Launching a Community Campus CoLaboratory to foster community-campus partnerships

In June 2016, McMaster University launched a new 5-year strategic plan for community engagement with a vision of working together for an inclusive, sustainable greater Hamilton. Developed through consultation with community and campus partners, the plan is built around 4 main goals:

  1. Establish the Principles of Community Engagement as the foundation of community-campus partnerships.
  2. Build bridges between the University and the greater Hamilton community, embedding the University in the community and inviting community into the University.
  3. Align with neighbourhoods, community groups, governments, and institutions to partner on joint ventures and collaborative projects that respond to commmunity-driven issues and priorities.
  4. Assess and learn from the outcomes and impacts of our work on an ongoing basis.

To achieve these goals, McMaster's Office of Community Engagement has committed to facilitating the development of working groups focused on themes of common interest that were co-identified by community and campus partners at the outset of the strategic plan. In June 2016, the following themes were identified through this process:

  • Poverty & Inclusion
  • Healthy Spaces & Communities
  • Open Access & Knowledge Sharing
  • Innovation & Economic Development
At the June 10, 2016 launch of McMaster's new community engagement strategy, participants were provided examples of possible themes and given a checklist to consider when developing ideas.

At the June 10, 2016 launch of McMaster's new community engagement strategy, participants were provided examples of possible themes and given a checklist to consider when developing ideas.

Piloting the Community Campus CoLaboratory

Focusing on the four themes identified above, the Community Campus CoLaboratory will launch in Spring 2017 to explore whether a social lab approach can foster innovative, interdisciplinary, and cross-sectoral research and education partnerships.  Used worldwide as an approach to addressing complex and systemic social challenges, social labs involve three steps: convening a diverse group of stakeholders, developing ideas to address shared challenges, and prototyping ideas through pilot projects that address an issue at a systems level (Click here for our background blog on how the social innovation lab concept could be applied in Hamilton).

Partnering with the City of Hamilton, Evergreen CityWorks, the Social Planning & Research Council of Hamilton, and the Hamilton Public Library, this project will allow our project team to pilot a social lab approach to partnership building--evaluating the process and outcomes to determine whether the Community Campus CoLaboratory can result in innovative approaches to large-scale research and education partnerships between McMaster, community partners, and residents.

Our specific objectives for this pilot include:

  • To initiate research on various social lab approaches, identifying methodologies to be piloted and evaluated in the McMaster-Hamilton context
  • To pilot a social lab between June 2017 and December 2018 focused on four theme areas that are co-driven by University and community leads
  • To design an iterative process of deliberative dialogue, ideation, and prototyping
  • To partner with multiple Hamilton-based organizations and all six Faculties to convene a diverse group of stakeholders to participate in the lab process
  • To include McMaster research institutes and centres in the lab process
  • To fund ideas through small catalyst grants offered by McMaster's Office of Community Engagement and other partners
  • To strengthen existing partnerships and to build new partnerships that are cross-disciplinary and with community, government, and industry partners
  • To pursue a large-scale grant to support the implementation and evaluation of a Hamilton Social Lab over a 5-year time frame
  • To support the development of new research partnerships in piloting and developing ideas to be applied towards large-scale grant opportunities
  • To evaluate and report on the feasibility of a permanent social lab to support Hamilton-McMaster research and education partnerships

If you think that the Community Campus CoLab would be a good place for you, your neighbourhood, or your organization, you're welcome to join us! Each of our four labs are meant to engage directly with community and campus partners with shared interest in the topic at hand. We anticipate the following benefits for those who participate in the Community Campus CoLaboratory:

  • Relationship-building: Relationships are at the core of any collaboration. The Community Campus CoLaboratory will provide space for you to connect with others working in areas of shared interest, while also connecting with individuals and groups working in areas you may be unfamiliar with.
  • Facilitated brainstorming: The social lab process is all about how we can come together to share ideas, learn from each other, and develop strategies for taking on complex challenges facing our community.
  • Alignment: Do you ever feel like there are too many people and groups who don't talk to each other, but would really benefit if they did? The Community Campus CoLaboratory will help to reduce fragmentation across groups by providing a common space to connect on a regular basis.
  • Resources: The Community Campus CoLaboratory is being designed to provide the resources and supports necessary to help move ideas into action. Participants will be able to apply for financial resources to support pilot projects, while also getting direction on other resources available to them.
  • New Partnerships: The ultimate goal of the Community Campus CoLaboratory is to foster new partnerships that can address complex issues in our community. If you're looking to develop partnerships, the Community Campus CoLab is for you!

Join Us

If you're interested in learning more about the Community Campus CoLaboratory, we encourage you to join us!

Questions? Please direct any questions to Dave Heidebrecht at