Co-Create Reaches 50 Projects!

As we usher in spring, we offer congratulations to our Co-Create team who hit a major milestone toward the end of 2023: their 50th project. It began in 2017 as a small wish by Associate Director Amy Washbush to extend the knowledge, skills, and experience of our center in community-engaged research and evaluation to the benefit of local nonprofits. It has grown to become a sustainable support for nonprofits, funders, government agencies, and others who work to improve communities. It also offers a high quality learning-by-doing experience for student team members. As we closed in on this 50 project mark – and quickly surpassed it, with 57 projects by February! – we took some time to look back and take stock. 

Projects past and current: 57

Total revenue: $1.5M

Past and current student team members: 44

Our Co-Create team has worked on a broad variety of projects. Program evaluation and applied research are the largest categories, spanning a diverse array of social issues, from early care and education needs to farmer mental health to food security and more. 

Among program evaluation projects, we’ve helped bring an evaluative eye to a range of efforts, including:

  • A city initiative that supports historically underrepresented business owners
  • Pandemic services for food pantry visitors and volunteers
  • Campus-based child care and support services for low-income parents who participate in higher education
  • and community-led food systems and outdoor activities within Tribal communities.

Applied research projects have offered our partners new understanding on various topics and  have informed policies and programs. For example, our Co-Create team partnered with the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families on projects that examined the priorities around the state for early care and education of underserved families and child care providers. Among our newest projects, we are studying how nonprofit organizations can commit to and sustain living wage initiatives for their employees.

“The diversity of projects we do means that we are always learning something new–about our community partners, about their needs, and about research and evaluation practices.”

– Co-Create Program Coordinator Alex Wells

Co-Create has also supported partners in planning and organizational development projects as well as professional development and training programs. We’ve worked with partners in: 

  • Strategic planning
  • Evaluation refinement
  • Capacity building
  • Logic model development and implementation
  • How to design evaluations and collect data
  • How to create surveys and run focus groups. 

Additionally, Co-Create has collaborated with UW-Madison faculty members in community-engaged research projects. Currently, Co-Create partners with School of Human Ecology faculty Dr. Jennifer Gaddis. She has school food partnerships with the Madison Metropolitan School District and local nonprofit organizations. Co-Create also works with Dr. Larissa Duncan in a project focused on supporting well-being through engagement with nature. And we’re partnering with Dr. Matt Calvert in a study that lifts up innovative food sovereignty efforts with Native youth.

Our student staff are vital to our Co-Create team and contribute to each project. We seek to match students’ skills, experiences, and interests with our project needs. We’ve benefited from the capacities and perspectives of more than 40 graduate and undergraduate students, mostly from within our School of Human Ecology. Our students have brought skills in quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods research, multilingual and multicultural capacity and experience, and experience in nonprofit and community organizations. In working with Co-Create, students have opportunities to apply what they learn in the classroom to real world projects, gain exposure to a diversity of social issues and potential career pathways, and receive a good wage. Several of our alumni have gone on to nonprofit or evaluation-related careers and some of our former students have now joined our Co-Create staff to mentor new groups of students.

As a graduate student, working with Co-Create helped me to define my career interests and put into practice the skills I had been learning in my courses about community-based research and evaluation. After graduating and staying on with Co-Create as a staff member, it’s been valuable to continue my learning as we work with new students and community partners.

– Co-Create Research & Evaluation Specialist Costanza Generali

It’s been an exciting journey for our Co-Create team and we look forward to our next milestone. We appreciate the community partners, university collaborators, and students that support our growing work. As we continue to reflect, we will share more about our work so far, including project impacts and the experiences of students who have worked with us. Stay tuned!