Networking the Networks in Canada



MKMN organizers participated in the C2U Expo 2017 in Vancouver, British Columbia May 2-5, 2017.

Local to Global Networking for Knowledge Mobilization

The focus of a recent session at the C2U Expo 2017 was on how global higher education institution (HEI) community engagement networks can act as catalyzers for social action. The workshop sought to increase knowledge transfer among the myriad global engagement networks, to share strategies on issues of knowledge mobilization and multi-stakeholder engagement more widely in order to accelerate the rate of social change possible through collaboration.

Participants identified challenges including geography, communication, and respect for unique cultural contexts, interests and values.  Questions such as ‘what is ‘community’ in community engagement?’ reflected on how certain forms of cultural hegemony inform the language and terminology used in higher education community engagement circles often creating Eurocentric discourses.  The term “networking” itself has economic/ neoliberal connotation as does “social capital.”

Some particpants expressed interest in non-institutional informal communities of practice (CoP) that are context specific and that there was a need to be mindful of who is included & excluded in such CoPs and whether or not exclusion when it occurs is intentional.

Other participants focused on the strategies and models for engaging communities outside the academia, noting the need to overcome differing agendas that are often stipulated by funders with specific priorities.  Especially noteworthy was the emphasis that funders place on showing impact and how this can be informed by a certain ideology.  How can networking inform new ways to share knowledge to reduce overlapping agendas, align efforts, and combine strengths to show greater impact?  Also of concern, in this regard, is how HEI networks define cross-cutting topics of interest (“big” issues”).  There was concern that global declarations by organizations don’t always resonate domestically and that there is a need to explore how global networks can support smaller ones, highlighting how social, economic, and political issues are cross-cutting.

Also of interest during the session was how HEI networks can give stronger voice to community issues, promote successful practices of community engagement, provide inspiration, offer links to resources, advise on overcoming challenges, and share data. Efforts to create such networks involve strategizing the “why?” of the network, thereby creating value for members through developing a clear mandate.  Maintaining such networks depends on their goals and their leadership as well as on creating awareness through media, conferences, face-to-face discussions, and through an mportant networking practice: storytelling.

One suggestion was that HEI networks focus on high-impact topical issues such as food systems and poverty reduction, and topics that bring non-academic funders to the table.  Higher education networks that engage with communities can broker relationships with funders, become a repository for collective knowledge, and provide data and examples of projects that have been successful in supporting the change goals of communities.

Session Organizers

  • Elizabeth Tryon, Director of Community-Based Learning, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Norbert Steinhaus, Living Knowledge, Community Lead – Germany Project Field International Cooperation and Networking, WILA Bonn
  • Crystal Tremblay, Research Director, UNESCO Chair in Community-based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education, Research Associate, Office of Community University Engagement, University of Victoria
  • Maeve Lydon, Associate Director, University of Victoria
  • Howard Rosing, Executive Director, Steans Center for Community-based Service Learning, DePaul University