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Volume 10
2015

Conducting Institutional Research on Outreach

Burton Bargerstock

"We continue to refine the instrument. We have to balance our desire for data that's both deep and broad with the respondents' willingness to give it, especially in light of their other, competing reporting requirements. Also, multiple interpretations of what is 'engagement' persist, as well as the complexities of trying to make the instrument items relevant across disciplines and other variations. And demand for the data is huge. The efficiency of standardizing it is attractive, but many of its uses demand specialized niche support."

Burton Bargerstock
Director, National Collaborative for the Study of University Engagement

By the time NCSUE was launched in 2005, UOE scholars had been working for several years to develop a measurement instrument for faculty outreach activities. MSU began participating in national efforts to identify measures in 2002.

The Outreach and Engagement Measurement Instrument (OEMI), which came out of this work, is an annual survey, first administered in 2004, that collects data from MSU faculty and academic staff about their engagement activities. The OEMI gathers numerical data along several dimensions: time spent, societal issues, Bolder by Design imperatives, forms of activity, locations, non-university participants, and external support. The survey also asks for descriptive information about purposes, methods, impacts on scholarship, and impacts on the external audiences for individual activities. Those who did not participate in any outreach/engagement activities during the year are asked to confirm that they didn't.

Since 2004, 3,685 faculty and staff members have responded to the survey, with approximately 80% reporting that they have participated in some form of outreach or engagement. In the aggregate, these individual stories express the breadth of disciplines, qualities, impacts, and communities represented in MSU's engaged scholarship portfolio. The work reported by these respondents over the 12 years of data collection represents a collective investment by Michigan State University of over $177,178,200 in faculty and academic staff time devoted to addressing the concerns of the state, nation, and world through engaged scholarship (based on the salary value of time spent).

MSU now has one of the most sophisticated databases of scholarly engagement information in higher education, and has licensed and adapted the OEMI for use by several partnering universities to collect institutional data about their community-engaged scholarship and outreach.

The University is also exploring ways to streamline all faculty reporting. Work ahead includes determining how to integrate engagement data collection within new university processes. Increased interest in geographic representations of OEMI data is expected to lead to broader utilization of GIS. Also, collection of OEMI data from some non-academic employees who support outreach and engagement is under consideration.

How are OEMI Data being used at MSU?

  • OEMI data have been used in MSU’s accreditation and Carnegie Community Engagement Classification self-studies.
  • They have been used to document progress on MSU strategic imperatives.
  • Targeted briefing material, based on the data, is frequently requested by the President, the Provost, and other university leaders to support proposed initiatives with stakeholders and potential funders, as well as speaking appearances.
  • Data documenting the thematic diversity and salary investment of university contributions to scholarship for the public good are published and shared annually with faculty and stakeholders.
  • Unit-level data are periodically requested by department chairs and directors, and are also provided annually to deans.
  • Geographic data have been used to map the locations of partnerships for various university development efforts.
  • The data have helped to identify faculty working in particular communities and/or around specific topics for the purpose of organizing systemically-focused networks (e.g., Detroit, Flint, STEM, health, child abuse, schools, transportation, Hispanic students).
  • The data are routinely reviewed in order to identify engagement opportunities and outreach programs, which are cataloged by UOE staff in websites maintained to promote public access.
  • Written by Linda Chapel Jackson, University Outreach and Engagement