Civic Action Planning (CAP) has been taking place at many institutions the past couple years. The CAP was implemented by Campus Compact as college president’s reaffirmation of their commitment to community engagement. This was an opportunity for institutions to analyze their current work and to commit to infusing democratic values and community engagement work in new ways. The action statement that presidents signed was very similar to that of the CLDE Emergent Theory of Change. As an institution, Buena Vista University (BVU) spent a year working with a committee of faculty, staff, students, community partners and administrators analyzing where we are as an institution and where we want to be. We had tough conversations and tried to imagine a world of community engagement at BVU without restraints or worries about capacity or financial implications. We tried to dream without barriers all while in the midst a university presidential change, a pending strategic plan and developing new ways to engage in the 16 other communities we have sites at around the state.
As many other institutions, we proudly presented our completed plan to our president and submitted it to Campus Compact, but our work didn’t stop here. A plan is only as good as the paper it is written on. While the self-analysis and deep conversations were a piece of the work, the real work happens in the action phase. This is the hard part. We all want action, change, and students who end up being Civic Minded graduates. Change can be hard, especially when we take a hard look a loved program and realize it isn’t making a difference in the community or we realize this whole time we have been talking about community and not including community in vital conversations that impact them. This deep analysis of our work is vital to the roots of community engagement. As institutions are completing their action plans or developing ways to implementing the CLDE Emergent Theory of Change they should also ensure there are ways to hold themselves accountable to implement the plan. Our communities on and off campus deserve the best and the only way to deliver that is to put these plans into action.
At BVU our Civic Action Plan landed on the university’s President’s desk in August, an implementation team was named in November and in February the team was formally announced at a press conference and they went to work fast. In this short time, we have launched an Education for Service scholars program in coordination with the Iowa College AmeriCorps program, which provides 10 full tuition scholarships to local first-generation students and an Engaged Faculty Institute that provided 10 faculty members and community partners with community engagement training to implement within their courses and partnerships. Additionally, we established a minor in Social Innovation and we are no longer just focused on one location. We are focused on communities we reach in virtual ways and face to face across the state. We have made minor changes in other areas and started to celebrate small wins along the way, but what stands out most is that the momentum that was created through planning. Individuals across the institution and community created more opportunities for action. Opportunities kept being presented and through this we have already edited portions of our plan to expand further and deeper into the institutions culture.
Campuses should commit to implementing their plan, but also allow for flexibility. r plan but be flexible. As it builds momentum let others collaborate and make sure community partners and students are at the table. Additionally, you will make mistakes along the way, but without mistakes we may never have tough conversations or create new ways to create change. If you haven’t started assessing your department or institution, go for it! Find the CLDE Emergent Theory of change and put it to work. Build it into your programs and push for campus and community partnership reforms. Community engagement work is building momentum across the nation and this is one way to strengthen programs. Take the leap and create action, it’s worth it.