Reflecting on the meaning of the world, “engage,” (v) ( Merriam Webster Dictionary (1988), the descriptors listed are, “ attraction, involvement, participation and joining.” However, the descriptors for “engagement,” (n) are “arrange to meet, do something,” (Merriam Webster Dictionary (1988). For the purposes of this series “engage,” is a useful verb to discover skills that enable action.
The four descriptors for “engage,” suggest strategies of change. There are seasonal changes, changes in health patterns, learning and relationships. One strategy for meeting change within a community is to develop a program that might bring about change. This type of change program comes to a community seeking residents to participate in the program. Results obtained from the program then leave the community, are analyzed somewhere else and outcomes determined. Results or outcomes then become part of a publication or suggested for policy changes. This is an “indirect” investment process in “human capital.”
A second strategy to “engage” with a community is to first develop a partnership with the community. Community residents are attracted to the “engagement,” by asking them to become involved in identifying both community assets and needs as well as to participate and join together to develop a program that will address the communities understanding of change or improvement. This process calls for “direct” investment in “human capital.”
Kearsely & Shneidermann (1999) offers three meaningful components for a community-based engaging process of engagement. They are –a) to relate to the community, b) have a project base within, c) an authentic focus. Skills that relate to the three meaningful components include, a) teaching/learning, b) interpersonal relations, c) advocacy, and d) capacity building. The four subsections that follow address each of these skills.
Community-based conversations are an on-going process of engagement through activities and the development of competencies and skills via a) teaching, b) advocacy, c) interpersonal relations and d) capacity building. Each of these activities encourages an increase in community-based participation. These increases point toward community growth. Collaborating with the realities and perplexities of community members is what makes “sense” in the context of engagement activities. The four engagement activities are discussed further in each section below.
SERIES 4.1 -TEACHING
Just as there are two pathways to engage a community, so too are there at least two pathways to engage teaching and learning. One pathway is to have a predetermined role for the teacher as well as the student. Likewise, the content taught by the teacher and learned by the student is also predetermined. Supporting this pathway to teaching and learning is historical practice along with a grading process that evaluates a student’s learning through testing. Testing results then become the standard for evaluating student learning.
Another pathway to teaching is to examine both teaching and learning. A teacher is also a learner and a learner is a teacher. This skill helps both the teacher and learner to better relate, to develop learning process and projects that include both, and to maintain a realistic focus. Educators who how have taken an innovative interest in this approach include M. Knowles, (1978) and E. Rogers (2005).
Knowles innovations focused on the adult learning. His innovations revealed that educational processes for adults differ from the learning strategies used for children and teenagers. This process is identified as “pedagogy.” The term he develop to describe an adult learner is, “andragogy.” This means that adult come to the learning process based on knowledge from previous experiences of work or prior formal learning. Current and future learning direct this base. Therefore, Knowles concluded, having adults as classroom learners necessitates teaching/learning strategies that include the student in all parts of the learning process. Those parts include what the student already knows, why they want to learn more and how they will be able to meet their goal.
The innovations around learning E. Rogers discovered through his own experience of farm life in the mid to late 1930’s. These agricultural experiences showed him both failures as well as successes. His question was to discover what the causes for each outcome were. He recognized environmental facts of weather, insects and improvement in farming technics. What he sought to understand were factors that influenced some farmers to be the first to try the farming innovations, who accepted them a little later, those who were slow to accept changes and those who never accepted new farming practices. He gathered his information directly from a variety of farming communities. Through his relationships with the farmers and their approach to farming changes, he was able to learn their focus and understanding of what it meant to change farming practices.
From both past and present innovative work on the teaching/learning process, it is possible to compare past teacher-centered strategies from the innovative learner-centered strategies. A chart is included that compares both strategies on the same domains of learning.
Just as innovation has brought engaging the learner, technology brings yet another opportunity and challenge to innovate. On-line learning has developed both a new classroom as well as new strategies to engage the learner. The previous face-to-face, classroom setting has given way to learning through computer assistance either through written assignments, face-to-face assignment using Skype or other modes of face-to-face that includes both seeking, talking and sharing assignments and learning with others. DiMauro identifies that as “thought leadership.”
SERIES 4.2 -INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS
Interpersonal relations (IPR) skills relate to engagement in a different manner than communication skills. The latter consists of sounds and words. IPR recognizes time to as an important factor in its development. It can begin with words and sounds but with time, it grows to reveal feelings, thinking and understanding on both a personal as well as interpersonal level.
Recognizing the role of time for IPR the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (2012) has developed a series of principles that illustrates growth and development of IPR skills for nursing. The principles describe the engagement skills as dynamic, respect for personal boundaries and ethical behavior, decision-making processes and responsibilities.
Within an educational setting IPR skill, recognize the value of every student and his or her past knowledge. Based on these initial skills the educational process seeks to build a learning environment that includes the students, engage the students in problem solving and service learning. At the end of the learning period students summarize their learning and how IPR skills have been included in their learning process.
This section includes an IPR assessment tool.
SERIES 4.3 – ADVOCACY
Engagement competency includes advocacy because of its skills and related activities. Combining skills and activities allows for further development of this competency. Another skill set that promotes advocacy is communication.
Advocacy has two basic definitions, the act of pleading or arguing in favor of something …, or the legal definition, “to plead or argue a case or position via forceful persuasion.” Both definitions share “the process of pleading or arguing a case.” Strategies for each definition will differ depending on the setting.
Important to advocacy activities is the role of time and timing. It takes time to develop both knowledge of an issue as well as to identify important links to an issue. Such links can include economic factors, special interests, other advocacy groups, new reports and major opponents. Long-term advocacy builds from this information with the goal of building links to those who may be on any side of an issue.
Six basic advocacy activities offer opportunities to participate and learn through a variety of methods. One of the advocacy activities is to advise people, a second is to have knowledge of the issue and the ability to listen to what others say. A third activity is to develop specific advocacy strategies that are determined in part by the setting. This level of activity includes extensive planning based on knowledge of the activity focus. After the plan is developed, a fifth strategy focuses on implementation and evaluation of the plan. The last strategy is to have available a second, third or fourth set of plans that can address the issue and meeting shifting changes that occur during advocacy activities. This means always knowing the system(s) where the advocacy is taking place, keeping facts straight and be ready to follow-up following any advocacy activity. Innovation within advocacy takes place within this action arena.
SERIES 4.4 – CAPACITY BUILDING
Evidence from teaching/learning, interpersonal relations and advocacy reflects capacity building of an individual or a community. “Capacity,” points to an ability to learn, perform functions and solve problems. “Building,” suggests a process through which the application of learning relates to an outcome or result.
Pablo Friere (1968) suggests that an enabling environment is an important factor for capacity building. Such an environment reflects policies and a legal framework that facilitate capacity building as an ongoing practice. In 2010, the World Bank (WB) identified capacity building as an integral part of programs they fund. Four areas of practice are essential for this funding: access to information, inclusion and participation, accountability and local organization capacity. These areas of practice are interactive between both the individual and the organization. The WB also characterizes how this movement takes place.
Another assessment tool for capacity building is the use Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Treats, (SWOT) found at www.midtools.com.