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Issues to Impact - Vision

Page history last edited by Robert Hackett 14 years, 5 months ago





The last 20 years have witnessed tremendous growth of national service : both in terms of number of volunteers, service-learning courses, and institutional resources.  Yet, while we have more going on than ever before, these efforts are usually a) short-term, b) disconnected from one another on campus, and c) diffused across a large number of community partners and issues.


Because institutions in the Bonner Network have all implemented the four-year, intensive service-based scholarship model, the subgrantees in this proposal have addressed the weakness of short-term, episodic engagement with community partners and issues.


However, like the rest of the field, Bonner Network schools still need to find ways to more effectively develop, link, and integrate a fuller range of civic engagement activities into targeted, comprehensive and integrated community-campus partnerships.


We have asked campuses in the Bonner Network to pilot the issues to impact initiative by:


  • selecting 1-2 issue areas that are related to the economic crisis/recovery to concentrate their initial organizing efforts;
  • establishing a Project Leadership Team comprised of at least one community partner staff, campus staff, student, and faculty for each specific issue-area;
  • developing, coordinating, and integrating a comprehensive set of six research and direct action activities to be completed by the Project Leadership Team;
  • participating in national networking activities, including two subgrantee gatherings per year, monthly conference calls, and ongoing online social networking discussion and information sharing;
  • participating in our national assessment strategy to measure the impact of their programs and the benefits of the community partnership(s) from the community partner perspective.



Six Core Activities


We have defined six core civic engagement activities that will be implemented by our participating campuses, which we define below.  



For each of these activities, we have included the and results of a survey we conducted of 43 community organizations who will be participating in this initiative.  The survey asked these organizations whether each activity listed below was a) important (i.e., valued or necessary) to their operation in terms of "not needed, needed, or highly needed" and b) if each was currently "occurring or not occurring."  We combined the needed and highly needed into one need figure, and also included the % gap between the expressed need for each activity and the % currently occurring. This gap represents the amount of unmet need, which we believe colleges and universities can address by expanding and linking their civic engagement efforts.  


Direct Service


  • SHORT-TERM VOLUNTEERS [need 90% | occurring 58% | gap 32%] : 1x or short-term volunteer projects


  • REGULAR VOLUNTEERS [need 98% | occurring 68% | gap 30%] : 2-3 hr/wk for a 15-week semester


  • SUSTAINED VOLUNTEERS [need 95% | occurring 45% | gap 50%] : 4-10 hrs/wk for school year (e.g., volunteer project coordinators)


  • SITE-BASED VOLUNTEER TEAM [need 90% | occurring 38% | gap 52%] : group of 3-5 sustained volunteers (4-10 hrs/wk) serving with agency on projects developed through annual, collaborative planning process


  • SUMMER INTERNS [need 90% | occurring 28% | gap 62%] : full-time student intern(s) serving 8-10 weeks with stipend and living expenses covered/supplemented by campus, Bonner scholarship, and/or AmeriCorps


Capacity Building


  • STAFF AND BOARD TRAINING [need 83% | occurring 18% | gap 65%] : non-profit management training workshops for staff and board members (e.g., how to write a grant, introduction to evaluation and assessment, using the internet and social media, etc.)


  • STRATEGIC PLANNING [need 88% | occurring 20% | gap 68%] : support for staff and board in short and long-range planning efforts (e.g., supporting a board or staff retreat, board development, grant writing assistance, or research as described below)


  • TECHNOLOGY [need 95% | occurring 18% | gap 77%] : support for creating and managing organization¿s website, create promotional or instructional videos, program a database, train staff on using internet for research and social networking




  • WORKING GROUP(s) [need 80% | occurring 28% | gap 52%] : support for convening a group of local organizations/individuals (e.g., host series of meetings on campus led by local school board but involving parents, teachers, teens, and others interested in developing strategy for reducing high school drop-out rate)


  • PUBLIC ISSUE FORUM  [need 93% | occurring 28% | gap 65%] : support for organizing a larger scale public forum where a public policy issue can be presented and potential solutions discussed (e.g., public forum on local responses to economic crisis with presentations by expert panel)


Community-Based Research


  • PROGRAM/COMMUNITY ASSESSMENT  [need 85% | occurring 25% | gap 60%] : community needs/asset  assessment, program evaluation, oral history project (e.g., survey for local United Way on needs of local non-profit community in responding to economic crisis)


Policy News and Analysis


  • LOCAL ISSUE BRIEFS  [need 95% | occurring 23% | gap 72%] : research on scope of the issue, past policy milestones, current policy, policy options and model programs, key organizations, and glossary of terms (e.g., high school dropout prevention, chronic homelessness, etc.)


  • COMMUNITY NEWS & RESOURCES  [need 88% | occurring 25% | gap 63%] : website that provides digest of policy and program news (e.g., issue briefs, meetings, grant announcements, job openings, links to community-based research studies, and a directory of organizations, foundations, government agencies, and other non-profit resources)


Social Media / Community Information Hub


  • EMAIL LISTSERV FOR LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS  [need 93% | occurring 43% | gap 50%] : moderated email listserv to share news and resources  among local network of non-profits and public agencies (e.g., subscribers will share announcements of training or grant  opportunities, new programs, or policy initiatives)


  • LOCAL SOCIAL NETWORKING WEBSITE  [need 83% | occurring 25% | gap 58%] : create new social media organizing tools for individuals and organizations to discuss common issues, share resources, promote causes, and mobilize network of volunteers (e.g., create online forum that brings together volunteers and advocates for after-school youth development programs) 


Community Needs


Survey Results


In developing this plan, a group of 15 campuses worked with local community partner agencies to identify their needs through interviews and an online survey.  The results show that the initial 43 community agency partners are primarily non-profit agencies (85%) but include public schools (10%) and local government agencies (5%).  They are largely multi-service agencies working to address the following needs:


- 61%  Poverty (Hunger, Homelessness, Supportive Services, Health Care)

- 46%  Education, Youth Development

- 44%  Affordable Housing, Economic Development, Job Training

- 17%  Environmental Sustainability, Green Jobs


Due to the economic downturn, 76% are experiencing decreases in funding support while 56% have seen an increase in their number of clients.  37% are experiencing both. Below we share several representative responses:


- "The number of people accessing our services has increased in the past year. We are serving more food. Our GED program has increased in numbers from averaging 30 students to 90 students. We are also beginning to work with the local Unions to create re training for labor union members who have been laid off from their jobs." Let's Help (Topeka, KS)


- "Our annual budget is drastically being cut. We are now in the process of working to provide all essential services with 10% less money. Before the economic crisis, Richmond already struggled with a high poverty rate and a low socio-economic population. Now that we are losing more jobs it is even more difficult." City of Richmond (IN) Mayor's Office


- "The current economic crisis means that there are even fewer funds available to make our schools work for all of our children. There have been teacher layoffs, after-school programs have been cut and enrichment programs in the schools are being eliminated. We can't have an economically prosperous community if most of our children do not even obtain a high school diploma." Holyoke Unites (Holyoke, MA)


The combination of decreased funding and/or increased demand for services explains, in part, the high demand for the full range of organizational capacity building services offered by our participating campus sub-grantees (as summarized in Section 2).


Campus Response


We believe that a comprehensive, integrated approach to addressing community-identified needs can lead to measurable results.  When linking their teaching, research, and service missions, colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to provide the necessary support in a manner that is of the highest quality and with little to no cost to partner organizations.


Specifically, our range of six civic engagement activities seeks to develop community partner staff and board members by:


  • expanding the number of student volunteers serving with them on a continuous basis


  • identifying and developing mechanisms for sharing assets and expertise across community partner agencies


  • providing a range of professional development training to community partner staff through their participation in national subgrantee gatherings and ongoing social networking.


In addition, below are a few specific innovations we will seek to implement to meet community partner needs:


  • Capacity Building / Convening : experiment with ways to use social media for staff and board development training and social networking for sustainable cross-site support, dialogue, and information sharing. 


  • Community Information Hub - utilize a new web-based local information portal to keep local community leaders informed and connected, and to increase efficiencies in program delivery, especially among local groups addressing overlapping issues or common clients.


  • Strategic Planning - developing, implementing, and expanding a strategic planing and evidence-based evaluation approach: (1) within community partner agencies relative to their program development and implementation; (2) within institutions of higher education relative to civic engagement; (3) between community partners relative to their shared assets, challenges, issues, and clients; (4) between institutions of higher education and community partners relative to the development of sustainable, capacity building, partnerships; and, (5) at the community level relative to building and/or expanding a culture of deliberative democracy.


Finally, the process and result of linking the six core civic engagement activities into a comprehensive, integrated and targeted approach has the potential to address an underlying need (which is often expressed but too rarely solved) for greater strategic communication and collaboration among and between the non-profit and public agencies.


This challenge is captured well in a CNCS Resource Center publication:


"Many of the problems national service programs were created to deal with are interrelated. Agencies and service programs that can work together to address community needs can more easily expand their resources and create a network of support. Successful collaborations require leadership, commitment, hard work, dedication, and high level administrative support from within each organization."


Supporting strategic planning and collaboration as defined above is probably the most far reaching community change goal our initiative seeks to address.


Fostering Community Problem Solving


The comprehensive, integrated approach to community-campus partnerships being proposed in this initiative will offer innovative, flexible models and tools to bring together students, faculty, staff, local citizens and community leaders interested in collaborating on addressing community-identified needs.


One key area of innovation for community problem solving will be in leveraging shared information and expertise from both community and campus participants through a) policy analysis, b) program evaluation, c) convening, d) social media, e) the web-based community information portal, and f) new coordinating Project Leadership Teams.  All these activities are designed to link existing leaders, programs, and organizations in focused, sustained community problem-solving partnerships.  We believe campuses are uniquely positioned to support and in some cases lead these activities.


We will also develop a wiki-based Guide on Strategic Community-Campus Partnerships. Subtitled "Organizing Comprehensive, Integrated Civic Engagement Programs," this guide will profile the efforts of our subgrantees in mobilizing all campus assets to the highest levels of student development, community impact, and campus infrastructure. The guide will include training materials, process guide, and online presentations that make use of social media.


Our individualized campus support and regular subgrantee gatherings will help campuses move through a strategic planning process that builds and integrates all six civic engagement activities.  We will work with campus teams to ground their strategy in assessment and broader rubrics for civic engagement, deliberative democracy, and collaborative community problem solving. 


Student Development


"When the design emerged it was surprisingly simple and straightforward. The idea is to make the political/social challenges themselves—from health and education to the uses of force—the organizers of the curriculum. They would assume the commanding role of traditional disciplines with structures that connect rather than divide; expand horizons rather than limit them. Mutually dependent circles instead of isolating triangles.


"And the point is not to treat these as topics of study but as frameworks of action—the challenge: to figure out what it will take to actually do something that makes a significant and sustainable difference. Throughout a central objective is to make thought and action reciprocal—thought driven by action; action informed by thought."


— Excerpted from a 2/7/09 talk delivered at the 2009 TED Conf. by Elizabeth Coleman, President of Bennington College, on her vision for their new Center for Public Action



In this initiative, we will develop strategies and resources for guiding students in choosing a "service major” in an issue area such as improving public education or reducing hunger and homelessness.


In this process, there are several implementation questions we seek to answer:


(a) what combination and type of sequenced co-curricular service placements, training, and reflection most effectively help a student discover "their passion" and make a sustained contribution to an issue/place?


(b) depending on the issue focus of their ‘service major,’ what knowledge of program and policy information should they be taught to maximize their effectiveness in their service/leadership roles?


(c) what curricular and other resources can be utilized (or need to be developed) to increase a students’ knowledge related to their issue focus, the location of their service, and their abilities to apply their learning through civic engagement projects that address poverty, inform related public policies, and contribute to deeper impact of their work?



Bonner Student Development Model


The Bonner Program’s approach to student development rests on an intentional, four-year developmental model.  Bonner students participate 10 hrs/wk during the school year and full-time in the summer in co-curricular service, weekly workshops, relevant service-learning coursework and projects, reflection, and one-on-one advising.  


In addition, students will be guided to find related coursework.  This can leverage and promote academic-service connections.  With support from a recent FIPSE grant, the Bonner Foundation has supported campuses in creating civic engagement academic minors or concentrations which introduce students to a defined range of civic knowledge areas in the areas of:


  • Public Policy : e.g., the structure and roles of government, ways to be involved in shaping public policy, and analyzing the implications of governmental policies


  • Poverty : such as the roots and conditions of poverty, implications, and possible solutions


  • International Perspective and issues : connected to issues that the student is addressing, such as the distribution of wealth, health care, environmental concerns


  • Issue-based Knowledge : connected to direct service areas, such as of public education, economic development, and homelessness or hunger


  • Place-based Knowledge : connected to the place where the student is serving, such as knowledge of local context, history, economics, politics, environmental issues


  • Diversity : understanding and awareness of issues of power, class, race, gender and other factors in social identity


In addition, all Bonner Programs help students explore the deeper personal and societal values represented by our Common Commitments:


  • Civic Engagement : Participate intentionally as a citizen in the democratic process, actively engaging in public policy and direct service.


  • International Perspective :  Develop international understanding that enables Bonners to participate successfully in a global society.


  • Social Justice : Advocate for fairness, impartiality, and equality while addressing systematic social and environmental issues.


  • Community Building : Establish and sustain a vibrant community of place, personal relationships, and common interests.


  • Diversity : Respect and engage the many different dimensions of diversity in our public lives.


Pedagogically, the Bonner developmental approach is grounded in theoretical approaches (such as Kolb’s model of learning) and in a relational pedagogy of engagement (as articulated by Carol Schneider and Lee Knefelcamp in Education for a World Lived in Common).  Our campuses also utilize time-tested best practices in the areas of effective community service, service-learning, civic engagement, and youth voice.



Service Major


Through this initiative, we will introduce the concept of students selecting a “service major,” which we believe will allow us to provide an even stronger emphasis on an intentional plan for personal growth by tailoring it to their issue area.


A key part of our strategy is helping students, faculty, and administrators make connections between the direct service students are performing weekly with campus efforts to help build the management and strategic capacity of non-profit organizations, schools, and communities engaged in addressing community needs.


A central component of our proposed plan is equipping students and the community partners with whom they serve with research, analysis and the opportunity to  discuss the nature and extent of specific community issues, what’s currently been done to address them, and what evidence-based programs and policies are successfully addressing them elsewhere.


As we do this, we will refine the set of skills and processes (such as how to convene diverse individuals in community-oriented contexts and successfully guide processes that expand and/or deepen the impact of campus-community partnerships) through refining the training and guidance provided to these teams and students.  Hence, we will empower and educate (through intentional design and action) these teams to successfully engage and educate others in broader contexts about the community issue.


Workplans & Resources

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