Recapping the Conceptualizing Public Engagement Series: Part Four. The Draft Michigan Public Engagement Framework

Ellen Kuhn, Public Engagement Specialist

Elyse Aurbach, Public Engagement Lead

One goal of the Conceptualizing Public Engagement (CPE) series was to surface and better understand the diversity of efforts that exist across the public engagement landscape at the University of Michigan (U-M). U-M has a rich history of engaging with publics in a variety of forms, from large interdisciplinary initiatives to individual disciplinary projects undertaken by passionate faculty or staff.

We also wanted to begin collecting all of these public engagement efforts into a larger conceptual framework, utilizing the aspirational definition of public engagement created during the CPE series as a starting point. If public engagement is the “intentional and mutually beneficial interaction between members of U-M and external individuals or groups that results in positive societal change,” what practices are fundamental to any public engagement effort? Which approaches are specific to a particular type of engagement? What connects or differentiates public engagement in K-12 educational settings from engagement in the policy sphere? Moreover, what can these different approaches learn from networking with one another?

The CPE series invited public engagement practitioners from across campus to come together, discuss their own types of public engagement work, and consider ways to organize all of these efforts systematically. Based on these discussions and feedback–particularly around issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion–we have developed a draft Michigan Public Engagement Framework.

By inclusively capturing and reflecting the wide variety of university public engagement efforts, we hope to inspire opportunities for continued support, new growth, and innovative creativity across the entire public engagement landscape at U-M.

The Draft Michigan Public Engagement Framework

The Michigan Public Engagement Framework rests on three elements: people, relationships, and context. In describing these three elements, we can begin to understand the unique facets of any engagement effort, as well as consider points of similarity. The framework can also be used to prepare for and guide engagement efforts.

Icons of public engagement framework

Working Draft – Michigan Public Engagement Framework – Twin Sunbursts Model

Step 1: People

Both public and university stakeholders bring distinct and individual characteristics to the table. How might we describe all of the parties involved?  

Some characteristics are relatively static, including demographics, values and beliefs, historical contexts and inequities, group size, and group similarity. These are often the characteristics that are referenced when considering an audience.

At the same time, people also bring a set of variable characteristics that might change over time. Describing and measuring this same set of characteristics for each stakeholder is likely to yield very different–and very informative–sunburst images. These pictures enable us to think more deeply about stakeholders as whole humans.

Stakeholder Variable Chracteristics

Working Draft – Michigan Public Engagement Framework – Twin Sunburts Model (People)

Step 2: Relationship

Similarly, any relationship that public and university stakeholders create also has descriptive and variable characteristics. Descriptive characteristics include needs, goals, and locality, while variable characteristics help us dive a bit deeper. Critically, these characteristics can and should be negotiated between all stakeholders as part of the relationship-building process.

Relationship Variable Characteristics

Working Draft – Michigan Public Engagement Framework – Twin Sunbursts Model (Relationship)

Step 3: Context

The environment in which the relationship exists determines additional norms, expectations, constraints, and opportunities. In the Michigan Public Engagement Framework, we call these “domains.” Domains are often separated by different types of goals, stakeholders, experiences, or content knowledge. Many of them, however, are intersectional, and a single project could span multiple domains. For example, faculty might create a community-engaged course (Community-Engaged Learning and/or Service) that involves their students working with elementary-school youth in an after-school program (Alternative, Informal, and Lifelong Learning) to create a public work of art (Performance, Exhibition, and Installation). Ultimately, these domains help us to conceptualize the range of opportunities available in the university public engagement landscape.


Domain Working Definition Examples
Alternative, Informal, and Lifelong Learning Connecting with learners of all ages in informal or non-traditional educational settings
  • Public speaker series
  • Museums
Applied Practice and Consulting Offering professional services, often on a pro-bono basis
  • Community health clinics
  • Consultation sessions for family-owned businesses or nonprofits
Business and Entrepreneurship Collaborating to create new products, services, or innovations
  • Sharing equipment or facilities for collaborative research
  • Working with industry partners on the commercialization of technology
Capacity-Building Programs Training and enabling stakeholders
  • Workshops that prepare stakeholders to work with one another
  • Leadership trainings
Communications and/or Media Sharing research-related information in various forms
  • Writing op-eds
  • Discussing research on social media
Community-Engaged Learning and/or Service Working directly with external stakeholders through academic courses, co-curricular programs, or volunteer projects to address community-identified needs
  • Community-engaged coursework
  • Student service organizations
Community-Engaged Research Working directly with external stakeholders on projects that address community-identified needs and drive research
  • Community-based participatory research
  • Oral history projects that originated from within a community
Holdings and Collections Acquiring and negotiating physical assets held by the university
  • Museum collections
  • Botanical garden collections
P-14 Education and Educational Outreach Connecting with youth in formal school settings or educational programs
  • In-school presentations
  • School field trips to a university-created makerspace
Performance, Exhibition, and Installation Creating spaces or artistic works open to public consumption
  • Public concerts
  • Public art projects
Policy, Advocacy, and Government Relations Engaging with all levels of government in order to inform policies and decisions
  • Testifying before Congress
  • Advocacy days
Residency Programs and Internships Embedding individuals within an organization for exchange learning and work
  • Internships
  • Bringing practitioners to campus for co-learning
public engagement framework twin sunbursts model (domain)

Working Draft – Michigan Public Engagement Framework – Twin Sunbursts Model (Domain)

How might we use the Michigan Public Engagement Framework?

We believe that the Michigan Public Engagement Framework allows us to accomplish a number of interrelated goals. First, it allows us to utilize a shared language and framework when discussing public engagement. This in turn helps to name and break down silos that might exist between different types of public engagement activities.

Second, it points toward key practices in public engagement and enables stakeholders to identify and develop skills necessary for effective engagement, including effective communication and inclusive practices. It helps new practitioners in particular to understand the variables of public engagement, as well as consider the wide range of opportunities that are available to them.

Finally, the framework can inform assessments of public engagement activities by pointing to important relational variables and different areas of impact. Practitioners have long grappled with ways to evaluate public engagement activities, and assessing these activities with a common language would help to recognize and reward the important work of engaging with publics.

For a more detailed description of the draft Michigan Public Engagement, including fictional examples of the framework in action, please see this working slide deck.

Where We’re Going

Future posts in this series will outline some coordinated projects and actions that our community is taking to address and overcome barriers to public engagement. Please look for additional posts about the CPE series with the following schedule, subject to evolution:

April Next steps


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

Update: We have changed our schedule slightly from the dates originally provided. We will be finishing this recap of the CPE series in May with a final post outlining next steps. Please stay tuned.

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, the Vice President for Government Relations, the National Center for Institutional Diversity, the Office of Research, and the Vice Provost for Global Engagement and Interdisciplinary Academic Affairs.

Recapping the 2019 Learning Analytics & Knowledge Conference

Rebecca Quintana, Learning Experience Design Lead

Yuanru Tan, Learning Experience Designer for Accessibility

Wenfei Yan, Data Science Fellow

Reflection on Cross-Platform Comparison Project  

Yuanru Tan and Rebecca Quintana are Learning Experience Designers (LXDs) and researchers in the Office of Academic Innovation. Last summer, they embarked on a learning analytics project to investigate discussion forum interactions in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), looking at data from one course that was hosted on two different platforms. Their submission titled “What Can We Learn About Learner Interaction When One Course is Hosted on Two MOOC Platforms?” was accepted as a poster at the 9th International Learning Analytics & Knowledge (LAK) Conference in Tempe, Arizona. By conducting a social network analysis using MOOC discussion forum data from a single data science ethics course that ran concurrently on two different MOOC platforms (Coursera and edX), they identified higher network connectedness and network centralization on the edX platform and lower cohesion within the Coursera network as a whole.

This work illustrated how technical features of MOOC platforms may impact social interaction and the formation of learner networks. As LXDs working within the Office of Academic Innovation where they partner with the two leading online education platforms (i.e., Coursera and edX), this preliminary work on MOOC discussion forums enables them to think further about the factors that foster interaction amongst learners in online discussion forums. For instance, on edX, pre-existing posts are visible to learners before they respond to a prompt, so that learners have the choice to react to historic posts besides posting their own thoughts; while on Coursera, learners must respond to the prompt without seeing historic posts. This may account for the higher participation rate on Coursera, though a reduction in learner-to-learner interaction. In their research they ask questions like,“How can we take advantage of different platform features to design engaging online learning experiences?” Yuanru had the opportunity to share their work in one of the most prominent learning analytics communities. This experience left Yuanru and Rebecca with tremendous insights and a desire to continue to investigate these important questions in future work.

LAK Reflections & Takeaways

Reflections from Yuanru Tan, Learning Experience Designer for Accessibility – With 525 unique attendees and 900+ participants over the 5 days in pre-conference workshops and the main conference, LAK 2019 was the largest in its 9-year history. As a first-time LAK attendee, I was fascinated by the interdisciplinary experience one could have at LAK. In the pre-conference workshop section, I attended a machine learning workshop hosted by Dr. Erkan Er, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Valladolid, Spain. Together with about 20 participants, we spent an afternoon exploring the topic of How to Generate Actionable Predictions on Student Engagement with Python Scikit-Learn. Dr. Erkan Er delivered an informative session to introduce the machine learning approaches for creating actionable predictions (i.e., in-situ learning and transferring across courses) that can offer many utilities for designing real-world interventions. This hands-on workshop also provided a space for the participants to reflect on their own experience building predictive models and share their opinions on the future use of these approaches in research and practice.


Yuanru Tan presenting a poster at the Learning Analytics & Knowledge conference

Yuanru Tan presenting at the LAK2019 poster session at Arizona State University


In the main-conference section, there were so many great and concurrent sessions/talks. I struggled to come up with an optimal solution to attend all the sessions I was most interested in. Several talks were extremely intriguing to me. Weijie Jiang and Zach Pardos from the University of California Berkeley developed a recurrent neural network-based course recommendation system according to students’ target courses of interest, estimated prior knowledge, and zone of proximal development; Abelardo Pardo from the University of South Australia shared his team’s progress on understanding both students self-reported self-efficacy and cognitive load data and the trace-based measures for the two constructs detected by the system. Furthermore, as a University of Michigan alumna working at the Office of Academic Innovation, I was so proud to see that U-M has such a strong presence at LAK and our office also has such a supportive role in some of the research presented by the U-M cohort, e.g., Social Comparison in MOOCs: Perceived SES, Opinion, and Message Formality presented by Heeryung Choi, Beyond A/B Testing: Sequential Randomization for Developing Interventions in Scaled Digital Learning Environments presented by Timothy Necamp.


group of LAK attendees posing for a photo on stage for international womens day

On the last day of LAK2019, female attendees took a picture to celebrate International Women’s Day.


Reflections from Wenfei Yan,Data Science Fellow – It was an awesome first-time conference experience for me at LAK. The atmosphere was as warm and welcoming as the weather inTempe. I was deeply impressed by insightful keynote speeches. I especially liked the 5th challenge for the learning analytics field presented by Ryan Baker from the University of Pennsylvania which is the generalizability of the models. As a student currently studying data science, I have learned in every course that the generalization of a model is critical, but requires efforts to achieve. Considering the breadth of the learning analytics applications, I believe the model generalization is both challenging and useful in this field.

In the Dialogue & Engagement session on Wednesday, I presented a case study on the Privacy, Reputation, and Identity in a Digital Age Teach-Out, which explores the learner engagement pattern in Teach-outs. Learn more about the Teach-Out Series on Michigan Online. Understanding learning behaviors in the discussion forum is particularly crucial for the development of Teach-Outs, as they do not include formal assessments by design. As such, we utilized unsupervised Natural language processing (NLP) techniques to extract information from learner dialogue, and came up with the following interesting findings:

  • Learner discussion topics were generally very related to the Teach-Out content. Further, there were no extremely on-topic or off-topic posts, which could indicate that learners were discussing on-topic concepts while incorporating their own experiences. This would be a desirable sign considering the design goal of Teach-Outs.
  • There were more positive emotions than negative emotions in the discussion forum. However, due to the topic of this specific Teach-Out, on-topic posts were actually more negative, as they mostly expressed concerns about the state of privacy in a digital era.

This was a very first pilot study on the Teach-Out series, which hopefully enabled us to know more about learner engagement during a Teach-Out.


At the Office of Academic Innovation, we have been actively probing into ways for understanding online education. It was a very inspiring experience attending LAK conference and sharing our work with the community of experts from interdisciplinary fields. We are looking forward to exploring further in the future!


Are We Ready to Move Beyond Translations? Making a Multilingual Destination for Learning and Problem Solving

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

Last month, we launched three massive open online courses (MOOCs) in Arabic with our partners at Coursera. As a result, the nearly 300 million Arabic speakers around the world now have access to courses on Leading Teams, Programming for Everybody, and The Science of Success. This spring and summer, we will launch seven additional courses in Arabic delivered on the Coursera Platform.

We are also partnering with edX to translate courses into Spanish delivered on edX’s Spanish language platform. We will start this journey with Programming for Everybody and create additional learning opportunities to meet the needs of Spanish-speaking learners across the United States and around the world. Previously, we translated a course on Successful Negotiation into both Spanish and Portuguese through our partnership with Coursera and have reached more than 110,000 learners to date. All of these courses are made available to learners on Michigan Online.

Screenshot of the Michigan Online course description page of the "Leading Teams" course translated in Arabic.

Why does this matter?

Imagine a destination for lifelong learning, better yet, a destination for lifelong problem solving. Significant problems. Problems that matter to diverse, global populations.

What do you need to solve these problems? Knowledge, skills, and people. Scaffolding to support interactions. A sense of community. A shared purpose. To solve the most important societal problems, we need problem-solving communities made up of learners that reflect the diversity of the world around us. Unfortunately, most learning communities fall short on many dimensions of diversity.

So what is standing in the way?

In the current digital era, we often start by removing the barriers of time and space. We create self-paced, asynchronous, and near synchronous learning experiences. We develop tools to personalize learning, support collaboration, and close distance. We quickly find ways to lower these barriers with smart technology choices and shift our collective thinking about reach.

Next, we tend to look beyond our massive reach and see positive gains on many dimensions of diversity. At the same time, we realize that we can do much more. Relaxing time and space gives us a new lens and inspires institutions like the University of Michigan to think differently about our ability to expand our public purpose. As we build upon experiments in the only way we know how, informed by data and scholarship and in the interest of advancing learning, we see additional barriers in the form of access, belongingness, and affordability. We haven’t solved for higher education deserts, helped learners at all levels to see themselves in higher education environments, or sufficiently experimented with business models to reduce costs to learners. There is more to do here and experiments are underway.

But there is at least one more important barrier to lower in addition to time, space, access, belongingness, and affordability: Language.

In a world of near-limitless access to knowledge, and with learning tools that are improving every day, we understand that increasing access to learning opportunities is essential, but also insufficient. We must provide opportunities to learn together.

Language is one tall barrier that stands in the way. Since launching our first MOOC in 2012, We have surpassed more than 7.3 million enrollments with learners from nearly every country. This new network of learners objectively alters our community diversity. At the same time, we see significant opportunities to make larger strides forward in areas of diversity such as socioeconomic status, educational attainment, and cultural identity.

We believe lowering the barriers imposed by language is part of the solution. We know that more diversity leads to better problem solving. Just as we’ve designed experiments to lower other barriers, we are now pointing resources toward language. Translations are only the beginning. We need to imagine and design learning environments and enabling tools that engage and empower learners and facilitate sharing, understanding, and problem solving across this boundary type. We need a multilingual destination for learning and problem solving.

As we move beyond translations we will explore new modes of learner-centric design, including the development of original learning content in the language and context of specific communities, which will help all our learners develop cross-cultural competencies, and position our global problem-solving community to address grand challenges. It is these grand challenges that require problem-solving teams made up of curious learners that together posses deep knowledge, skills, and lived experience. These problem solvers are evenly distributed and language is a significant barrier to constructing the universal and compassionate public square our world so desperately needs.

In the near term, we hope to open our doors to more learners around the world in order to strengthen the diversity of our community. We will start with on-ramp courses and our Teach-Out series to provide new opportunities for learners to access our community and level-up in certain areas. Ultimately, we aim to facilitate opportunities for these learners to put knowledge and skills into action.

Imagine there’s no barriers. It isn’t hard to do.

We want aspiring problem solvers to be able to learn with and from each other, to create new learning experiences and tools that bring us closer together, to create new knowledge and a better world.

It’s important to note that the near-term benefits of translation will be realized close to home as well. Let’s go back to the example of courses translated into Arabic. The population in Michigan who identified as having Arabic-speaking ancestry on U.S. Census surveys grew by more than 47% between 2000 and 2013. With an Arab American population of more than 223,000, the State of Michigan ranks second among all U.S. States and is among the fastest growing Arab populations in the country. There are particularly large concentrations of first-language speakers in cities like Dearborn and Hamtramck. Michigan has also been one of the most welcoming states when it comes to accepting refugees, particularly those from Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

Creating these new learning opportunities in Arabic provides an immediate opportunity for U-M to impact the lives of Michiganders and to open channels for U-M to learn from the individual and collective experiences of an important constituency in our State. We also create new learning opportunities for U-M’s students, faculty, staff, and alumni in Ann Arbor, Flint, and Dearborn as translated courses provide language-learners and bilingual students with valuable opportunities to practice new skills in domain-specific contexts.

We are excited about the potential of this new area of focus and hope to see more compelling projects initiated through a new call for proposals shared with University of Michigan Faculty and Staff. On March 8, 2019 we launched a new call for proposals designed to expand equity and inclusivity in U-M’s academic innovations. With this call we see opportunities to increase access to the scholarship, learning experiences, and technologies created at U-M. We invite proposals aligned with our mission of supporting diverse learners and the creation of inclusive and equitable learning experiences.

Using Simulation to Develop Leaders

David Nesbitt, Software Portfolio Manager

Every year, the University of Michigan Sanger Leadership Center runs two high pressure business simulations for student teams, called Leadership Crisis Challenges (LCC). In these simulations, student teams play the roles of senior business executives who find themselves in the middle of a business and media crisis that unfolds throughout one night. The teams receive new information in the form of emails, phone calls and social media updates as they go through the simulation and have to evolve their strategy and responses on a dime as the crisis progresses. Facilitators play roles in the simulation as well, adding to the drama of the event. The next morning, the teams show up at Michigan Stadium to present their final strategy for handling the crisis to a board of directors. It’s an intense and exciting process, and a tremendous learning opportunity for students.

Forging a Partnership

A well-designed simulation like the LCC is highly engaging for participants, and helps them understand the myriad perspectives that come into play in a complicated real world situation. But the simulation the Sanger team had created was complex and extremely difficult to coordinate, and the planning team wanted to make it more manageable. So in 2018, the Sanger team started conversations with the Office of Academic Innovation about using ViewPoint, a platform for creating and managing customized role-playing simulations that was developed by Academic Innovation in collaboration with Liz Gerber, faculty member at the Ford School of Public Policy. Sanger wanted to explore how ViewPoint could help them run their simulation, and the Academic Innovation team was eager to build a partnership. “Sanger is a leader in this space and looked to as an example by other universities,” says Ben Hayward, Associate Director of Software Development & User Experience at Academic Innovation. “We really valued the opportunity to partner with true content experts to inform the evolution of the platform.”

Collaborative Development with Academic Innovation

ViewPoint had already been used in a variety of different contexts before the Sanger team started working with Academic Innovation, but the LCC presented some opportunities for developing new features to enhance the functionality of the tool. Using feedback from the Sanger team, Academic Innovation added a queued content feature to ViewPoint, which allowed organizers to schedule content like emails, resources, and social media posts to be delivered to participants at a particular time during the simulation. This change meant that the Sanger team could script out the simulation ahead of time and queue up content days or weeks in advance to deliver automatically during the live simulation, instead of having to send content manually during the event. The Sanger team also wanted to run, not just one big simulation, but instead have each of the 30 student teams interacting in their own simulation. To allow this, Academic Innovation developed new functionality so that ViewPoint could run multiple concurrent simulations, and also created a dashboard that allowed Sanger’s facilitators to navigate between the many simulations and play different roles in them, all within a single interface.


A screenshot of the ViewPoint interface.

A screenshot of the ViewPoint interface.


The Academic Innovation and Sanger teams collaborated closely on these enhancements to the ViewPoint platform over the period of a couple months. As Academic Innovation was building new features to support the needs of the LCC simulations, the Sanger team tested the new functionality and provided feedback. The two teams met weekly or biweekly to discuss their progress and to ensure that everything would be ready for the first simulation, the Graduate LCC (for graduate students), which was taking place on Thursday, January 17th, 2019. “There was a lot of trust-building,” remembers Hayward. “The Sanger team was taking a big step in deviating from a manual system that they had already used successfully in the past, and they were putting faith in a technology that was new for them. It really was both groups learning from each other.”


promotional signage for crisis challenge event

Promotional signage for the 2019 Leadership Crisis Challenge

The Challenge

On the opening evening of the event, the students logged into ViewPoint and were assigned to teams, and throughout the evening received live updates about the crisis through the platform. Voicemails, news articles, and emails flooded in, forcing the teams to quickly build strategies and react to the new information. As the Sanger team and their facilitators worked to manage all the details of the event, Hayward was on hand to support them in their use of ViewPoint.

The event wrapped up on Friday with the announcement of the winning student team, and in the end the Sanger team had pulled off another successful LCC. And this time, ViewPoint and the Academic Innovation team had helped them create an even more immersive and engaging experience for the students who participated.



Looking to the Future

With the January LCC event behind them, the Sanger team and Academic Innovation didn’t waste much time before getting back to work together. The Undergraduate Leadership Crisis Challenge is coming up on March 28 and 29, and Academic Innovation is already working on the next improvements to the ViewPoint site that will help the Sanger team run an even better simulation, based on the insights gained from the January LCC event. Now that the simulation is already built out in the ViewPoint platform, the Sanger team can make modifications to it and re-run it, without having to fully recreate it each time they run a LCC event.


student around a conference table and monitor problem solving during the leadership crisis challenge

Sanger’s organizers and facilitators working in the War Room, their headquarters for the simulation.


Moving forward, Academic Innovation is eager to continue collaborating with partners like Sanger, both to help partners achieve their goals but also to guide and inspire further development on Academic Innovation tools like ViewPoint. “When we get to combine the content expertise of our partners like Sanger with our technology, we’re constantly learning about new ways that our technology could evolve next to address new challenges and use cases,” says Hayward.

Recapping the Conceptualizing Public Engagement Series: Part Three. What are critical issues that hinder effective public engagement within our community?

Ellen Kuhn, Public Engagement Specialist

Elyse Aurbach, Public Engagement Lead

One goal that we hoped to achieve through the Conceptualizing Public Engagement (CPE) series was to surface and explore barriers that the U-M community faces when doing public engagement work.

By gathering campus stakeholders from a wide variety of public engagement areas–from individuals who work primarily in policy and government relations to professional communicators to those who engage publics through community-based participatory research– we hoped to gain better insights into the common issues that often impede us from connecting effectively and ethically with publics outside U-M. We also hoped to identify opportunities for growth and support, as well as to consider possible pathways to address these issues in the future.

What We Heard

Despite differences in types of public engagement work that they represented, CPE participants identified and coalesced around five major barriers, which often overlap with one another in critical ways:  

Theme 1: We lack a strong and cohesive community among the faculty, staff, and students who conduct public engagement work at U-M.

This theme emerged in nearly all of the CPE sessions. Participants routinely said that they were unfamiliar with many of the other public engagement stakeholders on campus. They spoke of their interest in connecting more with others across campus who are also doing public engagement work; in fact, many participants said that the best part of the CPE series was the ability to meet and speak with other individuals who also operate within the public engagement community on campus. Within this theme, participants voiced concerns about duplication in public engagement efforts, as silos among campus stakeholders can pose internal barriers as well as potentially harm relationships with external publics.

Theme 2: We don’t have a clear picture of the full landscape of public engagement work across U-M.

Closely related to the first theme about connecting people across campus, participants shared that it has been difficult to understand the breadth of activities, programs, or units that fall under the public engagement umbrella. Without a shared understanding, it’s hard to know where to look for resources, support, collaboration, or professional development. This theme points to a major paradox within public engagement at U-M: the decentralized nature of the university allows for individual autonomy and creativity at the same time that it can also lead to silos among critical stakeholders.

Theme 3: We either don’t know about all of the training opportunities that exist around campus or we don’t have the comprehensive training and support needed to promote ethical, effective engagement.

Again, this theme connects closely with the barriers highlighting a lack of coordination of people and resources across campus. CPE participants acknowledged that individuals in different positions–including undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, and staff–require both foundational skills and advanced knowledge to engage well. Participants said that they felt there were limited opportunities to develop the full, specialized range of skills needed for engaging effectively–or that they were unaware of the support and training that is currently provided on campus. Relatedly, participants again spoke about how inadequate training or support can damage relationships with external stakeholders.

Theme 4: We lack structures that recognize, incentivize, and reward public engagement work.

Many participants discussed the difficulties in conducting public engagement work when it does not routinely figure into hiring criteria, merit reviews, promotion, or tenure criteria. Faculty in particular said that it is difficult to devote time to public engagement work when they have schedules that are already full with research, teaching, and service responsibilities. Furthermore, public engagement work can pose personal and professional harm yet it is very rarely recognized or rewarded. Participants also cited a lack of sustained funding for long-term public engagement projects. Within this theme participants also felt that there is a lack of shared understanding about the “why” of public engagement. Why should the University of Michigan value and reward public engagement in the first place? While this theme was especially prominent in sessions composed mostly of faculty participants, it also applied more broadly to staff as well.

Theme 5: We haven’t fully aligned efforts around public engagement and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Participants in CPE sessions as well as attendees of the Social Transformation through Public Engagement panel and discussion articulated the strong, essential connection that exists between public engagement and diversity, equity, and inclusion. For example, scholars of color have often engaged with external partners despite professional risk. Additionally, working with external communities that have been historically marginalized or disenfranchised requires thoughtful, ethical approaches that recognize past harms and work to address issues of power dynamics in the present.  

Where We’re Going

During the series, we also collected recommendations and ideas that might help our community to overcome these barriers. Future posts will outline some coordinated projects and actions that our community is taking to address and overcome these barriers.

Please look for additional posts recapping outcomes of the CPE series with the following schedule, subject to evolution:

March Outcomes: the draft Michigan Public Engagement Framework
April Outcomes: Collaborative Projects Addressing Barriers
May Next steps


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, the Vice President for Government Relations, the National Center for Institutional Diversity, the Office of Research, and the Vice Provost for Global Engagement and Interdisciplinary Academic Affairs.