A global university for community development?

Dr. Bill Berkowitz discusses the possibility of organizing a global university that specializes in community development, as well as steps that have already been taken to begin this initiative.

By Bill Berkowitz, PhD

Psychologists affiliated with the Community Tool Box are planning a new initiative in global community development — one that would expand online learning in community building skills and possibly lead to the creation of a global university. Comments, suggestions and participation from APA members involved in International Affairs are welcome.

Background

The Community Tool Box is a national team of psychologists and other professionals that has been creating and disseminating information about community development online since 1995, with the aim to empower individuals and groups by providing them with the skills they need to effect change in their own communities. With over 300 separate how-to-do-it instructional modules and over 7,000 pages of text, the Tool Box has become the largest single source of information about community development now in existence.

In recent years, the interests and the work of the Community Tool Box have increasingly become global. More specifically, the team has come to see the necessity of expanding online instruction in community development worldwide — for many of the global challenges we face also exist at a community level and can be addressed in part by providing community members with more community-building skills.

A global university

What is the best way to accomplish this? We believe that an online global university that is available to everyone would be a collaborative effort across countries. Instruction would ideally take place in general community skills, based upon tested psychological principles, and applicable to most cultural settings with adaptation. Likewise, emphasis would be on practical action skills, which people could use in their home countries.

The benefits of such a global university would include: (1) expansion of local community building skills; (2) increased likelihood of local community solutions; and (3) protection against economic and social adversity. What helps make this feasible is that many relevant instructional materials are already in place. Through the Community Tool Box and other resources, the online technology necessary to make a global university happen already exist.

In June, this initiative was presented to psychologists from around the world at the International Community Psychology Conference in Barcelona. A global task group of community psychologists has since formed to develop this concept further. Some planned initial steps include writing articles in professional journals, compiling sources of community development information currently online, exploring the possibility of creating additional online instructional materials and reaching out to new audiences, such as the readers of Psychology International.

Of course, for a global university, many details would need to be worked out; content, costs, recruitment, translation, marketing, monitoring, evaluation, certification and sustainability are some examples. These issues must not be underestimated, and even if details can be agreed upon, it will take significant time to implement a global university in reality. But the first steps were initiated in Barcelona, and we believe that a global university will allow for great potential to bring community-minded psychologists together from different corners of the world, in a combined international effort to exchange knowledge and skills with community members everywhere.

Those with feedback or interests in learning more or becoming involved are encouraged to contact Bill Berkowitz, PhD, Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts Lowell, representative of the Community Tool Box team.