Civic engagement

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Civic engagement or civic participation is the encouragement of the general public to become involved in the political process and the issues that affect the community.


Civic engagement can take many forms—from individual volunteerism to organizational involvement to electoral participation. It can include efforts to directly address an issue, work with others in a community to solve a problem or interact with the institutions of representative democracy.[1] Another way of describing this concept is the sense of personal responsibility individuals feel to uphold their obligations, as part of any community. "Youth civic engagement" has identical aims, only with consideration for youth voice.

A study published by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement at Tufts University, divided civic engagement into 3 categories: civic, electoral, and political voice.[2] Scholars of youth engagement online have called for a broader interpretation of civic engagement that focuses on the purpose behind current institutions and activities and include emerging institutions and activities that achieve the same purposes.[3] These civic engagement researchers suggest that the reduction of civic life into small sets of explicitly electoral behaviors may be insufficient to describe the full spectrum of public involvement in civic life.

Measures of civic engagement[2]
Civic Electoral Political voice
Community problem solving Regular voting Contacting officials
Regular volunteering for a non-electoral organization Persuading others to vote Contacting the print media
Active membership in a group or association Displaying buttons, signs, stickers Contacting the broadcast media
Participation in fund-raising run/walk/ride Campaign contributions Protesting
Other fund-raising for charity Volunteering for candidate or political organizations Email petitions
Run for Political office Registering voters Written petitions and canvassing
Symbolic Non-Participation Buycotting

An alarm was sounded at the beginning of the 21st Century about changes in civic participation patterns by Robert Putnam in his provocative book, Bowling Alone. Putnam argued that despite rapid increases in higher education opportunities that may foster civic engagement, Americans were dropping out of political and organized community life. A number of studies suggested that while more youth are volunteering, fewer are voting or becoming politically engaged.[4]

Role of volunteerism in transforming governance[edit]

The State of the World’s Volunteerism Report 2015, the first global review of the power of volunteer voices to help improve the way people are governed, draws on evidence from countries as diverse as Brazil, Kenya, Lebanon and Bangladesh. The UN report shows how ordinary people are volunteering their time, energies and skills to improve the way they are governed and engaged at local, national and global levels. Better governance at every level is a pre-requisite for the success of the new set of targets for future international development, the Sustainable Development Goals, which are due to be agreed at the United Nations in September 2015.[5]

At the global level, for instance, a diverse group of 37 online volunteers from across the globe engaged in 4 months of intense collaboration with the United Nations Department of Economic Affairs (UN DESA) to process 386 research surveys carried out across 193 UN Member States for the 2014 UN E-Government Survey. The diversity of nationalities and languages of the online volunteers[6]—more than 65 languages, 15 nationalities, of which half are from developing countries—mirrors perfectly the mission of the survey.

Civic engagement in the role of local government[edit]

Civic engagement is a community builder. When civic engagement is done properly, you begin to build the community and the participation within the local side of government. Civic engagement and community work is basically a side by side concurrence that together can each help to grow your community and help start off with a strong foundation for the role of government.

"Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome." –Angeles Arrien

Benefits of Civic Engagement in Local Government

  • Achieving greater buy-in to decisions with fewer backlashes such as lawsuits, special elections, or a council recall.
  • Engendering trust between citizens and government, which improves public behavior at council meetings.
  • Attaining successful outcomes on toxic issues, which helps elected officials avoid choosing between equally unappealing solutions.
  • Developing better and more creative ideas and solutions.
  • Implementing ideas, programs, and policies faster and more easily.
  • Creating involved citizens instead of demanding customers.
  • Building community within a city.
  • Making your job easier and more satisfying.

Volunteering in the local level[edit]

  • Government reaches into the lives of every citizen every single day. On the local level, communities ideally work together toward common goals that are perceived to be helpful to its citizen’s overall well-being. The goals can be numerous and varied, as are the mechanics of achieving those goals. Working together in this way is called civic engagement. It can be argued that a fundamental step in creating a functioning society begins with the civic education of children within the community. According to Diann Cameron Kelly, "When our young children serve their communities through volunteerism, political participation or through vocal activism, they are more likely to emerge…voting and serving all aspects of society" (55).[7] Kelly argues that children should be taught how their community works and who chooses the rules we live by even before they enter school. Other voices maintain that civic education is a lifelong process, even for those who make decisions on behalf of the citizens they serve. When those who serve listen to the citizens, they become better informed of what is needed by the community and generally make better decisions. Miriam Porter states that elected officials should communicate with their citizens to have this better understanding, "Without this, turmoil, suspicion, and reduction of public trust ensues" (175).[8]
  • Volunteering personal time to community projects is an aspect of civic engagement that is widely believed to support the growth of a community as a whole. In nearly any given community there are services that governing bodies may not be able to fully fund and volunteers become necessary. Food pantries, community clean-up programs and the like can bolster efforts to create a strong community bond. It also helps to teach the volunteer where more work is needed in their city.

Community collaboration[edit]

  • Community Collaboration includes democratic spaces where people of like interests can get together to discuss concern for particular issues and gives them a place and means to make the changes they see necessary. These spaces can be seen as a resource center, such as neighborhood associations, school boards, and similar settings where citizens can go to get information regarding their community (upcoming changes, proposed solutions to existing problems, etc.), as well creating a place where citizens feel their voices are heard and are given the opportunity to provide their personal input in governmental decisions regarding public interest.
  • Involvement in public council meeting sessions for discussions that can clarify necessities and changes that need to be made. Political participation is another key element that is practiced with regularity. The simple act of casting an informed vote can change many things within the community. At the local level, these votes can change many things that affect day-to-day life.
  • Online Engagement gives citizens the opportunity to be involved in their local government that they would not have otherwise, by allowing them to voice themselves from the comfort of their own home. Online Engagement involves things such as online voting and public discussion forums that give citizens the opportunity to voice their opinions on topics and offer solutions as well as find others with common interests and creating the possibility of forming advocacy groups pertaining to particular interests. The use of the internet has allowed for people to have access to information easily and has resulted in a better informed public as well as creating a new sense of community for citizens.[9]

Civic engagement in the role of state government[edit]

  • Civic engagement has an interrelated relationship within the various entities of the state. Through the values, knowledge, liberties, skills, ideas, attitudes and beliefs the population holds, civic engagement cultivates and shapes the state to be a representation of vast cultural, social, and economic identities.
  • Civic engagement applied within the state is not possible without local civic engagement. As in a democratic society, citizens are the source to give life to a representative democracy. Application of this principle can be found within programs and laws that states have implemented based in a variety of areas concerns for that particular state. Health, education, equality, immigration are a few examples of entities that civic engagement can shape within a state.

Application in health[edit]

• States implement public health programs to better benefit the needs of the society. The State Child Health Insurance Program, for example, (SCHIP) is the largest public investment in child health care aiding over 11 million uninsured children in the United States. "This statewide health insurance program for low-income children was associated with improved access, utilization, and quality of care, suggesting that SCHIP has the potential to improve health care for low-income American children.".[10] States take part in the program and sculpt it to better fit the needs of that state’s demographics, making their healthcare and the civic engagement process of individuals that take part in the program as well help reform and fix it apart of the state’s identity.

In comparison with other countries[edit]

  • States practicing public involvement and implementing public health programs to better benefit the needs of the society is a concept that is also shared by other countries, such as England. A study conducted by Department of Primary Care, University of Liverpool, the Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, the Department of Geography and Geology, McMaster Institute of Environment and Health, McMaster University, Avon Health Authority, the School of Journalism, Tom Hopkinson Centre for Media Research, Media and Cultural Studies, Cardiff University, and the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis, McMaster University stated that "There are a number of impulses towards public participation in health care decision making including instrumentalist, communitarian, educative and expressive impulses and the desire for increased accountability"[11]
  • Their research included critical examination of the degree of involvement by the public in healthcare decision making. It is suggested that "public participation in decision making can promote goals, bind individuals or groups together, impart a sense of competence and responsibility and help express political or civic identity".[11] The action of the citizens aimed at influencing decisions of representatives ultimately affects the state as a whole. Voting is a key component in civic engagement for the voice of the masses to be heard.

Importance of voter turnout[edit]

The goal for state government in elections is to promote civic engagement. Director Regina Lawrence of Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life states "Politics and all other forms of engagement are really about trying to make your community, your state, and your nation a better place to live." [12] Voter Turnout ensures civic engagement among the state with incentives that promises volunteer organizations, charity, and political involvement with everyone in the community who will have a voice to be heard.

The state can help promote civic engagement by ensuring fair voter and redistricting processes; by building partnerships among government agencies, non-profit organizations, and private citizens; and by maintaining networks of information about volunteer and charitable opportunities.[13]

One of the main factors that determine civic engagement among the people is voter turnout. Voter turnout gauges citizens’ level of political involvement, an important component of civic engagement—and a prerequisite for maintaining public accountability.[14]

Example of high voter turnout

•The state can help promote civic engagement by ensuring fair voter and redistricting processes; by building partnerships among government agencies, non-profit organizations, and private citizens; and by maintaining networks of information about volunteer and charitable opportunities.[15] •There is easy access to information about government activities, decision-making, solicit and use public input, and encourage public employees to donate and serve.[15]

Example of low voter turnout

Low participation with politics in the state and local government can result in less community involvement. Civic engagement may not be a concern to the people due to lack of funding and leadership directed towards that issue of community involvement.[16]

Role of higher education[edit]

To answer this challenge, the incorporation of service learning into collegiate course design has gained acceptance as a pedagogy that links curricular content with civic education. In a recent study, students who participated in service learning even one time appear to have made gains in knowledge of and commitment to civic engagement when compared to non-service learners.[17] Campus Compact, a coalition of nearly 1200 college presidents (as of 2013) promotes the development of citizenship skills by creating community partnerships and providing resources to train faculty to integrate civic and community-based learning into the curriculum.[18] Building on the acceptance of service learning and civic engagement in higher education, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement in Teaching created the Political Engagement Project in 2003 to develop the political knowledge and skills of college-aged students.[19] The American Democracy Project (ADP) was launched in the same year by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).[20] The American Democracy Project was joined by the American Democracy Commitment,[21] a partnership of community colleges, to sponsor an annual national conference focused on higher education’s role in preparing the next generation of informed, engaged citizens. The American Democracy Project also sponsors campus-based initiatives including voter registration, curriculum revision projects, and special days of action and reflection, such as the MLK Day of Service. In a report entitled, A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy's Future issued in 2012 by the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement, a joint project of the U.S. Department of Education and the American Association of Colleges and Universities, the authors argue that higher education must serve as an intellectual incubator and socially responsible partner in advancing civic learning and democratic engagement. The report recommends four basic steps to build civic minded institutions:

  1. Foster a civic ethos across the campus culture.
  2. Make civic literacy a core expectation for all students.
  3. Practice civic inquiry across all fields of study.
  4. Advance civic action through transformative partnerships.[22]

These higher education-based initiatives endeavor to build in college students, a politically engaged identity while enhancing the capacity to evaluate the political landscape and make informed decisions about participation in our democracy.[23] As evidenced by the growth in coalitions, professional development opportunities and civic education research, institutions of higher education and their association partners are committed to help prepare the next generation of citizens to become tomorrow's "Stewards of Place."[20]

Civic learning[edit]

In January 2012, the U.S. Department of Education issued a road map and a call to action entitled Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy that offers nine steps to enhancing the Department of Education's commitment to civic learning and engagement in democracy. These steps include:

  1. Convene and catalyze schools and post-secondary institutions to increase and enhance high-quality civic learning and engagement
  2. Identify additional civic indicators.
  3. Identify promising practices in civic learning and democratic engagement—and encourage further research to learn what works.
  4. Leverage federal investments and public-private partnerships.
  5. Encourage community-based work-study placements.
  6. Encourage public service careers among college students and graduates.
  7. Support civic learning for a well-rounded K–12 curriculum.
  8. Engage Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority-Serving Institutions—including Hispanic Serving Institutions, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander–Serving Institutions, and Tribal Colleges and Universities-in a national dialogue to identify best practices.
  9. Highlight and promote student and family participation in education programs and policies at the federal and local levels."[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ekman, Joakim & Amnå, Erik (2012). Political participation and civic engagement: towards a new typology. Human Affairs, vol 22, no 3, pp. 283-300.
  2. ^ a b Keeter, Scott; Cliff Zukin; Molly Andolina; Krista Jenkins (2002-09-19). "The civic and political health of a nation: a generational portrait" (PDF). Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement. Retrieved 2012-07-05. [page needed]
  3. ^ Middaugh, Ellen; Jerusha Conner; David Donahue; Antero Garcia; Joseph Kahne; Ben Kirshner; Peter Levin (2012-01-01). "Service & Activism in the Digital Age Supporting Youth Engagement in Public Life" (PDF). DML Central. Retrieved 2012-09-24. 
  4. ^ Putnam, R (2000). Bowling Alone. Simon and Schuster: New York. p.64.
  5. ^ 2015 State of the World's Volunteerism Report
  6. ^ Online Volunteering service, Experiences
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Engaging the Public at a Local Level to Strengthen Civic Engagement". San Antonio Area Foundation. Retrieved 4 December 2013. 
  10. ^ Szilagyi, Peter G., et al. "Evaluation of a state health insurance program for low-income children: implications for state child health insurance programs."Pediatrics 105.2 (2000): 363-371
  11. ^ a b Litva, Andrea, et al. "‘The public is too subjective’: public involvement at different levels of health-care decision making." Social Science & Medicine 54.12 (2002): 1825-1837.
  12. ^ Andrew Roush, . N.p.. Web. 3 Dec 2013. <>.
  13. ^ "Civic Engagement." N.p.. Web. 3 Dec 2013. <>.
  14. ^>.
  15. ^ a b "Civic Engagement." N.p.. Web. 3 Dec 2013.
  16. ^ . N.p.. Web. 5 Dec 2013. <>.
  17. ^ Prentice, M. & G. Robinson (2010) Linking Service Learning and Civic Engagement in Community College Students. American Association of Community Colleges: Washington, D.C.
  18. ^ [1]
  19. ^ McCartney, A., Bennion, E. & D. Simpson (2013). Teaching Civic Engagement: From Student to Active Citizen. American Political Science Association: Washington, D.C., p.XIV.
  20. ^ a b [2]
  21. ^ [3]
  22. ^ The National Task Force of Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement. 2012. A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy's Future. Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges and Universities.
  23. ^ Colby, A., Beaumont, E., Ehrlich, T, & J. Corngold. (2007) Educating for Democracy: Preparing Undergraduates for Responsible Political Engagement. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco. p.16-17.
  24. ^ U.S. Department of Education, Office of the Under Secretary and Office of Postsecondary Education, Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy: A Road Map and Call to Action, Washington, D.C., 2012. p.22-26.

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