The Commons is a semester-long engagement (3.5 months) in which cohorts of institutions work together to address the shared challenges of building social innovation education with the guidance of expert advisors, known as Coaches. Participants will also be able to draw on Ashoka U’s experience working with over 250 higher education institutions globally. Each cohort will have a guiding theme, and up to eight institutions can participate in a cohort.

The Commons features six unique cohort topics:

All of the cohorts will take participants through a structured learning journey summarized in six steps:

  1. Align understanding of social innovation and changemaking – Ashoka U and the cohort coach host a launch call with the full cohort to ensure participants start on the same page, expectations are set clearly, and to formally kick off the Commons experience.
  2. Evaluate best practices – Participants are paired with another institution to review examples of best practices in the cohort’s thematic area, practice evaluation of additional examples, and apply the same lens to peer institutions.
  3. Establish individual objectives for the project – Participants reflect on the institutional moment at their campus, gather information about existing offerings relevant to the cohort theme, and work one-on-one with the cohort coach to develop objectives for their participation in the Commons.
  4. Develop the project – Based on the objectives established in the previous step, participants spend time working individually (within the institution) on their project, bringing in additional stakeholders as needed.
  5. Review and refine the output – Participants are paired with a different institution within the cohort to share their progress and provide constructive feedback before the final stage.
  6. Present the output – The cohort closes with a group conference call where each institution presents their project, receiving feedback from both the coach and peers. This presentation should include clear action steps.

Cohort Descriptions

Making the Case for Social Innovation

Colleges and universities are training the next generation of leaders, and we need those leaders to be changemakers in order to help solve the problems of today and tomorrow. Even if social innovation programming does not yet exist on campus, or is just getting started, you will need to develop a vision and plan for how to gain support for a broader changemaking initiative. By reframing the university as an ecosystem this cohort will require participants to consider all of the stakeholders and how they can contribute.

Creating a Social Innovation Course

In some cases the most direct way to reach students with social innovation learning opportunities is through a registered course. Courses allow students to engage with the subject irrespective of their capacity to participate in co-curricular (or extracurricular) programming, and in a familiar format. Participants will reference diverse examples of existing courses and draw on modular course structures to build a syllabus that is committee-ready.

Building a Social Innovation Course Sequence

Course sequences allow students to gain deeper experience in the many different facets of social innovation, build student identity, and can further legitimize the subject’s academic merit at an institution. Before building, institutions must consider the pros and cons of different forms such as certificates, concentrations, majors, and minors. Due to the typically long timeline for developing a course sequence, this cohort focuses on sharing ideas with peers and creating a thoughtful plan for the desired effect at the institution and elements of the course sequence itself.

Launching Co-Curricular Venture Programs

Incubators, accelerators, and other forms of venture support come alongside students to help them take ideas to reality, often removing barriers along the way.They have the potential to increase student success, align student projects with social challenges, and teach valuable lessons in the event of failure. This cohort will cover details such as where to house these programs, how to frame their purpose, and support developing program objectives.

Mapping Student Learning Journeys

There’s another step required after social innovation programs and curriculum are created, and that is making them known to students. Even better, though, is if it’s clear how participating in that offering fits on their path towards becoming a changemaker. This cohort zooms out to look at offerings across campus in aggregate, and dig in to the best ways to communicate potential learning journeys to students.

Building Allies and Raising Awareness

Developing a critical mass of social innovators in one or two departments is a natural place to start, but in order to truly embed social innovation and changemaking ideas into the institution the team must be campus-wide.The process to make that leap, however, usually involves quite a bit of work.This cohort looks at different structures for campus-wide teams, and guides participants in making a plan for their own as well as starting to build it.