- Civic engagement works to inform, organize, equip and empower citizens of a community for both positive political and non-political interests.
- Representative democracy requires citizens to be provided with the knowledge and capability to actively engage in a democratic society from a young age.
What is Civic Engagement
Civic engagement refers to citizens participating in activities that make a positive difference in their communities functioning and well being.1 Those who participate in both political and nonpolitical processes become better equipped to make informed moral and civic judgements on significant issues facing their community. Robust civic participation only exists when every citizen has not only the knowledge, but also the ability to engage actively in community affairs.2
What Does Civic Engagement Look Like?
Citizens can actively participate and get involved in civic activities at different levels of government and through individual and systematic contributions. Individual civic engagement refers to participation in activities and initiatives such as volunteering, participating in community events, attending public meetings, and engaging in advocacy or activism on specific issues. Systemic civic engagement involves farther reaching and more organized efforts to create long-term societal impact that can include voting in elections and engaging in advocacy campaigns.3 When instituted early, opportunities for local civic engagement become ingrained into daily life from a young age which prepares citizens to actively participate in their democracy as adults.4 An important enabler of civic engagement is an independent media that equips the public with the necessary information to contribute to their community and society.5
Civic Engagement and Democracy
Democratic engagement refers to the political participation component of civic engagement. Democratic processes need the input of educated and well-equipped citizens who contribute to decision-making in the best interest of their communities. Participating in local governments, volunteer programs, and voting provides platforms for people to exchange and express ideas and work towards solutions to pressing issues. Establishing a democratic form of government by itself does not ensure that the government works for the public good; people must engage in “informed, organized, active, and peaceful citizen participation” for a democratic society to function.6
1 Thomas Ehrlich, “Civic Responsibility and Higher Education,” in Civic Responsibility and Higher Education(Westport (Conn.), CT: Oryx Press, 2000), p. vi.
2 “Civic Participation and Empowerment,” United States Institute of Peace, January 18, 2010, https://www.usip.org/guiding-principles-stabilization-and-reconstruction-the-web-version/stable-governance/civic-particip
3 “Civic Engagement Primer What Does Civic Engagement Look like?,” Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE), accessed October 17, 2022, http://www.pacefunders.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Civic-Engagement-Chart.pdf
4 “Civic Engagement -What Is Civic Engagement?,” The Policy Circle, April 26, 2022, https://www.thepolicycircle.org/brief/whats-whys-civic-engagement/
5 Civic Participation and Empowerment,” United States Institute of Peace, January 18, 2010, https://www.usip.org/guiding-principles-stabilization-and-reconstruction-the-web-version/stable-governance/civic-particip
6 National Democratic Institute, “Citizen Participation,” NDI -What We Do, September 4, 2018, https://www.ndi.org/what-we-do/citizen-participation