I had the pleasure of speaking at the Engagement Scholarship Consortium in Lubbock, Texas October 6th-10th, where over 500 scholars and professionals convened to discuss ‘Engaged Scholarship’, with a focus across disciplines, communities and geographies. As one of the plenary speakers in the closing ceremonies, I shared some of my experiences working with communities around the world. There is enormous benefit for communities and institutions of higher education to be partnering and working together in co-creating local solutions. In doing so, we need to be collaborating across disciplines, sectors and boundaries, building capacity and leadership in communities and higher education to embrace all modes of knowledge production. In working with communities, I have learned that I have a lot to learn! I know that the communities I work with are the experts; they understand the dynamic relationships, complex issues and solutions needed to improve their lives.
There is no doubt that Community University Engagement (CUE) has become a high priority of many HEIs around the world. At the University of Victoria, there has been significant progress in the last 10 years in the institutional commitment to CUE with the new Institute for the Study and Innovation in CUE. Indeed, if you look at the last 5-10 years, CUE has become a major priority of many HEIs and Research Councils around the world. I have the pleasure of working with Dr.Budd Hall and Dr.Rajesh Tandon as the coordinator for their UNESCO co-chair in Community-based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education. This a very unique arrangement in that it is split between PRIA, a Civil Society Organization based in New Delhi, India and the University of Victoria – providing a valuable collaborative perspective between community and academia in driving the research process and negotiating the agenda priorities. The focus of the UNESCO chair is assist countries in building knowledge societies through a lens of knowledge democracy. With a particular focus on the Global South, some of our work is currently looking at how to strengthen institutional structures for Community University Research Partnerships, and in developing capacity-building tools for teaching and learning in this field, particularly for the next generation of Community-based Researchers.
In order to really respond to the ‘wicked’ problems that society is facing, we need an approach that embraces multi-perspectives, is multi-disciplinary and spans across sectors. Complex problems are multi-faceted and have social, economic, political, and environmental dimensions – which need to be approached with these considerations. We need to be working across campus, creating research clusters where students, scholars and community can be active in co-creating solutions that are rooted in the community and have impact for change. These solutions are often found in the community, where extensive knowledge already exists. There are growing networks around the globe that are spearheading this movement, including the Global University Network for Innovation, the Living Knowledge Network, the Global Alliance for Community Engaged Research, PASCAL Observatories and others. These networks are important platforms in mainstreaming community-based research and social responsibility in higher education and in promoting a discourse on building a knowledge democracy.
We need to open our hearts and minds to new ways of living and organizing ourselves. We need to bring our attention to the voices of the people and embrace an alternative paradigm of knowledge production, one where all knowledge counts.