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Below the Radar Transcript

Episode 174: Advancing University-Community Engagement — with Magda Goemans

Speakers: Paige Smith, Am Johal, Magda Goemans

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Paige Smith  0:03
Hello listeners! I’m Paige Smith with Below the Radar, a knowledge democracy podcast. Below the Radar is recorded on the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.

On this episode of Below the Radar, our host Am Johal welcomes Magda Goemans, a sustainability researcher and the manager of Community Campus Engage Canada. They are in conversation about the nuances of community-campus engagement across regions, and what the future of community engagement looks like in a post-pandemic world. Enjoy the episode!

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Am Johal  0:39
Hello, welcome to Below the Radar. Delighted that you could join us again. This week we have a special guest. Magda Goemans is with us today. Welcome, Magda.

Magda Goemans  0:50 
Hi, Am. It's so great to be here today.

Am Johal  0:52 
Yeah! Magda, I'm wondering if we can begin with you introducing yourself a little bit.

Magda Goemans  0:57 
Yeah, sure. So, as you were just saying, my name is Magda Goemans. I'm the manager of CCE Canada, long form of that being Community Campus Engage Canada. I'm joining you from Ottawa where my office is located on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe peoples and enjoying a beautiful sunny day here today. A bit about myself, I've been part of this organization for the last, I would say, three to four years and had some history with a previous research project that informed this organization, known as Community First Impacts of Community Engagement for several years when I was doing my doctoral degree at Carleton University here in Ottawa, so, yeah, I've had a lot of opportunity to get to know a lot of people across Canada and really learn a lot of things about community-campus engagement and the importance of that. 

Am Johal  1:46 
Yeah. So before talking about your current role with CCE Canada, how did you come into this work? And what did you find about community engagement work in the first place that drew you to it, particularly? And what was your own academic work focused on?

Magda Goemans  2:02
Well, I, you know, it was a really fortuitous series of events, I would say. As I mentioned, a few quite a few years ago now, I guess — I can't remember what year specifically I started, I think it was around 2013 — I started my doctoral degree at Carleton University in Ottawa. I was in the Geography Department. I was studying, you know, a larger realm of environmental sustainability, but really looking at climate change adaptation. And so I was really focused on that at the time. And I was lucky enough to have a supervisor, research supervisor named Trish Ballamingie and she was involved in this multi-year, very large scale action research project around community-campus engagement, known as the CFICE, I just mentioned that a moment ago, so that a project called Community First Impacts of Community Engagement. And I was entirely new at the time to the concept of community-campus engagement. I had never participated in any kind of activities, in any meaningful way, with a community partner in my research. Trish had asked me if I wanted to be part of that work. They were in a phase in that project at the time that involved a series of demonstration projects. So I was matched with a local neighborhood organization in Ottawa. And I spent the next few years working with that organization and really learning about their needs, their strategies, their voice in the community. And I learned how I might be able to support some of that. So I remember, I was first asked, at the first meeting I had with the community partner, about what I hope to gain from, you know, helping their work. And I remember sitting there for a moment and not really knowing how to answer. So I sort of came, I came to this with not a lot of knowledge and understanding about the value of this kind of work. And then over the years, I was able to stay with that project for five years. So it involved working directly with the community department for a few years. And then being part, in the last two years of the project, being part of sort of a broader view, a broader analysis. I was part of the analysis, evaluation and analysis working group. And I really got a broader and bigger picture understanding from that, because I was able to talk to a lot of people involved in this work. I was able to put together a lot of what they had learned into documents, summary documents, those kinds of things in my work as a research assistant. And I definitely got a deeper understanding of the work and of course along the way, it didn't take very long for me to understand the value of it and and creating these kinds of relationships and doing research that had tangible results and outcomes, but also, I could see the results I could see the value of it immediately. So, bridging into that, I did a postdoc afterwards with the University of Saskatchewan and got to do some work and get to know CCE Canada through that work, and then eventually became manager. So yeah, it's been several years and a really enriching process for me.

Am Johal  4:54
In such a large country, like the Canadian context, there's all sorts of national networks that get built up in a post-secondary context. But there's, there's the challenges of geography and regions in terms of how to do the kind of field-building that you're working on in the context that you're situated in. So first of all, for people who might not be aware of what is [Community Campus Engage Canada]? What's your elevator pitch, Magda?

Magda Goemans  5:24 
Well, the short form I would say is that we are a network and knowledge-sharing community or a community of practice for individuals or organizations that are interested in or involved in community-campus partnerships. And so we really aim to include and invite participation from all kinds of participants in these partnerships, our focus is very much on community-driven work. So we aim to really elevate community voices. And to really think about how we can improve the process for community partners and, and build capacity for them. So that's in essence what we do is we create those spaces for, for conversation, for connection, for collaboration, that sort of thing.

Am Johal  6:09 
Magda, the, you know, you're based in Ottawa, where the truckers convoy was recently, and you see the kinds of big polarizations happening in society both, you know, in this pandemic context, but certainly broader social bifurcations that are currently going on. What are the compelling questions for the community engagement field that you're grappling with? Now, in the post secondary context? I'm on an advisory committee, some somewhat aware, but I'm wondering if you can sort of share a little bit in terms of you and your colleagues, in terms of campus community-engaged, Canada in terms of the kind of issues that you're focusing and dealing with now, in this particular pandemic context, where it looks like we're, fingers crossed, seem to be about to move out of the pandemic context, but there's big social questions on the table about inequality to many other things, you know, anti-science rhetoric, to fake news and all sorts of other things. And so this is a particular moment that we're working in, what are the kinds of things that you're working on, in terms of what the field is grappling with now?

Magda Goemans  7:25 
Well, the pandemic, I mean, obviously, it was unsettling, it has been very unsettling and continues to be for everyone. We've certainly had, within the last two years, conversations that have been very focused on the pandemic context. And what I found interesting about the conversations that we've had, and you know, what we've been thinking about, is that they really highlight you know, any issues that have been brought up, really highlight ongoing challenges, ongoing issues in these kinds of community-campus research and learning relationships that have been pre existing, that are, you know, intensified over these last two years, during this crisis. And just really thinking about, as I said, some of these ongoing issues, including, you know, issues that I thought about while I was working on the CFICE project, and issues that we heard across the country at that time, even around relationship building, trust building, you know, you've certainly made reference to recent events that highlight a lack of trust in society, a lack of understanding, an inability to translate understanding of different perspectives. We certainly see that within many issues around research and learning partnerships, and a need to really have those kinds of conversations where individuals can learn to understand each other better. Not just from a community perspective, or an academic perspective, but really, you know, individuals relating to each other in these relationships. How do they understand each other? How do they prioritize these relationships and you know, the different aspects of these research projects? You know, thinking about ongoing stress, ongoing, you know, burnout during these last two years. How do we take care of each other? How do we see each other as, which we certainly have, seen each other's humanity much more over these past two years, and how do we really engage in ways that we recognize each other, respect each other and take care of each other? I would also say we've certainly seen over these last two years, the vulnerability of community engagement offices in academic institutions across the country. We have many, many examples of very strong, very, you know, offices doing amazing work and supporting these partnerships. And then we've seen examples of offices at risk, that may not be supported as much as they need to be during this period of fiscal cuts, of institutions being concerned about their futures, and that sort of thing. So we've certainly seen from various different angles, sort of this lack of, like a need for greater resource support, and that need that basic need for trust and understanding among those we communicate with.

Am Johal  10:36 
And, you know, in the broader sort of network of national organizations or others that are sort of functioning in a similar space, we have Community-based Research Canada, Ashoka, Research Impact Canada, you have the Carnegie process going on around the classification, a possibility of Canadian classification for community engagement. How do you see [Community Campus Engage Canada] sort of providing that's unique in a national context amongst these different relationships, networks and work going on? It seems to me that it's quite complementary and supportive that these things in as much as they overlap, there's a value to each of them in their own unique way. And I'm wondering how you might articulate that in terms of how [Community Campus Engage Canada] is situated in its particular way?

Magda Goemans  11:35 
Yeah. Well, we've, we've had over the last several years, we've had a great relationship with other networks across the country, or that are national supporting across the country. We meet I think it's quarterly, a lot of these groups that you've just mentioned, and we all have an interest and excitement about working together. We certainly are complementary to each other, and we have a lot of respect for each other. Community Campus Engage Canada, I would say, we, you know, acknowledging our relationship with others, and the ways that we can work together and the similarities that we have, we would also say Community Campus Engage Canada, you know, some of the ways we try to distinguish ourselves is, is supporting, having that broader view of supporting all forms of community-campus engage, community-campus engagement. And having that community-driven focus, I think, is where we really try to, you know, place ourselves in that field. It's a learning process for us and a listening process for us in terms of how we can best support communities. And it's certainly an ongoing process. But that's one of our highest priorities. As well, one of the things that we're aiming to really do this year, something that's been in, you know, our plans ever since the inception of this organization, is to really strengthen and support a network of what we would call boundary spanners. So individuals working in Community Campus engagement offices, the connectors, the relationship builders, those who aim to really meaningfully reach out to community partners and help to build strong relationships with academics with that real focus on social impact and community impact. And so, in building that strong network, we're really hoping to distinguish ourselves in that area as well.

Am Johal  13:33 
Magda, I'm wondering, in terms of as we come out of the pandemic, you know, what's at stake right now in the community engagement field in Canada? You know, there's so many different histories of how community engagement unfolds. And people have different definitions of it. There's the Carnegie Foundation definition of it, which is probably the most used, you have, you know, really interesting scholars like Barbara Holland who talk about community engagement as a method that brings together research, teaching and community-driven forms of engagement, as a way of, of looking organizationally at higher education as a whole in ways that they're complementary and supportive of one another. We have histories in Canada where people have written quite eloquently about it. Think about people like Budd Hall at UVic in terms of the work that they've done internationally and locally. And I'm wondering what's, you know, specific to the context of community engagement in Canada that we're grappling with right now, and how might it differ from the US or Ireland or some other international context?

Magda Goemans  14:48 
Well, when thinking about that, I can certainly see some similarities with other countries and other contexts. I would say, you know, in Canada, we do have quite a bit of regional diversity, we see that in some of the conversations we've been having, and really trying to be respectful to that. So, for instance, in Canada, we just finished a project last year over this past year, it was called Seizing the Moment. And it was involved in it was focused on pandemic, for lack of a better word recovery, so are societal transitions through the pandemic, I suppose. And within that project, we really tried to respect different regional voices. And so we set up a bunch of regional conversations as part of those events. And one thing that we was brought to our attention and helped us to understand even more, we had a little bit of an understanding, but I guess we're learning more is about the Quebec context, for instance, being, you know, a little bit unique in terms of the things that they wanted to talk about. And say, of course, there is a difference in terms of the French language and wanting to have conversations in the French language about community campus partnerships. And so we learned through that project, through that process to make more spaces for those unique conversations as well. And so I would say in the Canadian context, you know, as always, we're always thinking about how to build and strengthen relationships, how to build trust, and reciprocity in relationships. And so being respectful of diverse perspectives, differences in perspectives, differences, and understanding differences in expression, I think is very important. And I do feel like I'm on a learning path with that. I don't feel like I understand that nearly enough as I can. And so it's an ongoing process for us of listening and responding to needs.

Am Johal  16:48 
In the Canadian context, the Indigenous context around decolonization and reconciliation is, I think, much deeper in terms of the role of post-secondary education in terms of the calls from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I'm wondering if you can speak to how [Community Campus Engage Canada] is trying to grapple with these questions?

Magda Goemans  17:15 
Well, that's definitely an ongoing process for us as well. And something again, that we are trying to turn a more definite direction towards as the year goes ahead. And as we go into 2023 and beyond. We have had, you know, I would say not adequate conversation around this yet within Community Campus Engage Canada, but it's, it's a process. We have several members on our boards from the National Association of Friendship Centres. And so we've, you know, we've had conversations with them about, you know, what does this mean, for us to be supportive in terms of that reconciliation context. And we have, we thought about ways that we can try to learn more, and that we can try to support community voices in that respect. That's an ongoing path that we're on. We're hoping to host more, we have a webinar series called Community Voices, and we're hoping to support on our platform, and invite those who would be wishing to speak about that more, and offer their perspective around reconciliation and these partnerships. And so that's, that's one of the paths we're on. We're also, because we're a knowledge-sharing community, we're always thinking about ways that we can support projects where knowledge and understanding can be shared. And so we are hoping, moving forward to work on a project that looks at that colonialist history, in academic institutions. Take a really deep look at that. Take a look at what's been looked at already across the country within various institutions, and hopefully facilitate further conversation between administrators and academic institutions and various different communities around how we can move forward in these partnerships. But of course, this all has to begin with a deep and a real and an honest examination of this history, and move. Really listen. Listen carefully about How we can move forward and support partnerships that meaningfully engage with Indigenous communities that start where they are, that are grounded in those communities. And that research that's basically built on community strategy, existing community strategies and needs.

Am Johal  19:51
[Community Campus Engage Canada], although it started with service, I guess this would be the antecedent in terms of, of where we are today. And it's still, in many ways getting onto its feet, wondering if you can speak to some of the projects you have ongoing right now. And also, what's the vision of the future of [Community Campus Engage Canada]?

Magda Goemans  20:14
Sure. Well, over the last year, we had a fairly busy year. We worked on I would say, the two biggest things we worked on last year were two... One was an outreach project. One was a research project. And I'll talk about those in a sec. Along with that, we were hosting a series of different kinds of conversations. So I had made mention before of a community voices series that we have. So we have a platform where we invite community, community members to host an event. We'll provide technical support. We’ll provide any kind of support they want, or they can design the whole thing themselves that they prefer. And just an opportunity for all those who are involved in community-campus partnerships to get a better understanding of either a community initiative, a particular sector, a particular issue or project going on, maybe community needs for research or, or some kind of project. So we've been working on that. We've put out several events related to that. We have a newsletter that we put out monthly that offers information about ongoing initiatives, and allows people you know, if they want to learn more, they can connect with us. And then those two major research projects I was just talking about. One of them, as I mentioned before, was called Seizing the Moment. I think the long name was Exploring Just and Sustainable Pandemic Recovery through Community-Campus Partnerships. And that project, that was an outreach project that involved several knowledge-sharing opportunities. So we had the biggest one we had occurred last May. And it was a workshop that lasted for two days, it was online, of course. And that, you know, presented a bit of a challenge for us like it's presented for everyone. How do you bring people together in a meaningful way online, I would say it was fairly successful. I mean, we, of course, had our share of technical glitches. But we received a lot of really good feedback from that event. And there were over 400 people who were registered. As I said, it occurred over two days, we had a series of regional conversations, and then everyone came together for larger conversations. And it was a really good opportunity for people to talk about what they'd been experiencing during the pandemic. And their suggestions for how we move forward. And so we learned quite a bit from that. And we're still putting together a final report on that, that we're going to release on our website that everyone can see. That'll be in a couple of months. The other project we worked on, was focused on community-engaged learning. And it's a project that was co-lead with the Community Engagement Research Centre at the University of Regina. And basically, we were looking at what's the existing state of community engaged learning at the University of Regina? And what can we learn from that? And what kind of recommendations can we put forward for that institution, because they wish to expand their Community-Engaged Learning Program. So we, through that process, through that project, we actually worked with students in a community service learning or community-engaged learning capacity in two different classes. They helped to design an interview, interview scripts, and they helped to administer interviews to people at the University of Regina, existing faculty who have been involved in community-engaged learning projects. We also worked with some arts interns as well. So there were about 87 student positions that were created through this project. And they actually helped us — it was through that community-engaged learning model that we were able to learn more about community-engaged learning itself. So it was really neat to be able to use that process to get a greater understanding of community-engaged learning. And so not only were people at the University of Regina interviewed, but people across the country as well, were interviewed. We had some discussion sessions with communities as well. And so we're just in the process now of bringing all of that information together into a series of recommendations for the University of Regina. But we're also hoping through the release of a report from that to inspire, for any institutions that are in a similar position to the U of R who may wish to expand their own programs, that they then have perhaps some greater insight into the current state of things across the country and maybe some inspiration to expand their programs. And so, as I said, we're sort of in the process of putting together all the results and all the learnings from these projects, but they've definitely been great opportunities to expand our awareness of who's out there. And what they've been doing over the past years and what they have to share with us, as well.

Am Johal  24:53
Magda, is there anything you'd like to add?

Magda Goemans  24:58 
I would just say, it's a busy time here at Community Campus Engage Canada. We've had a lot of support from various committees from and our committees have, you know, people from institutions, from community organizations across the country, and we're so grateful for their support in building this organization. And we look forward to this year ahead. There's an ongoing list of things that we'd like to learn more about and support. So as we forge through, hopefully through this period, hopefully out of the pandemic, we're hoping to apply what we're learning to other, you know, big challenges like climate change and other things moving forward. And, we look forward to the support for that.

Am Johal  25:42
Yeah, Magda, thank you so much for joining us on Below the Radar. And thank you so much for your incredible leadership at [Community Campus Engage Canada], to a very complex position. It's complex organizing to keep people in conversation in a big country, such as this. So thank you so much for joining us on Below the Radar.

Magda Goemans  26:03 
Thanks so much, Am.

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Paige Smith  26:07
Below the Radar is a knowledge democracy podcast created by SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement. Thanks for listening to our conversation with Magda Goemans! Head to the show notes to learn more about CCE Canada and Magda’s other work. We release episodes every Tuesday, so make sure to subscribe to Below the Radar on your podcasting app of choice to make sure you never miss an episode. Thanks again for tuning in!

Transcript auto-generated by Otter.ai and edited by the Below the Radar team.
May 24, 2022
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