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Best practice and infrastructure for centers of community engagement
Marshall Welch, Director of Saint Mary’s Catholic Institute for La Sallian Social Action, Saint Mary'sCollege of California []

John Saltmarsh, Professor, Co-Director of the New England Resource Center for Higher Education,University of Massachusetts Boston []

Keywords: Best practices, campus infrastructure, community engagement centers, reciprocal validity, organizational purpose

Conference track: Organizational change and sustainability

Format: Research/Scholarly paper

This study used a national dataset from the Carnegie Foundation for Community Engagement to provide empirical research of the critical components of campus infrastructure to advance community engagement. The findings address how institutions of higher education are constructing organizational structures to facilitate connections to communities (local, regional, national, and global).

A conceptual framework for the design and operations of community engagement centers was derived from the literature, models, and principles to include three core components related to purposes, process, and programs. The purposes provide a rationale for a structure on campus that connects the campus and communities and builds legitimacy for community engagement as core academic work. The purposes of the community engagement center, in turn, shape the processes by which the center operates both internally on campus and externally with community partners. The processes also account for outcomes and the evidence for impact through assessment. The purposes and processes of centers fundamentally shape the programming that is the most visible activity of the center. In all areas of programming, there are elements of capacity building, leadership development, recognition and celebration, resource development and sharing, and strategic planning.

This list of “best practices” was identified by reviewing the literature and analyzing successful applications to generate the survey that was sent to directors of centers and scholars in the field to rank the importance of each component. These responses serve as a form of reciprocal validity (Welch, Miller, & Davies, 2005) in which practitioners socially validate best practice that has been enumerated in the professional literature. The data is examined to identify promising and emergent practices. Analysis of the survey data provides an understanding of current practice and allows for a discussion of implications as well as recommendations for future practice.

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