In 2001, the National University of Ireland, Galway launched a major project entitled the Community Knowledge Initiative (CKI), which set out to underpin and realise a civic mission as part of its core activities (www.nuigalway.ie/cki). It was supported by the Atlantic Philanthropies and was the first strategic attempt within Irish higher education to place civic engagement at the heart of an institution. This project planned to promote greater civic engagement at the levels of students, staff, courses, programmes and the institution as a whole. It aimed not just to strengthen existing links with communities, but also to foster an ethos of active citizenship and social responsibility. This work in civic engagement has also culminated in the award of a UNESCO Chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement in 2008 (jointed hosted by the CKI, Child and Family Research Centre and Foroige). The CKI is integral to the University’s strategic mission and is reflected as a core priority by NUI Galway’s Academic and Strategic Plans from 2003-2008 and again in 2009-2014. Following the successes of the CKI, (these achievement were well articulated through a rigorous Quality Review process in 2007), it was mainstreamed and core funded by the university. NUI Galway policies also reflect this work, including; Teaching and Learning Strategy, Key Performance Indicators, Child Protection and Garda Vetting policies.
National and International Civic Engagement - The CKI has developed regional, national and international projects. In 2005, the CKI in partnership with four other Irish universities created and led Campus Engage, a national network to support civic engagement in Irish higher education (www.campusengage.ie). Campus Engage developed resources, seed funded 17 civic engagement projects across Ireland, held a major international conference and series of seminars, a visiting Fellowship, workshops and seminars. Following the publication of the National Review of Higher Education to 2030, the CKI is now collaborating with the HEA on the development of a National Platform for Engagement. In 2009, The CKI began (as a founding member) the Tawasol Project (EU Tempus) that seeks to embed service learning in universities in Jordan and Lebanon (www.tawasol.org). This three-year project is of particular relevance given the Arab Spring and need for democratic and civic participation.
Aims and Goals
The CKI aims to: place communities at the centre of debate, and; educate students for civic engagement. These aims are realised through a number of goals that relate to student volunteering, service learning, research and knowledge sharing.
The ALIVE (A Learning Initiative and the Volunteer Experience) programme was established by the CKI to harness, acknowledge and support the volunteering contribution students make to community. Over 8,000 students have attained the ALIVE Certificate for volunteering that is endorsed by the President of the university; all have attended the ALIVE Graduation held each March on campus. Data on the student experience of volunteering is captured through a bespoke ALIVE volunteer portal and the data has not only informed the programme but this being worked up into a doctoral thesis. In addition, the CKI hosts an annual community opportunities and volunteering fair on campus (in 2011 the 10th was hosted) attended by 80 community organisations with over 2,000 to 3,000 students attending each year. This event is evaluated annually and community offer their perspectives on the nature and impact of the fair. General demographics relating to student volunteering is captured though the CKI website and this data has been key to the schools and colleges when reporting on KPIs (Key Performance Indicators).
The CKI has developed service learning modules within 40-degree programmes across the five colleges. These modules annually give 1,200 students academic credit following an experience of knowledge sharing and project work in community. For example; Engineering students build prototypes following a consultation with those with disabilities; Law students offer pro bono legal advice to community groups; Marketing student develop strategic brand identify for local voluntary organisations; English students work with disadvantaged children and roll out literacy support programme; Philosophy student examine the ethics of life for those from Refugee and Asylum Seeker backgrounds in Ireland. Through the CKI academic staff has been supported individually and collectively, in terms of the design and delivery of these service learning modules. Over 60 staff have been formally ‘trained’ through a 10 ECT module in Civic Engagement as part of a Post-grad diploma in teaching and learning within higher education. This experience is evaluated annually and through a longitudinal study its impact accessed. Annually a service learning needs analysis is undertaken with community and a data bank of project ideas based on community need informs the work. Community partners have been interviewed (semi-structured interviews) and taken park in focus groups as to better understand the role of the CKI and the Univeristy.
Research and Knowledge Sharing
The CKI has developed diverse strategies which aim to share the knowledge resources that exist within and outwith the university, and include high profile seminar series, seminars (students, staff and community), resource production (including volunteering guides & handbooks) and media profiling of work (including the CKI website and quarterly CKI Newsletters, CKI Magazine) and social networking (Facebook and Twitter accounts to promote ALIVE and the CKI). Over 30 press releases are distributed by the CKI annually and we have been profiled in the broadsheets (Sunday Times, Irish Times), local media (Connaught Tribune and Galway Advertiser) discipline specific magazines (Irish Medical Times), academic books (The Engage University by Watson et al.) and web forums including the Talloires Network. We also sit on a number of national and international awarding bodies that recognise civic engagement achievement achievements (DCU’s Civic Engagement Award and the MacJannet Prize for Citizenship. Our research and work in data gathering has culminated in a large number of peer-reviewed articles and chapters (McIlrath 2012; Tansey, 2012; Lyons 2012; O’Connor 2011; Byrne & McIlrath, 2011; Lyons and McIlrath 2011; Tansey, 2011; Boland 2012 to mention a few). Three books have been edited and authored by members of the CKI and the wider community since 2007 (McIlrath & MacLabhrainn 2007; McIlrath et al 2009). The latest is forthcoming in April 2012 published by Palgrave Macmillan US entitled “Higher Education and Civic Engagement - Comparative Perspectives”. To better understand civic engagement nationally member of the CKI team undertook a national survey with 24 HEI’s which was published in 2011 (Lyons & McIlrath, 2011).