By Erin Martel, Communications RA.

Just getting started in community engagement? Then perhaps you’ve already encountered some confusing terms and phrases. It is common for specialists to invent language that suits their needs, but jargon can create barriers for those looking to participate. We don’t want anything get in your way—the point of community engagement is to get everybody involved! In this article, we will attempt to help by explaining the top 5 terms that you will hear in community engagement.

A chalkboard with a light bulb on it and several chalk lines to empty bubbles.

Community-Based Research

As the name suggests, community-based research (CBR) takes place in the community, but CBR is much more than just getting out of the office. The difference here is that researchers and community groups act as equal partners and work collaboratively to study community issues. Research that has roots in the community has a much better chance of helping those who need it most.

Often, CBR use participatory research or action research methodologies to guide their approach to working with the community. Participatory research emphasizes collaboration with the people or organizations being studied in order to get a deeper understanding of the issues they face; while the aim of action research is to foster positive change in the community by taking action and then studying their effect.

Community Service-Learning

TTwo students studyinghey say that the best way to learn is by doing. This is the idea behind community service-learning, a form of education in which students learn through the act of community service. Many university and college courses integrate community service into their learning objectives. Students could find themselves working on one-time research projects or enjoying ongoing volunteer work. The best part? Everyone benefits: students get to practice skills in “the real world” and community partners get the help they need while being exposed to fresh perspectives. Most importantly, CSL forges relationships that enhance community-campus engagement in the long term.

Knowledge Mobilization

Knowledge mobilization (KMb) is sharing academic research in order to create an impact. To make knowledge work for the community, academia must reach out through multiple media—simply publishing in academic journals is not enough! It is better to use social media, blogs, newspapers and other platforms that are accessible to the community and more widely used. Knowledge mobilization also requires researchers to seek out and listen to community perspectives before beginning their project.

Knowledge brokers that specialize in connecting with knowledge users can be a great help in making sure research makes the most impact.

Community Impact

The point of community engagement is to have an impact! Community impact, then, are the outcomes of community initiatives. There are many ways being engaged in the community can make a measurable difference, such as influencing policy, increasing awareness or improving people’s lives. Success often hinges on understanding and answering the needs of community!


Being community-first is what CFICE is all about! Community-first is a way of thinking and a way of working with community partners that respects their experience. When you are community-first, you work as an equal partner, listen to community needs and work together to tackle issues.

Did you notice that being community-first is the common thread in the terms we discussed? Community-first thinking can help you in all of your community engagement activities and ensures that you make an impact.

Are there any other community engagement terms that you find confusing? Why not check out our Glossary that expands upon the list of terms in this article. Or leave a message in the comments below to request a definition.