Editor’s Note: Networked Collaboration and Community Building: A Theory of Change

By Caitlin Salins, Executive Project Manager, Bringing Theory to Practice

In this issue of our newsletter, we explore the theme of networked collaboration and community-building across silos as a theory of change in higher education. As David Scobey describes in his Director’s Column, he joined BTtoP in summer 2018 with a vision for our second chapter that built on our impactful but largely campus-by-campus influence. In BTtoP’s first fifteen-year chapter, we gave out well over five hundred campus grants and, we hope, had significant impact by advocating for holistic, transformative education that not only prepared students for a meaningful life but fostered their civic consciousness and personal flourishing. Still, our model was akin to that of a hub and spoke, with each of these campus-sized units of change largely structurally dependent on our national office to sustain the work.

The vision for our second chapter is a theory of change grounded in the idea that widespread transformation happens through community—a web of support for self-sustaining networks of courage that can cocreate initiatives, share resources, learn from each other, and foster a space of radical innovation. We hope that this goal has been evident in our programmatic initiatives, such as

  • providing Multi-Institutional Innovation Grants, which required collaboration from multiple institutions from different sectors;[1]
  • developing the Partnerships for Listening and Action by Communities and Educators (PLACE) Collaboratory, which brings together a network of academic-community partnerships at eleven colleges and universities from diverse sectors and regions to do civic engagement and public humanities work, both in localized clusters and as a national, collaborative group;[2]
  • using participatory fishbowl discussions in lieu of traditional “talking head” panels at the Association of American Colleges and Universities annual meeting;[3] and
  • sending biweekly “Bringing It” emails, which often solicit feedback from our community and highlight the work of other organizations and programs.[4]

This issue highlights what change-making through collaboration looks like in higher education and how it advances student learning, civic engagement, and social justice. In the Feature piece, a group of faculty from different institutions and a community member in Greensboro, North Carolina, tell the story of Reclaiming Democracy, an interdisciplinary, community-based course that brilliantly integrates democratic participation into transformative learning through partnerships across boundaries. In our Campus Highlight, Dilip Das of the University of Michigan describes C-THEM, a networked effort between members of academia and local indigenous communities to foster trust and cultivate a climate of belonging for Native American students on campus. In our Student Perspective, rising senior Caitlyn Keeve reflects on her participatory and community-focused study abroad experience and how it supported her development as a connector, ambassador, and compassionate leader. And in his Director’s Column, David Scobey expounds on how BTtoP will continue to advance the word “we” as a verb.

As always, and in the spirit of collaboration and fostering community, we welcome your feedback and ideas. Feel free to reach us directly at info@bttop.org.




[1]  For more information on Multi-Institutional Innovation Grants, see https://www.bttop.org/grants-funding/multi-institutional-innovation-grants.

[2]  For more information on the Partnerships for Listening and Action (PLACE) Collaboratory, see https://www.bttop.org/news-events/june-19-2019-bringing-theory-practice-....

[3]  For more information on BTtoP sessions at the AAC&U annual meeting, see https://www.bttop.org/news-events/events/2020-aacu-annual-meeting-bttop-....

[4]  For more information on our “Bringing It” emails, see https://www.bttop.org/news-events/bringing-it.