Seven hands in a circle holding out puzzle pieces

Applying Innovation Excellence in Three New Public Engagement Projects

Elyse Aurbach, Public Engagement Lead
@ElyseTheGeek

One of the first goals for the Public Engagement team at Academic Innovation was to understand how we might work with campus and community partners to explore emerging opportunities – including new ways to use technology in engaged efforts – for the University of Michigan to connect with different publics to learn with, and from, each other.

Increasing an emphasis on public engagement allowed Academic Innovation to build on a very strong basis of excellence and innovation in online learning experiences, software tools, and data analytics to unlock and catalyze new kinds of opportunities. Below, we have showcased three exciting projects that our Academic Innovation team is collaboratively pursuing to explore how digital technology might be applied in different ways to enhance or extend the impact of different forms of public engagement.

Building an LGBTQ Oral History Archive

In preparation for the Spectrum Center’s 50th Anniversary celebration, the Public Engagement, Media Design, and Design Management teams at Academic Innovation are collaborating with the Spectrum Center staff and the Bentley Historical Library to train students to collect oral histories of alumni, faculty, staff, and students who identify as LGBTQIA+ about their experiences at the University of Michigan. This oral history archive can then be used in research, teaching, and engagement contexts to better understand and share our history, reshape our culture to increase inclusion, and elevate the voices of people who historically have been marginalized in the academy. 

Supporting and Expanding Civil Rights and Dialogue Education

The Youth Civil Rights Academy and Summer Youth Dialogues programs – which collectively advance youth, peer-based educational models for dialogue and civil rights education – have been operating at U-M for years but would benefit from a plan for long-term sustainability. The Public Engagement and Design Management teams in our office are consulting with the Program on Intergroup Relations and faculty from the U-M School of Social work to develop and execute this sustainability plan, including by identifying long-term budget needs, potential collaborators, and future program growth as well as collaboratively developing program pitch materials for potential supporters.

Developing Campus-Wide Infrastructure to Support Community Engagement

Another new project aims to help the University of Michigan build a stronger core infrastructure – both social and technological – which catalogues and tracks existing public engagement efforts and better coordinate efforts with community partners. Our Public Engagement, Software Tools, and Research & Development teams are partnering with Connecting Michigan – a campus-wide collaboration among engagement units led by the Ginsberg Center, Provost’s Office, and the Office of the Vice President for Government Relations – to examine the feasibility of building a technical solution connecting existing databases which catalogue engagement relationships between university and public stakeholders. In the long run, developing this infrastructure will allow faculty and staff to better leverage existing partnerships (or to build new partnerships) with public, community stakeholders. It could also enable new research collaborations across disciplines, based on similar interests and/or engagement with similar groups.

These projects showcase how expanding our capacity for public engagement enabled us to build on our core strengths and develop new avenues for innovation. These projects also reflect two of Academic Innovation’s core missions: to foster equity and inclusivity and to facilitate problem-solving across boundaries in collaboration with different publics. As we continue to build on these exciting new directions, we welcome the opportunity to catalyze collaborations to provide sustainable solutions to the biggest challenges facing our state, nation, and world. If you have a project idea that you’d like to discuss, please get in touch with us to explore opportunities for partnership!