Implementing Collaboratory on Your Campus

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Best Practices and Cautionary Tales from Collaboratory Administrators

By: Lauren Wendling, Collaboratory Customer Specialist
Lindsey Beagley, Director of Social Embeddedness, Arizona State University
Lori Kniffin, Assistant Director Institute for Community and Economic Engagement, UNC Greensboro
John Loggins, Director of Community Engaged Learning, University of San Diego

Generating institutional support for community engagement and tracking data around it is an intensive and worthwhile endeavor.  And while Collaboratory helps institutions tell their story of engagement, rolling out Collaboratory on your campus is no small task.  Due to the uniqueness of every institution, implementation of Collaboratory looks different on every campus. However, Community Engagement Professionals (CEPs) should not fear!  There is much to learn from fellow CEPs who are actively working to implement Collaboratory on their campuses.  

Before digging into specific examples and advice to assist those working to implement Collaboratory, it is first helpful to identify some of the more general steps institutions take to ensure the successful rollout of Collaboratory in years one, two, and beyond.  

YEAR ONE

Building institutional capacity for rolling out Collaboratory is crucial in Year One.  Creating and expanding inroads with institutional leadership, faculty, and staff is often the largest and most time intensive endeavor.  While it is important to build out your Collaboratory portal (identifying reporting lines, populating content, and publishing already known activities), much of the work to prepare for rollout occurs outside of the portal.  Some of the major questions to consider in Year One include:

  • Where does engagement exist within your institution?  In certain units, centers, and/or schools? Is it more centralized or decentralized?
  • What is your institutional history with engagement data?  Where is it collected? Where and when is it needed (accreditation, assessment, IR, etc.)?
  • Who are your biggest advocates on campus?  How can you obtain their support?
  • How can you align your Collaboratory efforts with institutional priorities?
    • How can the implementation of Collaboratory further existing institutional goals rather than being a new and isolated effort?
    • What institutional story, initiative, or priority can assist you with gaining allies in this work?

What message speaks to your stakeholders to get them to understand the need for data?

YEAR TWO AND BEYOND

As you enter your second year, you have already begun to lay the foundation for a successful implementation; there is no need to let up on the gas!  During your second year and beyond, consider the following to ensure you don’t lose momentum:

  • Continue to strengthen and build new relationships with campus advocates, allies, and other sources and users of data
    • As more activities are published in your portal, identify and strengthen the channels for data dissemination – Sharing is caring!
  • Branch out beyond reporting known engagement activities and your “go to” engaged faculty – Where else might engagement live on your campus?
  • Identify processes by which you can maintain your data and encourage faculty and staff to update their activities

In an effort to assist CEPs successfully implement and leverage Collaboratory on their campuses, Collaboratory Administrators convene monthly, forming a community of practice to discuss the work, share examples, and learn together.  The following insights from Collaboratory Administrators, shared during the November 2019 Coffee Break, are intended to assist others in rolling out Collaboratory at their institutions.

ENGAGE ALLIES

  • Identify a network of Data Liaisons – individuals in schools, departments, offices, centers, etc. – that can share with Collaboratory Administrators the engaged projects occurring in their unit and current or future data needs
    • Consider how data will be exchanged between Collaboratory Administrators and Data Liaisons – ensuring reciprocity of data collection and dissemination
  • Form a faculty and/or staff council comprised of “influencers” tasked with helping spread the news about Collaboratory, tapping into their networks, knowledge, and reputations
    • Don’t limit the scope of such a council to only pushing Collaboratory, but also developing faculty and staff within their disciplines to be more deeply and meaningfully engaged – using Collaboratory as a tool to assist with the effort
    • Focus first on faculty and staff in more engaged units to generate initial buy-in
    • Suggest council members nominate other engaged faculty and staff them know to meet with Collaboratory Administrators who can proxy their data – generate a snowball effect!

CONSIDER THE BIG PICTURE

  • Don’t assume a large, institution-wide launch is always the best path to success
    • Consider a soft launch, sharing Collaboratory with only the most highly engaged folks on campus to generate foundational buy-in from those who could be your strongest allies and advocates
  • Identify how you will frame your introduction of Collaboratory and how the message might change when meeting with various stakeholders 
    • Who will the concept of “telling your story of engagement” resonate with?
    • Who would best respond to the ask of contributing to the institutional culture of engagement, or fulfilling the university mission?
    • What about your data folks?  What would they be most drawn to?
  • Consider how top-down vs. bottom-up approaches might influence buy-in with various campus groups
    • Would faculty be more receptive to communications from executive-level leadership or peers within their departments?
  • Identify the current institutional initiatives and data needs on campus and advocate for how Collaboratory data could help – chase the energy and momentum of campus initiatives!

COMMUNICATE

  • If pursuing a larger, institution-wide launch, consider drafting an email to all Deans from a high-ranking institutional stakeholder to introduce Collaboratory and strengthen the notion that the community engagement is a core part of your institutional identity
    • Request each Dean provide Collaboratory Administrators with names of individuals who could serve as Data Liaisons or advocates
  • Utilize Collaboratory’s resources and marketing materials (flyers, videos, etc.) to spread the word to targeted audiences on campus
  • When faculty and staff begin publishing activities in Collaboratory, promote their engagement in an institutional newsletter, blog, or other outlet – encouraging a little healthy competition among schools departments, or offices!
  • Considering highlighting certain activities and faculty/staff contributions during specific national or campus-wide weeks (e.g. Homelessness Awareness Week, Earth Day)

JOIN THE COLLABORATORY FAMILY

Email collaboratory@treetopcommons.com to learn more about how to leverage Collaboratory to tell your institution’s story of engagement.