by Alexandra Zannis, CFICE Communications Volunteer

drawn hands layered on top of each other


Community-campus engagement (CCE) projects are meaningful projects that can have remarkable impacts on our communities, even if they can be daunting at first. Don’t be scared!

If you’ve found yourself gearing up to start a CCE partnership and are ready to make lasting change, check out our 10 tips and tricks to make the most of your CCE.

1. Share responsibilities strategically between partners

Creating tasks and assigning responsibilities can be a fantastic place to start any CCE. Promoting a collective and open approach to roles and responsibilities at the start allows for individual input and rapport building. It can also help with clear communication, agenda setting and accountability!

2. Create roles with input from your team

Whenever it is practical, incorporate team member suggestions and talents during the creation of project roles. For example, if someone is a social media superstar, consider asking them if they’d like to be in charge of your project’s social media. Keep in mind that roles should be based on partner time and resource availability. Be sure to regularly review and update project roles since partner interests and skills can change, as can project needs.

3. Get creative but make sure roles are clearly defined

An open lined notebook on a desk with a laptop and orange coffee cup.Having clear roles and responsibilities helps keep communication open and drives individual and collective accountability. Although having a clear division of roles is important, it can sometimes be tricky when working in teams. We suggest taking the time to have team members write out what they want to contribute, what their key strengths may be, how much time they can invest and more. This is a great way to get everyone on the same page, even if partners shift as the project evolves!

4. Focus on building trusting relationships

Make it a goal for all team members to engage in an open and honest way with each other. This will likely require respectful discussion on power dynamics, privilege, personal strengths and weaknesses, as well as a commitment to transparency and giving everyone the opportunity to have their voices heard. Also, be aware that sometimes communities can feel apprehensive towards working with universities; if needed, try to acknowledge past power imbalances that may have inhibited a truly trusting relationship.

5. Use common language everyone can understand

When working in partnerships, be cognizant of organizational terminology or slang that could be an obstacle for good working relations. Try and use common, shared language that isn’t specific to your organization. What do we mean? We mean use plain language! You will know you’re using plain language when team members can find what they need, understand it and then use it. Check out CFICE’s guide to plain language here!

6. Acknowledge the power dynamics attached to financial resources

A scale with the left plate tipped significantly down and the right plate tipped significantly up.

Often, funding can come with a cost. Who controls funding, as well as obligations to funders, can sometimes create power dynamics within CCE partnerships between how the money is received and how it is allocated. Some partnerships take a collective approach to financial resources by talking openly, creating a transparent budget, and involving everyone in the budget decision making process. This approach can help balance power dynamics and allows partners to share responsibilities evenly by deciding collectively how to distribute funds within program mandates.

7. Take advantage of resources found on campuses

Always investigate what kind of resources you can use for free on university campuses. Using library databases and connecting with librarians, finding student volunteers, or accessing free meeting spaces all helps with reducing project costs. Using these resources to help your team is a great step, but, when using these resources, stay mindful of barriers that make campuses inaccessible – such as parking costs.

8. Have Research Assistants help keep projects on track

Research Assistants (RAs) who are embedded in the community (i.e. working at community organization offices) can help manage timeline expectations for the project as they understand both community and academic schedules. Because of this, they are uniquely positioned to help not only bridge the gap between the two worlds but also set project timelines that are realistic and thoughtful.

9. Communication, communication, communication

Two animated people speaking and listening at the end of tin cans connected by string.Successful CCE projects have clear, open communication channels that allow partners to connect directly and effectively throughout the project. Having various means of communication can help facilitate open communication. CFICE partners report that having several channels to work through creates an opportunity for honest discussions and a more seamless interaction when adjustments may be necessary. Having the options to work together electronically, face-to-face, or by phone, allows for team members to use a variety of communication methods based off situation and comfort levels.

Empower and engage all participants

Finally, ensure you are always doing your best to empower all participants and team members engaging in your projects. We know this is hard, but start by listening intently and including suggestions from everyone whenever possible. Both academic and community partners come to the partnership with their own privilege. Being aware of this privilege and using it to help empower each other can make a partnership that much more impactful. CCE projects are rich in community capacity and collaborators are innovative and diverse–this is one of their greatest strengths! Make time to celebrate the multifaceted approach CCE projects have to offer any opportunity you have.

With these tips, we hope that your CCE project feels like an exciting opportunity to bring together and empower academic and community-based partners. Now, get out and get engaged!