Engagement - get a handle on it...
By Sarah Goodwin Thiel, Studio Associate, Spring 2018
Let’s face it. Community Engagement in an academic library can be a hard sell. Our colleges and universities are struggling to meet the needs of students and faculty with reduced budgets, smaller staffs and fewer resources. The decision to turn remaining resources outward, into the community, is difficult and often requires even more resources, time and staff hours to create real impact.
Enter a set of tools developed by the Harwood Institute that give engagement professionals a handle on scenarios that support and enhance interactions with constituents across campus and throughout communities. Handles, as defined by Rich Harwood, are tools, frameworks and ideas that resonate with people on an intuitive level. They allow individuals to adopt the mindset of turning outward toward the community and put it to effective use in their engagement work. Handles lead to a new way of thinking - an inclusive way of looking at issues that brings clarity and that results in relationships built on trust.
Harwood’s Aspirational Thinking tool is considered a handle or gateway into the larger Harwood practice. It helps individuals adopt the posture of Turning Outward, defined by Rich Harwood as putting the community first - interacting with community members in a relevant and intentional way. Aspirational Thinking has resonated with me since first attending a Public Innovators Lab in 2013. It reminds me to think more broadly, to consider possibilities, to focus on long-term goals. In a group setting, stopping to consider individual aspirations leads to recognizing shared goals. And understanding shared goals and values allows groups to identify obstacles and determine next steps they can enthusiastically work together to achieve.
Aspirational Thinking is a concept that I was able to quickly embrace and have used easily, and to great effect, in both my professional and personal life. I can engage deeply and discover ways to collectively move forward.
It does not require additional funding, in fact, the results of aspirational thinking exercises help to further institutional missions and can lead to new and continued support. This mindset shift has helped me to succeed as a community engagement professional - through intentional and honest probing and listening.
Another handle, or entry point, into the Harwood practice is the Innovation Space. This is a regularly scheduled conversation with community partners, focused on learning and moving forward. An Innovation Space brings people with different perspectives and expertise together to discuss and draw lessons from ongoing experiences. As a regularly held event, the Innovation Space provides a place for partners to brainstorm, reflect and innovate. Its predictability helps partners be accountable to one another and to their shared goals. The benefits of these discussions greatly outweigh the costs, which are minimal, and serve to build trust and deepen relationships.
So, for academic librarians who want to turn outward and engage with community partners but who lack resources or support, get a handle on it! Let these Harwood tools guide your efforts. A mindset shift, in a very visceral way, will allow you to clarify issues and move your campus forward towards change – collectively – with peers and partners.
*with special thanks to Grady Lenkin, Harwood Institute wordsmith, extraordinaire…