Inspiring examples of transformational knowledge exchange

Global University Network for Innovation (GUNI) Conference on University Engagement 2013 
Blog series – Second post

OK, so we’ve heard the theory (see first post) – what about some practical examples?

The second day of the 2013 GUNI conference focussed more on practical examples – from all over the world – of how good practices in university external engagement partnerships are advancing the socially responsible role of HE and enabling HE to be more open to exchanging knowledge with externals as well as more effective in mobilising its resources and expertise towards engagement with impact.


Screenshot from People’s Voice Media (see ‘In Beyond the Third Mission – James Powell..’ below)


The morning plenary focussed on the educational aspects of community university partnerships (CUE); how universities have a key role in helping to inspire community participation and active citizenship, especially in a world, and regions, riven by inequality.  Robert Hollister ( urged universities to co-conspire with community partners and called for more strategic working around the educational needs that can be sourced through CUE: “…We need to develop people with the skills to build better, more cohesive communities”. Students and staff need these specific skills to be co-educators and codevelopers of knowledge.

Shirley Walters, from South Africa, felt we should encourage “activist scholars” to bring about social change, and eloquently evoked the symbiotic nature of universities in mutually nourishing communities: “an African university is like a tree whose roots anchor it in African soil, yet its leaves reach to the sky for birds to pollinate it… and it gives shelter to those underneath it”.

Mike Osborne, co-Director of the PASCAL Observatory, and Barbara Ibrahim, from Egypt then explored approaches to civic engagement and how positive models of citizenship could be developed – through for example: the role of youth in leadership and use of technology, and role of place embedding knowledge and having a relationship with place.

Osborne put forward the concept of the ‘learning region’ – the  potential for building a sustainable network of learning regions/cities, which involves “intensification of local and regional cooperation among adult education providers, stakeholder collaboration, public-private partnerships (including with SMEs)”. Both recognised that sustainable partnership takes time, and requires commitment to achieve a shared vision.

I participated in a good practice workshop on the second day entitled ‘Academic Enterprise’. The session, chaired by Judith Favish from South Africa, comprised 7 examples of good practice in supporting mutually beneficial university enterprise and engagement with externals.

A particularly inspiring example was presented by Richard Uribe from Colombia who described a partnership between the (private) Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana and the (public) Metro of Medellin. The partnership sought to apply the positive ‘metro culture’ that had been observed to the rest of the city to create a more friendly and inclusive city, by bringing citizens together in joint problem-solving workshops  in a process of divergent then convergent thinking to co-create transformation projects which resolve social problems.

In common with other South and Central American examples we heard, this project demonstrated how universities could act very directly to alleviate social problems and poverty. The Social Entrepreneurship Lab at Universidad Nacional de Colombia also targets reduction of poverty through social entrepreneurship opportunities, while Chineze Uche from Univ Port Harcourt in Nigeria described how skills acquisition is being used to attack youth restiveness and loss of focus by working with ENACTUS.

In ‘Beyond the Third Mission’, James Powell (UK) highlighted good practice projects, evaluated by a process called PASCAL PUMR UPBEAT, where higher education has transformed its social responsibility to citizens and societies locally and globally by harnessing ICT and the power of citizens. The standout example was the People’sVoice Media (see screenshot above) which is creating a community of media-trained reporters (1000 so far) from previously excluded people, extending the model through franchises,  and bringing them into the institution, challenging received notions of knowledge, supply and demand. 

Andrew Furco , Associate Vice President for Public Engagement at the University of Minnesota in the US, gave an excellent overview of how public engagement (PE) has become embedded at his institution, and the formula used has many tranferable aspects for other institutions and resonated strongly with our approach in Jisc BCE and wider UK engagement policy. Andrew described three stages of development in the task of embedding PE in institutional structures and policies:
– critical mass building;
– quality building;
– sustained institutionalisation.

Furco emphasised that this was approached as a strategy rather than a programme, and stressed, as we have in Jisc BCE, that it was really a long-term (15-20 year) change effort for an institution – this accorded strongly with the UK policy perspective. My own perspective is that we are probably about 8 years into the 20 years, as far as embedding engagement across the UK HE sector is concerned. As Andrew mentioned, one of the biggest challenges is not only parity of esteem with research and teaching, but also revising promotion, recruitment, appraisal and tenure guidelines.

We also heard from Joanie Friedman and Erika Dudley about an exciting project in Chicago – the Civic Knowledge Project’s Odyssey Program which connects university faculty and staff to leaders of arts organisations and community scholars, in order to speed up the circulation of knowledge, promote reciprocity and begin to overcome the social, economic and political divisions.  The process of validating individuals and knowledge from outside the university proved particularly productive in creating new knowledge and resources.

Community and Business Engagement

My own presentation conveyed the approach to engagement we  have instituted at Jisc BCE, where external engagement activities and strategic partnerships are grouped under the umbrella term ‘Business and Community Engagement’, since they all share similar challenges, involving non-traditional university ways of working, and distinct skill-sets. This enables strategic oversight of BCE-related resources and services, enhanced by information management and business intelligence which can deliver more cohesion across these activities and competitive advantage for the institution.

Highlighting that skills and infrastructure are the two key pillars to embedding a mature engagement capability, I also emphasised how  all externals, including business – (largely absent from the conference discussions, incidentally) – are valid partners in a holistic engagement strategy. There was marked agreement among the participants on this point about business, especially as SMEs often see themsleves  foremost as community members before their business identity.

The Professional Development Diagnostic Tool for Business and Community Engagement was the good practice presented in this context, and it certainly generated interest among participants in the Q&A, who noted that the quality building stage of embedding engagement depends on recognition and development of the skills involved .
Professional Development Diagnostic Tool for BCE



The tool is interactive and allows you to carry out a self-assessment of your standing against key professional attributes, derive a personal skills profile and identify targeted professional development resources to enhance your skills.

It is of particular benefit to BCE practitioners, senior management and human resources, but will also be useful for the increasing number of university and college staff with an enterprising or collaborative aspect to their role. Comprising three major components – the Professional Development Framework; Self-diagnosis; Resource Finder  –it will help you:

  1. assess your knowledge
  2. evaluate your skills
  3. find professional development resources
  4. create a profile of competencies individually and within a team
  5. prepare for recruitment of engagement-related roles

Sir Tim Wilson, author of the Government-endorsed Wilson Review, has endorsed this professional development resource:
‘UK business-university collaboration is amongst the best in the world, but we are scratching the surface of what is possible. For universities to maintain their momentum in enhancing collaboration, improved enterprise and collaboration skills are needed. The Professional Development Diagnostic tool for business and community engagement offers practical help to individuals in developing those skills.’

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