Risk Mitigation for New Service-Learning Partnerships

As individual components, the tools and strategies developed to reduce risk in service-learning placements can be implemented separately, but they can also be used together as a whole process when starting new partnerships with organizations. The Risk Mitigation Process Flow ChartThis link will open a PDF file. (pdf) outlines the process of creating a new placement for a service-learning course. Please note that this process should not be considered linear and will evolve depending on each situation.

  • Build Relationships: As with any partnership, the first step is to take time to build relationships. Communication among all parties (students, faculty, site partners and university staff) is the foundation for a successful, high-quality service-learning experience. Discussions with stakeholders also go a long way in mitigating risk. Faculty interested in creating a new service-learning course or engaging a new community partner are strongly encouraged to work with their campus service-learning/community engagement office, which can provide a significant amount of assistance.
  • Determine Type of Placement (In-Person, Virtual, Hybrid): The types of service-learning opportunities available to students are generally grouped into three types: on-site (in-person at the organization or a field site), virtual/remote (not at the organizations’ physical learning site, and usually indicating work is done from the students’ home, campus, or another “virtual’ environment), or a hybrid approach (a combination of the other two types). The type of opportunity offered may affect the level of risk determined at a learning site, which risk mitigation forms students are required to complete, and, in some rare circumstances, may even result in changes to the university-agency agreement (UAA). Additionally, the type of opportunity may determine what training or orientation will be provided to students.
  • Assess Learning Site: Assessing learning sites is a vital step in identifying risk concerns that may be associated with off-campus service-learning opportunities; therefore, a risk assessment is one of the most critical steps an institution can take in protecting itself, its students, faculty and learning sites. But the fact is that site visits can be the most logistically challenging and the most time-consuming component of the risk mitigation process. Though site visits are highly recommended on new placements, a thorough pre-placement risk assessment may allow for a site visit to take place after the initial placement, but before the UAA expires, and on occasion, a site visit may be waived (i.e., for low-risk placements). See section: Risk Assessment Forms.
  • Maintain University-Agency Agreement (UAA-SL): If no university-agency agreement is in place for service learning, then it is recommended that a risk assessment be completed before, or at a minimum, simultaneously to, drafting the UAA-SL. If an agreement already exists with the organization for another program on campus (e.g., academic internships, teacher education) then a conversation should occur with your contracts department to determine if an addendum is needed to the existing UAA for service-learning courses (which in most cases won’t be necessary). Additionally, if there is a current open-ended agreement that is more than five years old, it should be reviewed and updated accordingly. Agreements need to be reviewed as part of the renewal process, typically every five years. See section: The University Agency-Agreement.
  • Orient and Prepare Students: Faculty members, service-learning staff, and learning site representatives are encouraged to work together to ensure that before the first day of service, a student orientation is offered. Some of the things that may be covered include health and safety requirements, as well as potential risks that are tailored to the type of service-learning placement (virtual/in-person/hybrid). Orientations might be shared across parties, or one party takes responsibility. For example, a campus may have the community partner be solely responsible for the orientations. Additionally, as part of the orientation process, the faculty member should provide students with information on how to track their hours of service. See section: Forms Applicable to Students.

Documenting and communicating your campus process to mitigate risk is a critical step in risk mitigation. Working together to ensure that everyone is familiar with the placement details through orientations, training, and the course syllabus is a valuable learning experience for students. Along with important career-related and life skills, students will also learn the importance of training and why safety protocols matter to them personally and for the communities in which they serve. These lessons are lifelong character-building experiences that will benefit the student long after they have graduated.