Democracy in Action is a community engagement practice through which CSUSM faculty and students partner with a local city government to conduct research, gathering qualitative and quantitative data to benefit city projects that are back-logged or need additional attention.
Faculty and students work closely with city officials to hone their expertise on specific scopes of work, and the students provide a polished, final report to the city. In the process, students learn about city government, attend city council meetings, become more civically engaged, and ideally consider the prospects of working in local government.
Democracy in Action is modeled after the Sustainable City Year Program (SCYP) in the Sustainable Cities Initiative at University of Oregon and is part of a larger consortium of universities and colleges that participate in the Educational Partnerships for Innovation in Communities Network (EPIC-N). Whereas the Sustainable City Year Program focuses primarily on sustainability, Democracy in Action emphasizes civic learning and democratic engagement.
The pilot program, profiled in the CSUSM NewsCenter, launched in Spring 2017.
This semester, CSUSM faculty are working with the City of San Marcos on two projects:
Entrepreneurial Center Project
The purpose of this project is for students to research successful entrepreneurial environments, community systems and government policies that engage, motivate, attract, and expand entrepreneurial activities within the San Marcos and North County region of influence. Research suggests that society’s rules and norms create incentives for entrepreneurial activities to flourish in a region. While there are three primary environments that influence productive entrepreneurship (economic, political, and social-cultural), the research will focus on the best social-cultural practices among entrepreneurs, governments, and the communities that influence the beliefs and attitudes about entrepreneurial activities. Using this research, students will propose activities, events, technologies, organizations and institutions that can assist in the development of an attractive entrepreneurial environment.
The research will help the City of San Marcos’s Economic Development Division and Innovate 78 answer three important questions: 1) What are key variables that influence the location decisions of entrepreneurs when selecting a place to start or grow their business (Problem-Domain)? 2) What social-cultural norms and beliefs are important for San Marcos Economic Development Program to highlight that will likely attract entrepreneurs to the region (Value Propositions)? 3) What are the best practices, technologies, organizations, events and products that can be developed, purchased or recruited by the city and community to create a thriving entrepreneurial community (Solutions/Technology/Innovations)?
Senior Center Project
The Senior Activity Center (SAC) is dependent on volunteers to help facilitate daily operations, recreation programs and senior services. Utilizing volunteers is an effective way for the Parks and Recreation department to supplement the workforce and offer more activities and services without financial impacts to the city or senior customers. It also gives purpose and personal satisfaction to the volunteers who dedicate their time, talents and efforts. The SAC does not have a dedicated Volunteer Coordinator position, so volunteer intake and oversight is handled by a few key staff. Most volunteers are seniors; however, the SAC receives many requests from students and the general public who must complete volunteer hours for school or community service requirement. Those hours are finite, and may not coincide with needs, program hours, etc.
Therefore, we are often left with gaps where volunteers are needed, and recruitment efforts are minimal. San Marcos Parks and Recreation is looking to CSUSM Democracy in Action to help improve the SAC volunteer program by analyzing the needs and administration of current practices; and making recommendations for a more efficient program structure and facilitation process, overlooked/untapped volunteer opportunities, and effective recruitment strategies and methods.
Our inaugural Democracy in Action project is in partnership with the City of San Marcos. In our first semester CSUSM faculty worked collaboratively with the City of San Marcos on four projects; the final reports are linked through the project titles below:
Each semester, the Democracy in Action Launch brings participating CSUSM students, faculty, and staff together with San Marcos City Council and staff at San Marcos City Hall to celebrate the start of the semester. The reception-style event features remarks from the Honorable Jim Desmond, Mayor of San Marcos and Dr. Patricia Prado-Olmos, Vice President of Community Engagement at CSUSM. Students tour City Hall and learned about the functions of city government in small-group conversations with city representatives.
In Spring 2018, the Launch event celebrates the third semester of Democracy in Action projects in partnership with the City of San Marcos.