Dr Helen Sheil
The Collaborative Communities–Resilient Regions project achieved the goal of being a demonstration project of the important contribution that regional educational institutions can make to regional development through the provision of access to relevant skills, knowledge and resources. Funding from the Regional Solutions Program enabled the Centre for Rural Communities Inc. to develop research in effective community engagement into an accredited Graduate Certificate program in Regional Community Development. This work originating from within Gippsland now provides a professional pathway for regional workers from diverse sectors with a responsibility to engage with community members, an initiative that has received significant regional and national recognition.
Within the one year part-time program regional workers were introduced to a step-by-step approach to community engagement based on sound theoretical principles of collaborative education, guided by the goals of community development that fosters regional development. The program provided regular opportunities for workers to understand key principles of community engagement and become familiar with their application prior to taking the important step of becoming educators within their own communities/workplaces. Through participation in a regional program participants also had access to key resource people both from this University and via video or guest presentations with other Universities and community organisations. This wealth of knowledge inspired and frequently affirmed the importance of local ventures introducing participants to future networks.
The establishment of a study circle or a workplace project within localities was supported through a process similar to field placements for teachers providing an opportunity to integrate theory and practice. By locating learning within communities a multiplier effect is experienced as members of each study group are introduced to facilitation skills and the practice of collaborative engagement towards sustainable outcomes.
The accredited program is now an important component of the program offered from this regional campus and will continue to be available, the multiplier effect of workers becoming educators making available a study program accredited by the TAFE sector will continue alongside the regional network which supports exchanges between communities and sectors.
The outcomes from this project exceeded expectations as ownership became grounded within communities. As can be seen from the case-studies communities have established partnerships with other relevant organizations –both public and private sector in a manageable way beginning the process of initiating ventures from within communities.
Other regional Universities are seeking access to the Graduate Certificate program and are buying the teaching resources developed in Gippsland to utilise in a range of programs.
While acknowledging the benefits to the region of this interactive program regional Universities are currently not in a position to fund more than the teaching component of this work. The supervision, liason and support of communities does not come within their capacity to resource. Other products have been identified which will expand both the knowledge and financial base of the Centre’s work Indications are positive on this account as the work has received the following recognition:
Participation by staff from 5 of the 6 Gippsland local governments. This group has requested the Centre to co-ordinate a network of Community Development workers and have offered their support on a number of occaisions in sourcing other funding. Shires have co-hosted functions and support the work of the Centre.
Regional campuses in Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia have sought access to the course and the resources the Centre has developed.
The State Government invited the Centre to co-host seminars with Premier and Cabinet on Community Building in 2002. The TAFE sector contributed $8,000 in the first year towards resourcing learning within communities while providing access to accreditation for community members and access to libraries and ongoing learning.
Monash University committed $30,000 to funded HECS places for community members in this program and to the establishment of the Graduate Certificate in Regional Community Development. This access has been a key component by not placing all financial responsibility on community members.
The Centre for Rural Communities Inc.in partnership with Monash University is named as an example of good practice in the ‘Compendium of Good Practice University – Regional Development Engagement Initiative’ prepared for the Department of Transport and Regional Services by Dr. Steve Garlick and Geoff Pryor (August 2002).
Success factors include:
- Effective strategies of intervention and engagement (course is offered one day per fortnight with HECS options for community members and full fee paying for organisational staff)
- Ability to maintain relationships over time, thereby proving credibility (Centre has been focusing on rural communities since 1995)
- Integrity of supporting academic work, a valuable resource to isolated workers
- An educational, rather than directional role in working with diverse rural communities
- Access to Monash University Gippsland for professional course development and other knowledge resources
- Access to funding
- Growing interest from all levels of government and other regional universities.
To ensure that this excellent program that overcomes barriers of cost, culture and access for rural people in a manner that has a significant multiplier effect within communities can continue to grow it will be important to seek funding for a further two years. During this time a range of partnerships and resources can be established that build on the transferable model of collaborative engagement. To date energy has primarily been centered on the development of the program.