Engagement Australia Conference 2013 - Next Steps: Co-producing Knowledge for Social Impact
The University of Newcastle took a passionate group of delegates and presenters to the recent Engagement Australia Conference, held at the Australian Catholic University Fitzroy Campus, Melbourne.
This year’s conference was titled Next Steps: Co-producing Knowledge for Social Impact, with three key themes being explored over the three days: Creating an Engagement Culture in Universities; Co-producing Knowledge; and Creating and Evaluating Social Impact. Over 150 delegates attended the conference, drawn from universities Australia-wide, as well as a contingent of 15 Thai delegates from several universities and organisations in Thailand.
The University of Newcastle is a longstanding member of Engagement Australia, and Sharon Douglas from the University’s External Relations division is a current Board Director. The University was also Keynote Partner for the 2013 conference.
Fourteen UoN delegates drawn from the Faculty of Education and Arts, the Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment, The Faculty of Health, our Ourimbah Campus, The Family Action Centre, The Wollotuka Institute and The International Office were supported by External Relations to attend the conference. External Relations also sent staff from its Community Engagement and Alumni teams, with the community engagement delegates presenting a roundtable workshop about the University’s Engage Newcastle initiative.
The themes for the conference were covered in a variety of presentations – from research to roundtable sessions given by academic and professional university staff as well as representatives from community organisations. Whole group panel discussions were well attended with volunteer ‘keynote listeners’ in the audience charged with capturing the day’s discussions. There was also a panel session dedicated to students where delegates were fortunate enough to hear first person recounts from a variety of students involved in engagement activities as part of their university experience. Interactive group activities were productive - as well as lots of fun - including a Café Conversations session and an Open Space Forum. A lunchtime poster presentation session saw community engagement projects represented visually, with staff and/or students from the programs speaking about their experiences in a one-on-one conversation opportunity for delegates.
Keynote speakers for the conference were globally recognised practitioners and scholars in university-community engagement such as Dr Ira Harkavy, Associate Vice President and Founding Director of The Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships, University of Pennsylvania. During his keynote address Dr Harkavy quoted American educational reformer, John Dewey, as he said, “We do not need education for aristocracy, we need it for democracy”.
Professor Budd Hall, Co-holder of the UNESCO Chair in Community-Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education based in the School of Public Administration at the University of Victoria in Canada, beamed in from his home and continued the theme of democracy when he spoke of the seven questions from a knowledge democracy perspective for higher education that we need to ask. The first of these was “How do we ‘decolonize’, deracialise’, demasculinise and degender our inherited ‘intellectual spaces’?” You can find the seven questions on Engagement Australia's LinkedIn page.
The conference dinner speaker was Misha Ketchell, Managing Editor of The Conversation. Misha’s earnest and authentic speech was the success of the night. Misha says, “I'm incredibly motived by The Conversation. It seems to me a model that addresses all the worst in journalism - lazy, cynical journalists who manipulate the truth and get things wrong - with all that's best in academia - passion, deep knowledge, expertise. It's great to be working somewhere creative that is having an impact and contributing to the quality of public discussion.”
Other presentation highlights included an inspirational and moving account from Suzanne Hunt-Tuzo, a student of the ACU’s Clemente Program. Her story revealed the transformative power of education as well as the social impact of engagement programs such as the Clemente program.
Vice-Chancellors and Pro-Vice Chancellors from five universities were also represented during the conference in a panel session ‘In Conversation with Leaders in Higher Education’. In this session they spoke about the challenges and opportunities to be negotiated and embraced by tertiary institutions in their community engagement mission.
The University of Newcastle’s delegates returned home inspired and determined to continue to meet in a spirit of advancing the University’s community engagement mission. The first gathering of this ‘community of practice’ will take place early next week. Dr Geoffrey See, International and Community Engagement Co-ordinator for the Faculty of Education and Arts said, “The conference was a wonderful opportunity to meet people from other universities who are involved in community engagement activities. It was great to be able to hear about the wide range of activities taking place under the banner of community engagement, and to discuss different approaches with colleagues from other institutions. I have come back with some ideas about activities that could be implemented within my Faculty.”
For highlights from the conference other resources, conversations and activity in the engagement field check out Engagement Australia’s new social media aggregated site. You can also follow Engagement Australia on Twitter or Facebook and follow the #EngageAus13 conversation.