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Recapping the Conceptualizing Public Engagement series: Part One

Elyse Aurbach, Public Engagement Lead

As the Office of Academic Innovation’s Public Engagement team got started, one of our first priorities was to better understand all the ways that the University community of scholars engaged with its publics: Where are the most successful programs? What supports were already in place to foster faculty public engagement, and what new ones are needed? Are there duplicative efforts? Where, in the higher education public engagement field, can the University of Michigan (U-M) take on a leadership role?  

In an effort to begin to address these questions, an incredible group of campus partners** convened a series of campus-wide working meetings called the Conceptualizing Public Engagement (CPE) series. The CPE series was intended to do a number of things, including:

  1. Create a space to acknowledge that the phrase “public engagement” means different things to different people and groups across the University and to build recognition of that diversity;
  2. Bring together the campus community around public engagement to grapple with this heterogeneity and work towards an inclusive definition and conceptual framework that can reflect, organize, and inform campus activities and strategy; and
  3. Inclusively inventory or landscape existing public engagement efforts across campus.

The first round of the CPE series, held in the late summer and fall of 2018,  was organized into two topics (with four meetings per topic). Each meeting was designed to be activity- and discussion-based, and the plans evolved with participant feedback.

Topic One, “How can we understand and organize U-M’s public engagement goals, approaches, and spaces?” was designed to:

  • Surface and discuss heterogeneity among different approaches, outcomes, audiences or partners, and spaces in public engagement across the University; and
  • Source ideas for approaches to organize this diversity at a systems-level.

Topic Two, “How might we network the U-M public engagement community for greater impact?” had two distinct goals:

  • Explore and offer feedback on a draft organizing framework to contextualize public engagement at a systems-level; and
  • Acknowledge and explore barriers or critical issues limiting public engagement or support work at the University.

The second round of the CPE series, held in early 2019, was geared specifically toward faculty and combined elements from Topics One and Two. This round allowed us to better understand the unique perspectives of faculty who conduct public engagement at U-M.

In total,  166 faculty and staff attended the CPE series, representing 16 of U-M’s schools or colleges and 45 centers, institutes, or other units.

The team at Academic Innovation collected and analyzed artifacts and the transcripts from these meetings to develop several distinct deliverables. These include a preliminary framework to organize and contextualize public engagement and support work across the university, an evolving set of recommendations to address barriers facing the public engagement community at the University, and the beginnings of a network of faculty, practitioners, and support staff spanning different spaces and approaches to engagement work. Over the next several months, we will detail these outcomes – as well as exciting plans and announcements from the Office and Public Engagement Team – in a series of blog posts, so stay tuned!

This post is one part of a set recapping the Conceptualizing Public Engagement series:

If you missed the CPE series but would like to get involved with the conversations and work moving forward, please email us.

**The Conceptualizing Public Engagement Series was sponsored and co-hosted by the Office of Academic Innovation, the Vice President for Communications, Government Relations, the National Center for Institutional Diversity, the Office of Research, and the Vice Provost for Global Engagement and Interdisciplinary Academic Affairs.

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