Delivering an MPA Emphasis in Local Governance and Community Development Through Service Learning and Action Research

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Delivering an MPA Emphasis in Local Governance and Community Development Through Service Learning and Action Research
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   Journal of Public Affairs Education 217 Delivering an MPA Emphasis in Local Governance and Community Development Through Service Learning and Action Research Margaret Stout West Virginia University   A  BSTRACT This paper describes an action-based model for a Master of Public Administration emphasis in Local Governance and Community Development, along with preliminary    observations during pilot implementation. This series of four courses delivers substantive and sustained community outreach in a proven developmental process  while providing students hands-on learning opportunities that build core pro- fessional competencies by putting theory into practice in a real-time, reflective manner. Students who complete all four courses are uniquely prepared to step into local governance activities that build community capacity and engage community stakeholders in collaborative planning and action. Readers are encouraged to adapt and adopt this integrated outreach, service learning, and action research model to most effectively meet these dual technical assistance and learning objectives. This paper describes an action-based model for a Master of Public Administration  emphasis in Local Governance and Community Development, along with prelim-inary    observations during pilot implementation. This series of four courses delivers substantive and sustained community outreach in a proven developmental  process  while providing students hands-on learning opportunities that build core profes- sional competencies by putting theory into practice in a real-time, reflective manner . Students who complete all four courses are uniquely prepared to step into local governance activities that build community capacity and engage community stake- holders in collaborative planning and action. The paper provides an orientation to service learning and action research, explains  how curricular and community goals can be strategically matched, describes the  JPAE 19  (2),   217–238 Keywords  : service learning, action research, local governance, community development  218  Journal of Public Affairs Education  model and its pilot, and draws conclusions about the model’s usefulness and the potential for replication in other place-based (as opposed to online) MPA programs. Based on the unique fit between community and student needs, the paper argues that MPA programs wishing to develop local governance specializations should consider adapting and adopting this integrated outreach, service learning, and action research model to most effectively meet these dual technical assistance and learning objectives.  A  N  E  VOLVING  A  PPROACH   TO  S ERVICE  L  EARNING    AND  A  CTION  R  ESEARCH Community outreach from institutions of higher education began in large part  with the federal land grant mission. When originally established by the Morrill Act of 1862, land grant institutions were charged with teaching, research, and outreach missions that focused on traditional disciplines (humanities, social science, and natural sciences) or agricultural and industrial development (Brown, Pendleton- Jullian, & Adler, 2010). Today, land grant universities are challenged to transform outreach and extension programs to fit conditions in which “the needs of the people in the workplace, the community and the home” have dramatically changed (Brannon, Morgan Dean, & Morgan Dean, 2002, p. 1). Therefore, contemporary    extension services commonly offer programs in areas such as community engagement , technology innovation, and community, economic, and workforce development  (Cote & Cote, 1993). To expand these evolving approaches, institutions of higher learning more  generally are urged to “embrace new forms of learning and interdisciplinary inquiry that respond to the needs of the 21st century” (Brown et al., 2010, p. 10). Rather than relying on traditional extension programs, service learning and action research have become platforms for institutional outreach meant to have environmental, community, or organizational impact. Activities are designed to simultaneously produce curriculum driven learning outcomes, applied research knowledge, or both. In terms of learning  , rather than stand-alone student or faculty engagement in outreach efforts, the emerging approach is to integrate service into course curri- culum, moving the classroom into the community (Kellogg Commission, 1999b). In terms of inquiry  , applied and action research are becoming more widely accepted academic purposes and methods, and they are increasingly integrated into both service learning and more traditional outreach efforts (Spainer, 1999). Such holistic approaches “strengthen the link between discovery and learning by providing more opportunities for hands-on learning, including undergraduate research”  (Kellogg Commission, 1997, p. ix). They also produce stronger abilities to link theory to practice (Lambright, 2008).Taken together, the contemporary understanding of service learning is an “approach that integrates community service with academic study to enrich learning,  teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities” (Service-Learning, 2002, p. 15). The learning approach, whether called experiential, project-based, client-based , M. Stout   Journal of Public Affairs Education 219 or hands-on learning, has proven effective with students at all levels, from preschool  through graduate school. Successful service learning establishes clear educational goals that require the application of concepts, content, and skills from the academic  discipline at hand to relevant, current issues. Through application, students construct their own knowledge by using an experiential, inductive form of inquiry. Analytical  reflection on those experiences fosters critical thinking and the linkage of theory and practice (Collier & Williams, 2005). This step has been noted as a crucial element of any experiential learning process (Cunningham, 1997), particularly   for service learning (Imperial, Perry, & Katula, 2007).Service learning builds the ethic of public service and a habit of civic engage- ment that extends beyond academic and professional life (D’Agostino, 2008). As Madeline Kunin, former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education said, “Service learning resurrects idealism, compassion, and altruism” (Service learning,  2002, p. 38). Thus service learning promotes skill development in what has been called emotional intelligence or humanistic caring (Killian, 2004; Kramer, 2007). When activities are targeted toward real-life problems and opportunities, students become engaged in and concerned about the policy issues most in need of active participation. Developing this interest and passion can countervail the shrinking of social capital that society is experiencing due to the loss of active citizenship (Putnam, 2000). It also stands to reclaim the public purpose of educa-tion—to develop citizens, not just workers (Service-Learning, 2002). Perhaps for these reasons, federal policies like the National and Community Service Act of 1990 and the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993 promote service learning at all levels of education and in community-based settings.These approaches to service learning and action research have been adapted and adopted at all levels of education and by both public and private institutions. Indeed, they have become the hallmark of a growing trend in higher education, and the university is now recognized as a key player in fostering civic engagement (D’Agostino, 2008). For example, many campuses have a community engagement office or Campus Compact office, which is a national coalition of more than 1,100 college and university presidents who are committed to fulfilling the civic purposes of higher education (Compact, 2011). Founded in 1985, the coalition has offices in 35 states with staff who promote public and community service that develops students’ citizenship skills, helps campuses forge effective community partnerships, and provides resources and training for faculty seeking to integrate civic and  community-based learning into the curriculum.Programs like Campus Compact recognize that successful service learning requires collaboration not just among university participants, but between the university and the communities it serves. Traditional outreach approaches place the university in a reactive, therapeutic role—experts respond to problems or requests for assistance in a top-down, one-way fashion (Kellogg Commission, 1999b). In the worst-case scenario, experts select “target populations” that may Local Governance and Community Development   220  Journal of Public Affairs Education  not even want intervention. In the contemporary approach, this role has been  reconceived as one of social leadership and innovation for community and cultural change (Stephenson, 2011). As an initiator, the expert makes an invitation to the community to collaborate. One leading strategy is to increase connections among academic programs, commercial enterprises, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations in structured encounters for collaborative learning, planning, and implementation (Brown et al., 2010). However, the key to success and sustainability of such efforts is to employ facilitative leadership styles in which experts are on tap, not on top. As with all  service learning, activities should be in response to genuine needs seen as important to the community (Service-Learning, 2002). The engagement process needs to be reciprocal: “two-way streets designed by mutual respect among partners for what each brings to the table” (Kellogg Commission, 1999b, p. 9). Providing outreach through action research and service learning activities helps everyone involved maintain this learning orientation, generating contexts that enable faculty, students , and community members to learn in a mutual, shared manner. This collaborative philosophy is congruent with the engagement purpose of creating a “learning society” (Kellogg Commission, 1999a). Furthermore, these community service purposes are well fitted to public administration curriculum. T  ARGETING  C OMMUNITY   C  APACITY  The integrated model for outreach, service learning, and action research described herein focuses on building community capacity in tandem with an MPA emphasis in Local Governance and Community Development. It is critical that service learning objectives match associated learning outcomes (Dicke, Dowden,  & Torres, 2004; Imperial et al., 2007) and community capacity building is a highly fruitful activity for building core public administration competencies. The activities involved in building governance capacity, engaging cross-sector stakeholders in collaborative planning, and community development action build competencies across all five domains required for accreditation (NASPAA, 2009). To fully illustrate, it is necessary to provide some background on the purpose of community capacity building. This section considers community capacity in  three stages: nurturing readiness, building capacity, and harnessing capacity. Nurturing Readiness The term community capacity   refers to a community’s collective ability to foster  and sustain positive change. The “collective” includes both individual and group units of analysis, including informal groups, organizations, networks, and geographic areas (Chaskin, Brown, Venkatesh, & Vidal, 2001). In sum, these units are the community’s assets   (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993). The factors that contribute to capacity are framed in the community development literature as community capitals  , including natural environment, cultural, human, social (bonding and   bridging forms), political, financial, and built environment types (Flora & Flora, M. Stout   Journal of Public Affairs Education 221 2007). All of these capitals are interrelated and boundaries are not always clear,  but when they are mutually supportive, all elements of community sustainability— environmental, economic, and social vitality—are fostered (Fey, Bregendahl, & Flora, 2006). For this reason, community capacity is often understood as resilience   (Perrings, 1998). Community capacity must be understood both as a  potential   for positive change and the effect   of its application. In other words, owing to the dual nature of com- munity capacity, when   it is measured in relation to community interventions makes a difference in how it is analyzed. For example, capacity as a potential means the abilities, commitment, and resources needed to take any type of community building action. It is described by concepts like conditioning influences   (Chaskin et al., 2001) , orientation   (Denhardt & Glaser, 1999), or  preparedness   (Perry & Lindell, 2003). This readiness   aspect of capacity has been explored most fully in the risk and pre- vention arenas (Donnermeyer, Plested, Edwards, Oetting, & Littethunder, 1997; Edwards, Jumper-Thurman, Plested, Oetting, & Swanson, 2000; Norris, Stevens, Pfefferbaum, Wyche, & Pfefferbaum, 2008) but is being explored in other types of community development and resiliency work as well (Chazdon & Lott, 2010; Foster-Fishman, Cantillon, Pierce, & Van Egeren, 2007; Miller, 1990). In short, if a community lacks sufficient capacity to take advantage of outside assistance, the investment will likely fall short of desired outcomes. In this sense,   capacity is an independent variable  . Thus community capacity is first measured through needs and assets assess-  ment (pre-test) to determine baseline conditions and readiness for action. Various methods have proven fruitful in research based on the community capitals model (Emery & Flora, 2009; Fey et al., 2006; Marré & Weber, 2010). Student engage-ment in these activities builds competencies in contributing to the policy process, in addition to the analytical and critical thinking skills necessary for public problem solving. It is quite common that communities lack the human, social, and political capitals necessary to make the most of their natural, cultural, financial, and built capitals. Therefore, community development efforts typically begin with building   those capacities to increase readiness for development activities. Building Capacity  Historically, a wide range of activities have been used to develop community capacity, including leadership training, community organizing, organizational development, organizational collaboration, and physical and economic development (Chaskin et al., 2001; Chrislip, 2002; Nozick, 1999). Virtually all of the initiatives undertaken by university outreach programs fall into these categories of activity. However, successful community and economic development initiatives must be sustained by the community once university partners exit. Therefore activities must be locally anchored, as noted in a White House directive that all federal programs become “place-based” in approach (Orszag, Barnes, Carrion, & Summers ,2009). Place-conscious planning   and  place-based programming   refer to the notion Local Governance and Community Development 
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