (the research and administrative home of the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification), SFU is shepherding a group of sixteen Canadian post-secondary institutions through the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification. Carnegie Classifications comprise a leading framework for describing institutional diversity in U.S. higher education. The Community Engagement Classification is intended to support a process for evaluation, institutional learning and transformation, the outcome of which is an institution in which high-quality community engagement is deeply rooted and pervasive.

Lessons we're learning

Units, departments, partnerships and portfolios across SFU continue to expand their community engagement activities and are learning much from the process. We've received suggestions and advice on how we can strengthen community engagement through internal consultations with key stakeholders, including interviews with all SFU Deans, the work of the Community Based Research Advisory Committee convened by the VP Research, explorations with faculty who are deeply engaged in community-engaged research and teaching, feedback from SFU’s Board of Governors, and consultation with external experts. We have also mined the related advice provided in the 2017 Re-engaging the Vision process as well as work conducted to update the Academic and Research strategic plans.

Some of the common themes related to ways to improve community engagement are detailed further in the Strategic Community Engagement Plan, but some of the lessons we're learning include:

  • Leadership matters.
  • SFU’s distributed structure provides a solid foundation for community engagement.
  • Defining community engagement is challenging.
  • There is a range of involvement with community engagement at SFU.
  • There/s joy (and pain) of cultivating authentic relationships with community partners.
  • Community engagement requires adaptation in administrative and funding structures.
  • How do you measure and evaluate community engagement?

Focus on building and supporting relationships

Community engagement demands that we pay attention not just to what we’re collectively trying to accomplish, but also to why and how we’re doing it. It asks us to “walk the talk”, and to attend compassionately and courageously to those things that help and hinder this process. Above all, it asks us to commit deeply to the collaboration required to develop ongoing shared purpose and accountability. In some cases, the impact that community engagement seeks to achieve is partially expressed in the quality of the collaborative relationships themselves, implying that SFU should grow its capacity for building healthy and mutually beneficial community-university relationships at all scales because those relationships are part of the impact.

Taking into consideration the synergistic relationship that exists between the effectiveness of initiatives and the quality of partnerships, a draft set of effectiveness principles for community-university partnerships has been initiated based on a literature review and qualitative research study involving SFU faculty, staff, students and community partners (see Appendix 2 of the Strategic Community Engagement Plan).

Ambitious examples of community-engaged work challenge us to explore the value of co-creation in research and pedagogy, issues of power and privilege, and considerations of prevailing epistemology – what should “count” as knowledge. Such explorations push the edge of innovation in teaching, research and creative activity in ways that may require exciting and bold innovations in university administration, policy and practice.

Community engagement challenges us personally. It invites us to consider that our capacity to work within respectful and mutually beneficial relationships towards shared purpose requires the courage for personal as well as institutional transformation of self and practice – how we go about this work, and how that in turn transforms the institution, are, in fact, important key outcomes of community engagement.

Goals, Strategies and Recommendations for a Renewed Plan

In consideration of the global context, the community engagement literature, SFU’s history and the feedback we’ve heard, care is warranted as we approach a strategy, or strategies, for community engagement. The relationships, networks and co-creative processes that underpin this work are important to care for, because shared ownership and vision are not only a desired outcome, they are essential instruments for realizing sustainable, meaningful impact. Any strategy must be responsive and adaptable, it must be capable of instigating ambitious work while remaining flexible enough to nurture that emerging work as it grows by responding to its needs. It must guide rather than prescribe. To that end, instead of a prescribed set of specific actions and outcomes, we offer a vision for the practice of community engagement and a collection of foundational principles and values, critical success factors, overarching goals, and priority strategies as a framework for developing local, responsive and strategic action plans for ambitious, impact-oriented work.

Download SFU's Strategic Community Engagment Plan