Civic engagement isn't a term most people use regulary, but most of us have experience with what civic engagement is all about! Civic engagement is active participation in your community and being invested in what happens in your community. This includes a lot of different activities, like community service, donations, voting, career work, and more. According to Thomas Ehrlich of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, "Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and nonpolitical processes."
Civic engagement is work that deepens people’s commitment to their community and the condition of their community. At OSU, we use the term civic engagement to mean:
“Civic engagement is acting upon a heightened sense of responsibility to one’s communities and a heightened understanding of one’s identity. This includes a wide range of activities, including developing civic sensitivity, participation in building civil society, and benefiting the common good. Civic engagement encompasses the notions of global membership and interdependence. Through civic engagement, individuals—as members of their communities, their nations, and the world—are empowered as agents of positive social change for a more democratic world.” —adapted from Barbara Jacoby, Civic Engagement in Higher Education, 2009
The Center for Civic Engagement is grounded in and guided by the following values and principles and utilizes this framework and rubric to approach our work.
Community Engagement Values and Principles:
Values and principles were adapted from the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University.
Direct Service: Also known as community service or volunteering, direct service is when you help with projects in the community directly. Things like helping build houses with Habitat for Humanity, stream cleanups, helping with an after school program, or helping walk dogs at a humane society are examples of direct service.
Activism/Advocacy: Activism or advocacy is when you participate in activities that raise awareness on issues that are important to you. Joining a protest or a march are examples of activism or advocacy.
Philanthropy: Philanthropy is when you give money or physical items to causes that are important to you. For example, if you donate canned goods to a food drive or give money to a fundraiser, these are both forms of philanthropy.
Public Discourse: Public discourse is when you join others with differing opinions on an issue to discuss the issue more deeply. Discourse is different from debate in that you are trying to find common ground with people who disagree with you and working toward a common understanding and solutions that you both find acceptable rather than trying to win the discussion like you do in a debate. Discourse is about being open to other ideas, learning and listening deeply to others, and coming to compromises together.
Political Engagement: Political engagement is about being informed on issues, voting regularly, and participating in political activities like attending debates, helping with voter registration, or joining a campaign.
Community Organizing: Community organizing, or grassroots organizing, is when groups of people who are passionate about a shared issue work together to address the issue. These movements may begin in a small organization or with an individual or group of people who want to make change. Examples of community organizing in recent years include the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter. Both were started by a few people who cared passionately about an issue, and by working with others passionate about the same issue, they were able to more effectively fight for their causes.
Employment: Your job choices can have a big impact on your community, and employment choices are a great way to be an active member of your community. Joining the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps after college, taking a job with a nonprofit organization, or working in a business that shares your values are all examples of ways your employment can also be a form of civic engagement.
Lifestyle Choices: Every day, we make little choices that can impact the world. Choices like what brands we support, if we recycle, and if we bike and walk more than drive are all examples of lifestyle choices that can impact your community.
Being civically engaged doesn't mean you actively engage with all these activities or that you spend all your time doing these things. Some people will be more inclined to participate in direct service, while others may prefer political engagement. Some people will have the time and energy to do a lot of civic engagement, while others will have less time. No one type of civic engagement or level of engagement is more valuable than any other; we need people to participate in all these types of engagement at the level that works for them for us to have a vibrant, thriving community!