Working with the community: 5 steps to a successful community project at Karls

Community projects were initiated by SENSE – Center for Civic Engagement and Responsible Management Education, with the goal of enabling students to have a real impact on a community and to learn by reflecting on this experience. My name is Lisa Hervieux and with my group, we took part in this community project which takes place during the third semester. I am studying International Relations but it is also part of the curriculum for the students studying Philosophy Politics and Economics. Because this project is very rewarding yet also very demanding, I wanted to write some advice for the next coming generations at Karls but also for anyone who has to undertake projects in their life.

Community project "Klimaschutz wagen" Karlshochschule
Lisa Hervieux with her fellow students Helen Ramos and Christoph Ilg

In my case, I had the chance to work with a wonderful group and our main task was to undertake self-experiments such as “going vegan”, “not using plastic” or even “not using the plane”. By changing our lifestyles into more sustainable ones for two months we could not only reduce our CO2 emissions but also inspire more people to help making a difference. We worked in collaboration with Quartier Zukunft on a project called “Klimaschutz gemeinsam wagen!”.

Of course, it was not always easy and even if we gained many competencies such as project management skills or critical thinking, there are many things we would have liked to know before we started.

So here we go, 5 steps to a successful community project at Karls:

Step 1: Find group partners that match with you, your friends might be the wrong option!

  • You want a diverse group, different backgrounds, different working styles
  • But you also want members with similar objectives and motivations
  • Try to make your personalities match, complete one another (have a look at the Belbin Team Roles Circle)
  • Friends may have clashing roles when it comes to group work, too many “leaders” or too many “observers” may be problematic
  • Try to know from the beginning onwards, how much time and dedication each member can offer

Step 2: Go to the workshops and take notes!

  • We’ve been there and maybe you won’t see the relevance or link with your project at first, but trust me it will be useful
  • You can use the information you learned and apply it for teamwork strategy, organization, and planning, but also for every future project
  • You will get to know your team members and your partner organization better
  • If it seems like it’s more for the business students, still listen because you may have tasks that don’t relate directly to your study program
  • You will be able to analyze your own competencies in advance and get an idea of what you still need to work on

Step 3: Meet up with your organization as soon as you can and make the tasks clear!

  • Writing emails won’t be enough, to really understand their expectations you need to meet up with them in person
  • Communication might be difficult at first, but keep on trying through different channels
  • Choose one contact person in the group, preferably someone German, and let them oversee the communication and they should forward everything they receive and send, to their team
  • Make it clear for your partner organization that the Project Charter is binding and reflect upon the tasks with your group before you sign it, you could try adapting the tasks to your competencies to make them even more relevant
  • Plan more meetings in advance each time you see them and offer them a direct way of communication if it’s difficult to see each other in person (Skype, and so forth)

Step 4: Use your Coaches, ask for feedback and give feedback!

  • You will have coaches with different perspectives and constructive feedback, use this opportunity to ask them about anything; your communication, a planning strategy, ideas for theoretical background, more information about the presentation and the university’s expectations
  • The coaches have been involved in many similar projects in the past and have a lot of valuable input to offer, they can share their experience and guide you through
  • Feedback is a gift, you are still the one leading the project, so only accept and implement the feedback that you find relevant
  • Try to ask questions to more than one person, perspectives and expectations vary from one person to another
  • Towards the end, you will also be able to give feedback in return, enjoy the possibility of telling them what you are grateful for and what you wish you had but missed

Step 5: Learn from your real-life experience and reflect upon it!

  • You will have to send in reflections about your work and your project, use this opportunity to communicate with transparency your fears, your confidence or your progress
  • You can have an impact on a whole community, with your work during this semester you can make a difference, so commit to a cause that you are interested in
  • If you reflect upon everything you did, it will benefit you for your future life, not only new projects but also for any job or even in your personal life
  • It’s only by reflecting that you will notice how much you changed during the process and that you can make the module evolve
  • When you present it is important for the partner organization and for the examiners to know not only about the results but also about your group dynamic, the challenges you faced, the skills you developed and so forth, it’s the only way to let them know what you have been going through

Hopefully, you will be able to implement these five steps in your future community project. Like us, you will probably acquire intercultural competencies, expand your interdisciplinary knowledge, pick up on completely new skills like creating an Instagram concept or creating a photo gallery. 

If you want to know more about the project that we participated in or if you want to start a self-experiment, click here.

About the SENSE project

SENSE was created with the idea in mind that it is not enough to learn about theories in class, in order to make sense out of our studies we also need to put them into practice. This can be achieved by working with the community, with schools or maybe during our semester abroad. Interested in SENSE and how they implement service learning in the Karls modules? Click here!

Article by Lisa Hervieux *LH  (KarlsStorytellers) 

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