Strategic Planning for Engagement

The changing conditions of higher education, and the increasingly complex expectations society holds for universities and colleges, demand that each campus develop specific strategic directions that focus its efforts. Even long-time traditional taxonomies of higher education, such as the Carnegie Classification System, are evolving as a reflection of increased diversity among campus missions and greater complexity of institutional roles. While mission statements and strategic plans were once viewed by many as so much public relations puffery, there are now many examples of institutions that have used effective strategic plans and well-articulated missions as active guides for institutional transformation and increased accountability.

Increased attention to the potential institutional role of civic engagement is often the trigger for institutional discussions about the specificity of the mission, and the clarity of strategic directions. For institutions that have been caught between the images of a research university and a teaching institution, defining and implementing the role of civic engagement often gives new clarity to both research and teaching, and results in a more integrated view of faculty work, student learning, and campus/community relationships. There is no doubt that community engagement is an important component of the scholarly work of any institution, and to fulfill this newly-understood role requires significant changes in structures, plans, and attitudes.

All organizations, roles, and functions change over time and context. If service once meant removal from society, then we argue that today such service by the faculty might be defined more as direct action, communication, and involvement with society. Rather than assume we know what is good for the citizenry, we argue that we need more engagement with society to determine needs, actions, and directions (Tierney, 1998, p. 5)

Civic engagement is not conducted in isolation from teaching and research. Effective practice of engagement draws on institutional academic strengths, and depends on integration with the institution’s goals for teaching, learning, and research. Engagement requires investments in infrastructure, faculty development, and organizational change. Therefore, engagement requires strategic planning to ensure success and sustainability.

Every institution needs to make its own systematic decisions about the degree to which civic engagement is appropriate and relevant to their organizational mission and strategic directions. In addition, campuses that have made some progress in implementing engagement activities often wonder, “what will help move us forward to a greater level of engagement?” And, every campus needs to assess its performance in the area of engagement and plan for improvements and changes.

Key Questions:

How do you get a campus thinking about civic engagement?
What is the role of mission in planning for civic engagement?
How can we learn what engagement activities are already happening on our campus?