Learning Opportunities for Community Partners

Community Partner Meeting

"In neighborhoods besieged by complex, wicked problems, Strategic Doing creates hope through the power of taking action with the assets and gifts that we already possess. In that moment when we combine assets we begin to tell a new story of opportunity and possibility. Strategic Doing gives us the power to change our lives, our neighborhoods, and our communities."

Bob Brown
Associate Director, MSU Center for Community and Economic Development

MSU is committed to a model of engagement that involves the co-creation of knowledge, drawing from both university and community expertise to create solutions to critical issues. University Outreach and Engagement facilitates opportunities to work with communities to generate, transmit, apply, and preserve knowledge. Recent and ongoing examples include the Innovations in Collaborative Modeling Conference, presented in June 2015; the Strategic Doing learning modules, presented periodically in various communities in Michigan; and the community-based, participatory research training modules co-developed with, for, and by community partners.

Innovations in Collaborative Modeling Conference


MSU's Office of University Outreach and Engagement, the Sustainable Michigan Endowed Project, the Environmental Science and Policy Program, and community partners from Detroit and Flint collaborated to organize the Innovations in Collaborative Modeling Conference, held in June 2015 at the Kellogg Center. The conference was designed to address complex social and environmental problems through participatory systems modeling techniques, including system dynamics modeling, agent-based modeling, and social network analysis.


This conference, which attracted participants from all over the world, featured presentations, demonstrations, and posters pertaining to the use of modeling techniques to tackle social and environmental problems related (but not limited) to food systems, natural systems, wildlife management, water, health, transportation, and education.

According to Miles McNall, director of UOE's Community Evaluation and Research Collaborative and coordinator of the conference, the organizing committee was focused on bringing a broad, interdisciplinary scope to the conference. "Because of the intricate connections between complex social and environmental problems," he said, "we solicited presentations on transdisciplinary modeling efforts involving the integration of knowledge and practice across the natural and social sciences, public health, and other disciplines. In addition, we solicited presentations on participatory modeling efforts that directly involved stakeholders from a wide range of sectors in efforts to manage complex problems. We strongly believe that transdisciplinary and participatory approaches to modeling complex problems hold the promise of co-creating new knowledge at the intersections of discipline-based and local knowledge, knowledge that will promote more effective efforts to manage the many complex problems facing communities in the 21st century."

Strategic Doing Workshops and Training

Originally developed at Purdue University by Ed Morrison, regional economic development advisor in the Purdue Center for Regional Development, Strategic Doing is an approach designed for open, loosely connected networks that teaches people how to form collaborations quickly, move them toward measurable outcomes, and make adjustments along the way. According to Morrison, "Strategic Doing provides a new discipline for developing and implementing strategy within the loose networks that characterize our communities and regions. Where strategic planning is slow, linear and costly, Strategic Doing is fast, iterative, and inexpensive."

Bob Brown, associate director of the Center for Community and Economic Development at MSU, provides training in Strategic Doing and facilitates Strategic Doing sessions, in which participants are led through a structured set of conversations that guide them toward realizing opportunities, deciding on outcomes, choosing initiatives or projects, and developing a complete action plan.

Brown introduced Strategic Doing into the Flint, Michigan, area in 2011, where it has been instrumental in the development of several initiatives, such as Neighborhoods Without Borders and the Community Action Group.

According to the Flint Area Reinvestment Office website (http://www.reinvestflint.org), "The key to unlocking a more prosperous future for Flint rests on our ability to cultivate innovative, collaborative partnerships that move quickly toward solutions. We believe the practice of strategic doing is a vehicle that will help us get to where we want to go."

Strategic Doing draws on the strengths and assets of the participants, each of whom has an equal voice and equal responsibility to take action.

Community-Based, Participatory Research Training Modules

In 2013, Jessica Barnes-Najor, associate director of MSU's Community Evaluation and Research Collaborative, and CCED associate director Bob Brown collaborated with national faculty, tribal leaders, and engagement specialists to develop a series of training modules, workshops, and webinars for community partners. The materials for the webinars and workshops were co-designed and co-developed with, for, and by community partners, with the goal of demystifying the community-based, participatory research process. A collaborative consultative process was used to identify the main topics for the modules, which included:

  • Community-Based, Participatory Research in Early Childhood Programs: Process and Ethics
  • The Context of Partnerships: Effective Structures (Part 1)
  • Supporting Effective Teams in Partnerships (Part 2)
  • Honoring Indigenous Knowledge in Community-Based, Participatory Research and Evaluation

Throughout the materials, developers reduced or explained research jargon, included real-life examples, and addressed issues of power and privilege. The materials are also grounded in current scholarship about engagement and are responsive to concerns raised by community partners. Plans are underway to offer the workshops on a regular basis.

  • Written by Amy Byle, University Outreach and Engagement

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