What we heard from our communities

Vice-President (External Relations) Elan MacDonald introduces the U of A’s Community Engagement Consultation Plan.

Illustration of North Campus Quad

Community engagement is one of those terms that means different things to different people. In an institution as large and varied as the University of Alberta, community engagement takes so many forms: it unfolds in the work our researchers undertake with communities to solve problems and share knowledge, in the experiential learning opportunities where our students gain real-world insights, in the consultations we conduct when we develop land, and in the outreach initiatives that flow from academic work. 

Two themes bridge this expanse of activities. First, our community engagement efforts center on relationships: on reaching out and building authentic and mutually beneficial connections. Second, community engagement—whether it is through research and scholarship, outreach and service, consultations or experiential learning—is critically important to the U of A. We share a century-long history of community engagement that is deeply rooted in our connections with the communities we serve. It is part of how we create positive outcomes and lasting change.

I have been learning much about this incredible diversity of engagement during my first weeks at the U of A. I started my term as Vice-President (External Relations) on the first of January, at the apex of a year-long consultation process aimed at deepening our understanding of the university’s many communities. Following 83 consultation sessions with more than 1,500 participants and 250 organizations, I’m excited to share our findings. 

What we heard 

One of the core messages we heard from our communities was how encouraged they were by the consultation itself: they were looking for opportunities to engage with the U of A. Throughout these discussions, five major themes emerged: 

  1. Make the university more accessible, both in terms of our physical campuses and by facilitating connections between the U of A and our surrounding communities. This was the top concern we heard. 
  2. Continue to support and strengthen key outreach efforts, as these serve the community well.
  3. Identify and respond to community needs and define what community-university engagement entails, with a focus on reciprocal opportunities that serve both communities and the university.
  4. Market and communicate the U of A’s community-university engagement to build awareness of what is already happening. 
  5. Celebrate our successes in community-university engagement and the university more broadly.

Looking forward

Flowing from these themes and all that we heard in consultations, we’ve laid out a new community engagement plan for the next three years. It includes goals and initiatives for each year—here are just a few examples from Year 1: 

  • Host a series of community roundtables to bring together community leaders, experts, policymakers and practitioners with U of A leadership to talk about Alberta’s most complex issues
  • Launch a story portal to highlight community engaged research, experiential learning and outreach stories
  • Create both an external Community Engagement Advisory Committee and an internal Community Engagement Network to strengthen our ongoing efforts at the U of A 

I invite you to explore the full plan here. I also want to note that the plan is a living document: it will evolve and change as we continue to engage with our communities and receive their input.  

Community engagement is moving in an exciting direction at the U of A. I want to thank everyone who shared ideas, issues and opportunities throughout this process. Like you, we are eager to build on our university’s community engagement efforts. We look forward to doing it with you. 

Elan MacDonald, ICD.D
Vice-President (External Relations)