Mission and Vision


The CommNS builds capacity and knowledge in community, civil society, and nonprofit studies through the integration of action and applied research, education, outreach and engagement.


The CommNS provides an inspiring place for UW faculty and Center affiliates to exchange and collaborate with fellow researchers, students, community members, professionals and volunteers in civil society and community organizations in the following ways:

  • Conducting groundbreaking applied research examining key issues in communities and the nonprofit sector/civil society. Research affiliates represent many disciplines but are leaders in scholarship and action to promote (1) community wellbeing and empowerment, (2) youth civic engagement and development, (3) sustainable community systems, and (4) program evaluation and community engagement.
  • Creating outstanding education/informational exchanges that promote best practices for community improvement and collaborative strategies for achieving social/systems change. The CommNS provides a platform for dissemination and engagement with community members, professionals, and students engaged in community and nonprofit leadership. The CommNS’ scholarship, dissemination, and capacity building supports the development of current and future leaders and practitioners in community and nonprofit organizations, as well as the development of scholars trained to employ multiple methods and multiple disciplinary perspectives to solving real-world problems in collaboration with community and nonprofit organizations.
  • Innovative thinking that develops new strategies through collaborative and participatory research and community engagement. Through bridging research and practice and fostering experiential education, the CommNS is involved in devising new models and strategies for impact on social issues and community improvement.

Looking Ahead – “Root Down and Build Out”

In 2017, the CommNS began a “Root Down and Build Out” process to fortify and deepen the intentions already set for our Center. Meetings of our CommNS Steering Committee and Staff Team Strategic Planning have resulted in the following “Why, What, How” and our Key Values.

The most recent work on a “Why”, “What”, “How” Statement, to help refresh our intentions for the 2018-23 SoHE Strategic Planning process resulted in the following draft language:

Why: The UW should, with the spirit of the Wisconsin Idea, be a force for positive social change in an inequitable world.

What: An institutional hub for transdisciplinary work that bridges and unites inquiry and action for social change, with a particular focus on collaborating with and supporting community and nonprofit initiatives and organizations.


  • Community-engaged research, action research, and evaluation
  • Impactful community-campus partnerships
  • Dissemination and translation of research – research to practice
  • Capacity-building for academic and third sector/nonprofit partners
  • Multidisciplinary and multi-sector convenings
  • Preparing future leaders, influencers, and scholars to be critical and effective in a complex and changing sector
  • Innovative, efficient support of sponsored programs for inquiry and action
  • “Liberating” research, evaluation, and data
  • Bidirectional engagement and community in the lead
  • Shifting power to historically marginalized groups and individuals

Key Values that the Steering Committee wishes to embrace in the next era include:

  • Understanding and acknowledging local-to-global and global-to-local impact, as well as the role of historic context in community and nonprofit studies
  • Community-centered priorities and approach
  • Elevating “new” (historically underrepresented) voices, leadership, and approaches
  • Balancing practical preparation, skills, and support with encouragement and development of critique in the sector

This guidance contributes to building capacity and knowledge in the Community and Nonprofit Studies through the integration of action and applied research, education, outreach, and engagement.

Together, our CommNS staff, partners, and stakeholders are continuing to work toward the ultimate goal of building the Pre-Eminent Campus-Community Center focused on Inquiry and Action for Social Change, particularly through the work of community and nonprofit initiatives and organizations… for a better Wisconsin and world. 

Won’t you join us?