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Definitions & FAQs

Community engagement (also referred to as civic engagement) is the “collaboration (among) 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.”

Through community engagement, community and university knowledge and resources are brought together in and out of the classroom, as well as on and off campus 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 “community” in community engagement is not defined by sector, such as private or public, for-profit or nonprofit; rather, community is broadly defined to include individuals, groups, and organizations external to campus that use collaborative processes for the purpose of contributing to the public good.

Reciprocity is the recognition, respect, and valuing of the knowledge, perspective, and resources that each partner contributes to the collaboration.

Community engagement and community service (often referred to as “outreach”) are often confused and/or conflated because both approaches may occur in the community and/or include activities that involve or serve community entities. While the latter describes activities that are provided to, intended for, or done in communities, the former describes activities that are undertaken with community members in a context of reciprocal partnership. Rather than activity or place, the key distinction between community engagement and community service can be determined by the processes and purposes that each emphasizes, as further explicated below:

  1. community engagement  requires collaborative, reciprocal processes that recognize, respect, and value the knowledge, perspective, and resources shared among partners, whereas   community service  may be provided in a uni-directional, often times “expert,” model in which university resources are extended to serve community individuals, groups, organizations and the public in general;
  2. community engagement  intends to serve a public purpose, builds the capacity of each of the individuals, groups, and organizations involved to understand and collaboratively address issues of public concern, whereas   community service  activities may focus on the delivery of expertise, resources, and services to community individuals, groups, organizations, and the public in general.

It is important to recognize that the University values many forms of service  – and not all faculty are required to integrate community engagement into their faculty work. Clarity between the various types simply allows for greater recognition of the duration of the commitment, the resources needed, the processes followed, and outcomes expected of each form of service.

Students may practice community engagement either inside or outside of the classroom, with and without faculty and staff, individually, in groups (e.g., clubs, Greek organizations), through programs (e.g., academic and co-curricular, living-learning communities), research, creative activities, and courses – when enacted collaboratively with community partners through processes that exemplify reciprocal partnerships and public purposes.

In the context of university documents and policies regarding faculty work, community engagement refers to research/creative activities, teaching, and service activities that are collaboratively undertaken by faculty members with community partners, staff, and/or students through processes that exemplify reciprocal partnerships and public purposes.

The term community-engaged scholarship (sometimes also referred to as the scholarship of engagement) refers to research/creative activities, teaching, and service undertaken by faculty members in collaboration with community members (and often students) and that embody the characteristics of both community engagement (i.e., reciprocal partnerships, public purposes) and scholarship (i.e., demonstrates current knowledge of the field/discipline, invites peer collaboration and review, is open to critique, is presented in a form that others can build on, involves inquiry). It is important to note that scholarship and research are not synonymous and therefore should not be conflated. It is also important to note that not all community-engaged activities undertaken by faculty comprise scholarship. Definitions of community engagement, reciprocity, and community are provided in the section above: Community Engagement. 

Other useful definitions of community-engaged scholarship include:

  1. “teaching, discovery, integration, application and engagement that involves the faculty member in a mutually beneficial partnership with the community and has the following characteristics: clear goals, adequate preparation, appropriate methods, significant results, effective presentation, reflective critique, rigor and peer-review.”(1)
  2. “the collaborative generation, refinement, conservation, and exchange of mutually beneficial and societally relevant knowledge that is generated in collaboration with, communicated to, and validated by peers in academe and the community.”(2)

Community-engaged scholarship is often contrasted with the scholarship of application: while the latter “assumes that knowledge is generated in the university or college and then applied to external contexts with knowledge flowing in one direction, out of the academy,” the former “requires going beyond the expert model that often gets in the way of constructive university-community collaboration…calls on faculty to move beyond ‘outreach,’… [and] emphasizes … genuine collaboration: that the learning and teaching be multidirectional and the expertise shared.”

In accordance with traditional disciplinary expectations of faculty scholarship, the rigor of community-engaged scholarship should be demonstrated through the use of methods that are appropriate to the goals, questions, and context of the work.  Community-engaged scholarship involves community partners to identify appropriate areas of inquiry, design studies and/or creative activities, implement activities that contribute to shared learning and capacity building, and/or engage in other activities that bridge university/college and community contexts. It uses the information gathered, the actions taken, and the relationships established to bring about positive change within the community and the higher education institution. Its products include, but are not limited to, publications, exhibitions, and programs, as well as partnerships, courses, grants, curricula, experiences, or understandings that simultaneously advance the mission and goals of the higher education institution(s) and of the community organization(s), or the public more generally.

Finally, is important to recognize the integration of faculty roles, particularly in community-engaged scholarship.  Faculty who undertake community-engaged scholarship may simultaneously contribute to multiple institutional goals by conducting their academic roles in an integrated way, using their research to inform their teaching, their service and teaching as sources of ideas for their research, and their teaching as opportunities to connect student learning with community issues – any of which may be done in collaboration with communities. For example, faculty may bring their research into the classroom, involve students in cutting-edge research, integrate their research interests with community issues, and teach with and learn from community members. All faculty, not only those who practice community engagement, may benefit from a system that allows faculty to demonstrate overlapping activities and roles and to show how one contributes to another. Ultimately, “failure to account for the ways and the extent to which faculty jointly produce teaching and service, research and teaching, or service and research may underestimate faculty contributions to institutional productivity.”