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SWOT Analysis and Follow-up

In February the University of Minnesota's Council on Public Engagement (COPE) met for a SWOT exercise to assess our internal Strengths and Weaknesses, and external Opportunities and Threats. The results of that exercise were supplemented by those from a similar workshop conducted by our Children, Youth, and Family and Consortium and the College of Education and Human Development. A small group of us met to shape the results into a more manageable ten in each category; see below. This afternoon COPE will have a follow-up exercise to propose three concrete, actionable ideas in each category. That will give us a dozen initiatives to work on in the next year.

Although this list is specific to the University of Minnesota, I suspect that a similar list could be compiled at almost any research university.

Strengths

  • Public engagement is being mentioned in revising the promotion and tenure standards. 
  • We have diverse outreach offices and a lot of U unofficial "deputies" to carry this message out into the community
  • Broad-based expertise of university community
  • The U’s reputation for quality
  • The U's land-grant mission and our heritage in doing this kind of work
  • The large amount of resources available
  • The role models available
  • New emphasis on interdisciplinary work
  • Our ability to use our statewide network of coordinate campuses, Extension and Academic Health Center outreach. 
  • MN Campus Compact

Weaknesses

  • Uncertainty about how to define "public engagement" and "community"
  • Disconnect between accomplishments and rewards in public engagement work, and difficulty in evaluating it
  • Inadequate infrastructure (staff support, direct and ICR funding) and fragmentation of those resources that are available
  • Difficulties in applying for grants (Which are the best bets? Who gets to apply? Unusual costs in community-based research? Inadequate ICR from local funders)
  • Lack of understanding of time needed to develop partnerships and accomplish work, on both U and community sides
  • Competition between interdisciplinary and departmental priorities (e.g., TA-ships, NRC disciplinary rankings)
  • Inadequate valuing of public engagement work by professional societies
  • Sometime lack of quality control and protection of communities in public engagement work
  • Difficulties in faculty appointments, promotion, and duties, esp. for junior faculty
  • Complexities in getting public engagement messages out to the public

Opportunities

  • Growing opportunities for collaboration with specific cultural groups, international NGO’s and other organization
  • New opportunities presented by the growing diverse population in MN
  • The U's ability to be perceived as a convener and a place for learning where everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner
  • Long--term public engagement models such as the Jane Addams School and the Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships.
  • Potential of Imagining Minnesota to provide external connections and additional resources for engaged arts, humanities, and design work
  • Potential for national leadership in addressing achievement gap in K-12 education
  • Potential of issue-driven initiatives such as the Institute on the Environment
  • Geographic location in a large urban area where economic, cultural, educational, and political power is concentrated
  • The University’s participation and leadership in national higher education networks
  • Opportunities for dialog and personal engagement suggested by the Front Porch movement of SCOPE, the Student Council on Public Engagement

Threats

  • Little or no ICR recovery from foundation and state grants
  • The University is viewed as monolithic, inaccessible, difficult to navigate, and overwhelming
  • Inadequate state money and changes in the legislative attitude towards higher education
  • Change from a culture of cooperation to an individualistic culture (shift from We to Me) means faculty work too much in isolation
  • Unrealistic public expectations of the U by the public
  • Cultural shift from a relationship model to an expert model
  • External benchmarks, such as higher education ranking systems, that may not value public engagement