Peter Andrée discusses the findings of the working groups as the conference listens.

Connected Community Engagement

By Elizabeth Murphy

Photos by Mike Pinder

Faculty, staff and community members gathered at Carleton University on Dec. 15, 2016 to celebrate and enhance community engagement during a half-day conference focused on sharing experiences in research and teaching.

A key focus of the conference was to gather input on the development of Carleton Connected, a website that will support community engagement efforts by providing a unique platform to co-ordinate academic and classroom resources with community partnership opportunities.

“For many years, Carleton’s Community Engaged Pedagogy Committee has been working to promote and facilitate a wide range of community engaged projects and research, and this event is important in bringing everyone together to help build the Carleton Connected portal,” said Brian Burns, a committee member and community projects consultant working with the library’s Discovery Centre.

Sharing experiences on community engagement

The conference also served as an opportunity for diverse stakeholders involved in community projects to meet and discuss best practices.

The event kicked off with a panel featuring participants from three organizations that partner with Carleton – the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), the Ottawa Eco-Talent Network (OETN) and the National Capital Commission (NCC).

The panel discussed their experiences working with Carleton and suggested potential content for the online platform.

Simon Baldwin, a nine-year member of the RCMP, was a student participant in an RCMP field placement in 2007.  He noted it would be helpful for the new portal to be a “one-stop shop” where contact information for placement practicum co-ordinators could be found.

“You have amazing, very educated people here and an amazing, huge population of students who are very interested in community engagement,” said panellist Jason Garlough, OETN executive director. “And a lot of faculty who are really passionate about getting those students out and engaged with the community.”

Garlough sees the portal as an opportunity for community organizations to find the right Carleton programs, faculty and staff to work with. He noted that this information can often change.

Panellist Heather Thomson, manager of the NCC’s heritage program, shared the experiences of students working with her organization. Citing an example of a detailed historical analysis of the Rideau Canal railings that needed to be done.

“That was a perfect example of where we’ve had some pressures and we thought: ‘Okay, let’s get a student in here to help us and work with it,’” she said. At the same time, the student benefitted from gaining practical experience with the NCC.

Community engagement part of Carleton’s history

Following the panel, the conference broke into three working groups to discuss issues such as connecting to external partners, best practices for course-based projects, as well as the joys and challenges of community-based research. The products of the brainstorming session that followed will help inform development of the Carleton Connected website.

As the conference drew to a close, Peter Ricketts, provost and vice-president (Academic) highlighted the unique role that community engagement holds for Carleton, especially in light of the upcoming anniversary year.

“The 75th anniversary, I think, is a really important year to raise the level of Carleton community engagement” said Ricketts. “Carleton is the only university in Ontario not created by a church or government. It was created by the community.”

Looking ahead, an early version of the website is set to launch in spring 2017 and will be further developed with tools and resources for community engagement practitioners throughout the fall of the coming year.

Burns looks forward to all stakeholders enjoying the benefits of this innovative platform: “Hopefully it will be win-win-win – for the faculty, students and a whole range of community groups including the NCC and the City of Ottawa.”

A participant speaks during a working group session.A participant speaks during a working group session as other participants listen.Peter Ricketts addresses conference participants as the audience listens.Peter Andrée adds a post-it note to the working group posters.