On Writing a Civic Action Plan

March 2, 2018

Reflections from Fitchburg State: 

As half-time faculty coordinator of Fitchburg State University’s Crocker Center for Civic Engagement, I was tasked by my provost in the fall of 2016 to put together the university’s Civic Action Plan (CAP)—a plan which integrated both curricular and co-curricular activities, and one which incorporated as many facets of the campus community as possible, including Housing, Financial Services, Capital Planning, Student Affairs, and the various academic disciplines.  Having just attended Campus Compact’s Civic Action Planning Institute with my dean and director of assessment, I felt as prepared as I was ever going to be for the task at hand.  Further, and most fortunately, Fitchburg State had a provost who provided—and continues to provide—far more support than mere lip service to the university’s civic engagement commitment in the local community.

Over the course of Academic Year 2016/17, a large working group of 30+ folks was pulled together from 14 different university offices and nine academic disciplines, and also included three deans.  (I’d like to think it was my magnanimous personality!  Alas…I suspect, however, that the support and “influence” of the provost was probably the key motivating factor.)  The large working group met only three times throughout the year, with meetings ranging from 30 minutes to no more than one hour in length.  The critical work, however, was completed by smaller working groups in-between the three formal meetings.

Throughout the course of the two semesters and the three large group meetings, we divided up the work of the CAP based on the five Campus Compact-recommended action statements: creating mutually-respectful partnerships, preparing students for engaged citizenship, embracing our responsibilities as a placed-based institution, harnessing our institutional capacity to address social and economic inequalities, and fostering an overall environment which affirms the centrality of purpose of higher education.  Group members self-selected one or more of the five actions statements and broke up into smaller action statement working groups.  The five smaller groups then met on their own to flesh out their particular action statement.  

The second large group meeting held prior to break in the spring semester was that of a “progress report” for each action statement.  The smaller action statement working groups were given a new task of identifying one or two top civic action priorities for their action statement, and to report back at the next large group meeting.  

At our third and final large group meeting of the year, each action statement working group presented their finalized action statement addressing five issues: the goal of the action statement; its alignment with the university’s strategic plan; the statement’s objectives; the action steps and assets needed to implement; and, the identified constituents.  Each smaller working group further identified its top one or two priorities for their respective action statement.  Incredibly, although each action statement focused on a different substantive area, there was much overlap in the identification of priorities between the five action statement working groups!  Once the five action statements were synthesized and put into a cohesive format, the top 10 identified civic action priorities were shared with the provost, with the provost further identifying his top three CAP priorities.  The implementation of these three civic action priorities has been the focus throughout this past academic year.

Dr. David P. Weiss is the Coordinator for the  Crocker Center for Civic Engagement and Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts.