tccbe

Photo by Jenny Fisher

Earlier this year the Trent Centre for Community Based Education (TCCBE) released a new strategic outline for the next four years (2014-2018).

The TCCBE, which is currently located at Traill, is a non-profit organization with charitable status that was started 20 years ago. The organization facilitates community based projects and research (often for credit) by matching students, faculty, and community members, acting first as a matchmaker and then as a ‘coach’ – guiding the participants through not just the planning and organization, but also the execution.

According to the TCCBE’s strategic outline for 2014-2018 it has “brokered hundreds of research projects that have served to strengthen our local community. Students have benefited both by gaining valuable exposure to the workplace and by learning how to conduct research in the field. Faculty members have given much time and expertise to assist students in this work, and thereby improving the social, economic, environmental and cultural fabric of Peterborough City and County.”

As a way of reassessing the TCCBE’s position and role within both the university and the community, the TCCBE used an extensive consultation process which included an online survey, ‘kitchen table’ discussions with staff and partners, several focus groups with community partners and faculties, one on one interviews (interviewees included external experts), and retreats.

“It wasn’t all roses,” says executive director Todd Barr, “there was a lot of constructive criticism to what we were doing, which was great.”

While they ultimately decided that the TCCBE will now focus exclusively on community based research projects (as that was what they gleaned had the most interest from various participants and partnerships), they also came to what they called ‘the four pillars’ of their development strategy for the next four years.

The first, “A Commitment to Quality”, included things (according to the TCCBE Strategic Plan 2014-2018) such as: “Work to evolve the perceptions of our community partners, from one of believing their participation in a TCCBE project is primarily about student learning, to one where, in addition to student learning, they see our delivery of quality research as an important capacity-building opportunity”, and “work with the academic community, our delivery partners U-Links and C-Links, and our local community partners to clearly articulate, and standardize, our systems and processes.”

The second was “Strong Partnerships”, which aims to “Assist Trent University in achieving its strategic CBR goals, and leveraging this success by positioning Trent University and TCCBE as a point of differentiation – with the TCCBE as Trent’s leader for community-based research”, and to “formally define our relationship with Trent University by engaging with the University to co-develop a framework around expectations, funding, accountabilities, communications, deliverables, and the reporting of results. Work collaboratively with Trent University to create a multi-year MOU to formalize these functions and understandings, to pave the way for easier demonstration of CBR successes for both TCCBE and Trent University” (in both of those sections it seems clear that the TCCBE would like to see the TCCBE play a potentially larger role as a ‘selling point’ and market niche for Trent within the wider post-secondary market).

Increased Community Impact – “Plan for, promote, and facilitate longitudinal, multidisciplinary, multi-year projects that serve to drive sustained effort and resources toward the identified priorities”, also interesting was the plan to “host a bi-annual academic-local community think tank to ensure an ongoing understanding of, and a broad discussion around, the needs of each, so both communities can be further integrated, and be inspired about how CBR and student learning can serve to benefit everyone.”

The final pillar was entitled simply, ‘A Compelling Brand Story”, which suggests to “embark on a multi-year marketing plan to raise awareness of our programs and services, increase philanthropic support as well as other funding opportunities, and to raise the profile of TCCBE with stakeholders including students, faculty members, community partners, donors, other academic institutions, government, and the media.”

The document then goes on to say that these plans will be executed and supported through a series of annual budget plans and that “measurable goals and objectives will be outlined for each step, to ensure they are in alignment with the directions.”

What the TCCBE has presented for itself is making a compelling contribution to how we re-think the role and possibilities of the Liberal Arts University at this juncture in the history of the institution. What’s less clear, however, is how the TCCBE will successfully do that when both the administration and the TCSA have prioritized developing the main campus with ‘wellness centres’ and more ‘student pubs’ even if it means further extricating Trent from the community.