Share and Explore Community Engagement Activities through ISU’s New Collaboratory System

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This article was reposted from Illinois State University News, originally published on December 8, 2021.

Illinois State University has a new and improved way to track, share, and learn about community engagement activities. The Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) recently launched Collaboratory, a public-facing database that collects and showcases the community engagement and public service activities of faculty, staff, and students.

CCE manages the Collaboratory database, and faculty/staff are encouraged to begin entering their community engagement and public service activities into the new system.

Christine Bruckner, assistant director for assessment and data management at CCE, is leading the project for Illinois State. “Just as the name suggests, Collaboratory shows how the campus and community work together, or collaborate, to address issues of public concern and to make positive impacts in the community. This system gives us access to the information in ways we haven’t had in the past.”

Through Collaboratory, campus and community members can search and learn about how faculty-student research groups, classes, student organizations, and faculty/staff are partnering with the community. Anyone can search by activity, individuals, campus units, community organizations, social issues, or populations to learn about their engagement, all without even logging into the system.

“An important feature of Collaboratory is its ability to connect seemingly isolated activities by organizing them into a set framework that connects the classes, research, creative activity, and/or service components. This connection provides us with one, more complete picture of the community-engaged work or public service. It’s something we haven’t been able to do in the past,” said Bruckner.

The system also provides administrative access to reports for faculty/staff as they enter activities and update their profiles within the system.

According to Bruckner, “the robust report portal provides both numeric counts of the who, what, when, where, and how of the activities as well as descriptions of the activities including intended outcomes and impacts, issue areas addressed, how community partners were involved in the activity, and what teaching or other high-impact practices were used, just to name a few.”

Illinois State began a small pilot of Collaboratory in October 2020 when Bruckner participated in a national Collaboratory cohort through the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ American Democracy Project.

While in the cohort, Bruckner worked with a small team of individuals at Illinois State to onboard and pilot Collaboratory at the University. The team members were:

  • Cheryl Fogler, assistant director, Planning, Research, and Policy Analysis
  • Derek Meyers, assistant director, University Assessment Services
  • Harriett Steinbach, assistant director, CCE

The initial pilot lasted one year, and the decision to continue the use of Collaboratory came as a result of overwhelmingly positive evaluations of how well Collaboratory could support the University’s core value of civic engagement and subsequent strategic objectives.

Just over 80 activities were logged in the initial year of using Collaboratory, and the system officially launched in late fall 2021. According to Bruckner, initial activities that could be entered into Collaboratory were identified through faculty reports within Watermark Faculty Success (formerly Digital Measures), service events within Redbird Life, grants, and contracts from Cayuse/Research and Sponsored Programs, and through stories shared with CCE staff.

“We really encourage faculty and staff to log into Collaboratory and populate their profiles with their community engagement and public service activities,” said Bruckner. “As we collect more and different engagement experiences, our understanding of our engagements and their impacts grows. Our ability to work more collaboratively and strategically toward a shared goal or vision grows as well. The data collected in Collaboratory doesn’t just live in an annual report. It is living data that can be leveraged to make positive change in our classrooms, campus, and communities.”

According to Bruckner, the system has already proven useful to faculty and campus units interested in documenting their community engagement and public service activities for internal and external reporting purposes. Faculty members are able to include the Collaboratory faculty profile URL within their professional websites or annual productivity and/or promotion and tenure reports.

Collaboratory also allows students to search for faculty doing research or teaching community-engaged classes related to areas or issues they are passionate about.

Administrators of campus units can easily reference unit profiles that provide detailed information on all unit activities and also request quick statistics and data points on the community engagement activities of faculty/staff and students within their respective units. This provides very accessible information to administrators for a variety of internal and external reporting requirements such as program review, budget requests, and accreditation.

With the public-facing system, Collaboratory also allows community partners to reference and request updates for their organizational profiles within Collaboratory; to explore their interactions with Illinois State; to search the database for faculty/staff or activities related to issues important to their organization.

For any questions regarding Collaboratory, contact Christine Bruckner. Additional information about Collaboratory can be found on the CCE website and in the Collaboratory Guide.

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