Collaboratory organizes activities into two categories - Community Engagement and Public Service. While Community Engagement and Public Service both occur in community settings, involve interaction with the community, and integrate some form of service, they have very distinct goals and processes. As the field of higher education community engagement has developed, important clarification has occurred to help institutions strengthen their work and accomplish the goals intended for their community interactions. Specifically:
- Community Engagement is a process by which an institution works with community partners to co-create and implement mutually beneficial activities distinguished by collaboration and reciprocity. The exchange of expertise and ideas between academic and external community partners leads to co–creation of knowledge and activities that generate benefits for the academic institution, as well as community partners.
- Public Service (sometimes referred to as community service or outreach) occurs when an institution provides expertise, resources, and services to or for community individuals, groups, organizations, and the general public. External entities may invite, host, attend, participate, and benefit from the activity, but the primary responsibility for the design, delivery, and assessment of the activity is shaped by the academic institution.
When a Collaboratory user begins to create an Activity, Collaboratory assists in identifying that Activity as Community Engagement or Public Service through a decision tree.