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WHAT WORKS TO STRENGTHEN CIVIC ENGAGEMENT IN AMERICA

:
A GUIDE TO LOCAL ACTION AND CIVIC INNOVATION

SYNTHESIS REPORT

By

James V. Riker
The Democracy Collaborative
University of Maryland, College Park

and

Kathryn E. Nelson
The Center for the Study of Voluntary Organizations and Service
Georgetown University

July 29, 2003

The Democracy Collaborative-Knight Foundation Civic Engagement Project

Co-Directed by

The Democracy Collaborative, University of Maryland, College Park and
The Center for the Study of Voluntary Organizations and Service, Georgetown University
What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

About the authors:

James V. Riker is Associate Director of the Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland,
College Park (e-mail: jriker@democracycollaborative.org). Kathryn E. Nelson is Associate Director of
the Center for the Study of Voluntary Organizations at Georgetown University (e-mail:
nelsonk2@georgetown.edu).

For more information about The Democracy Collaborative-Knight Foundation Civic Engagement
Project (www.democracycollaborative.org), please contact the project’s co-directors:

James V. Riker, Ph.D. Kathryn E. Nelson
The Democracy Collaborative The Center for the Study of Voluntary
University of Maryland Organizations and Service
1241 Tawes Hall Georgetown Public Policy Institute
College Park, MD 20912-7255 Georgetown University
Phone: 301-405-996 3240 Prospect St., NW, Lower Level
Fax: 301-314-2533 Washington, DC 20007-2196
E-mail: jriker@civilsociety.umd.edu Phone: 202-687-0501
Fax: 202-687-0597
E-mail: nelsonk2@georgetown.edu

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What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Table of Contents

What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement:
A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation ...................................................................5

Research Approach and Methodology …………………………………………………… 5

Defining Civic Engagement and Democratic Citizenship ...................................................5

Measures and Key Indicators: The Challenge of Measuring Civic Health………………..7

Goals of Strengthening Civic Engagement and Democratic Citizenship ..........................13

Dimensions of Civic Engagement .....................................................................................13

Toward a Conceptual Model of Civic Engagement………………………………………14

Major Dimensions of Civic Engagement and A Summary of Key Findings: Reviewing
the Literature on Contributing Factors to Civic Engagement …………………………...18
Key Research Questions………………………………………………………….18

Individual and Community Factors……………………………………………………....18
Civic Motivation and Values………………………………………………………….19
Civic Norms and Conditions…………………………………………………….……19
Civic Disparities and Differences……………………………………………….…….23
Civic Tools and Resources…………….………………………………………………….26
Civic Education and Knowledge………………………………………………………26
Civic Skills and Capacities………………………………………………………...…..27
Modes and Infrastructure for Participation: Individual & Collective Action……………..29

What Conditions Are Necessary to Sustain Civic Engagement…………………………..31

5 Conditions for Fostering Community-Level Engagement………………………………31

Civic Strategies and Innovations for Enhancing Civic Engagement: Recommendations
and Key Examples…………………………………………………………………………33

The Challenge to Develop a Tailored Civic Engagement Strategy for the Local
Context………………………………………………………………………………….....37

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What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Key Research Gaps: Recommendations for Future Research ...........................................45

Conclusions and Next Steps...............................................................................................46

Additional Resources: Appendices

A. List of Participants at the Democracy Collaborative—Knight Foundation Civic
Engagement Project Consultation Meeting, Washington, DC…………………….….48
B. List of Civic Engagement Working Papers……………………………………………50
C. Glossary of Key Terms of Civic Engagement…………………………………………52
D. Bibliography on Civic Engagement…………………………………………………....55

List of Tables

Table 1: Summary of Major Surveys of Civic Engagement and Civic Health....................9
Table 2: Measures and Key Indicators of Civic Engagement and Civic Health………….11
Table 3: Indicators of Civic Engagement Outcomes and Outputs..………………………17
Table 4: Main Forms of Civic Engagement………………………….…………….……...29
Table 5: Vehicles and Venues that Facilitate Civic Engagement……..………….……….30
Table 6: Civic Infrastructure: Vehicles/Venues that Enhance Civic Engagement at
the Community Level by Goal ..………………………………………….……..32
Table 7: Civic Innovation and Strategy by Key Actor …………..…………………...…..34
Table 8: Civic Innovation and Strategy by Focus Area ………………..………………...35
Table 9: Sample Strategies and Innovations for Strengthening Civic Engagement by
Goal and Civic Dimension…..………….……………….……….………...….…36
Table 10: What Works Table: A Review of Civic Innovations and Strategies to
Enhance Civic Engagement……………………………………………….........43
Table 11: The 26 Knight Foundation Communities and Their Identified Priorities………47

Figure 1: The Main Factors that Affect Civic Engagement: A Conceptual Model………..15

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What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America:
A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

The Democracy Collaborative at the University of Maryland, in partnership with the Center for the Study of
Voluntary Organizations and Service at Georgetown University, has conducted a national-level assessment to
examine what works to strengthen civic engagement in the United States. With funding from the John S. and
James L. Knight Foundation, this project provides a synthesis of the existing empirical research on a wide range
of civic engagement strategies and makes this research accessible for practitioners and policy makers. The goal
of this effort is to help local policy makers, advocates, and foundation program officers set objectives and
design strategies tailored to the realities of their communities that strengthen community involvement, civic
engagement and ultimately democratic citizenship.

Our first step is to develop a framework for thinking about the goals of strengthening civic engagement and
democracy and for assessing the effectiveness of existing civic innovations and strategies. This report
highlights the framework we have developed based on broad multi- and inter-disciplinary analyses of the main
dimensions of civic engagement. It focuses in turn on the goals of this initiative, civic strategies for achieving
these goals, measures for assessing the effectiveness of existing civic enhancing initiatives and programs, and
factors that should shape the development of a coherent approach to assessing civic engagement and democratic
citizenship. Although we recognize that this framework will evolve and be further refined as it is tested and
applied to the specific context of communities, the present version provides a starting point for reviewing the
existing empirical literature on civic engagement and innovation.

Research Approach and Methodology

The project’s main research approach has been to review the extensive national literature on the dynamics of
civic engagement. Based on a preliminary review of the literature, the project’s co-directors initially developed
a conceptual framework for assessing the national literature on civic engagement (with the latest version
presented below). Out of this process, six definable (but potentially overlapping) dimensions of civic
engagement were identified. We then commissioned leading scholars from the fields of economics, education,
psychology, political science, public policy, and sociology to prepare reports on each of the main dimensions of
civic engagement. Involving an interdisciplinary group of 15 scholars from six universities, this project has
examined the key factors that enhance and sustain citizens’ civic engagement and build community capacities
for reinvigorating democracy. Initial draft reports were presented at a Consultation Meeting involving scholars,
researchers, and practitioners on October 24, 2002 at the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC (see list of
participants in Appendix A). Based on constructive comments and insights at the meeting, these reports were
revised and are available as Civic Engagement Working Papers (see Appendix B). These eight papers provide
an in-depth analysis of the main factors that shape and affect civic engagement. The main research findings
from those papers are summarized and highlighted in this report.

Defining Democracy, Civic Engagement and Democratic Citizenship

Arguably, democracy, civic engagement, and citizenship are contested concepts. For the purposes of this
project, we would like to articulate a few working definitions that are comprehensive, inclusive and, of course,
that speak to both practitioners and scholars. There are three distinct levels to understanding these concepts
from the individual (i.e., the basis for individual action), community (i.e., the basis for collective action), and
normative (i.e., the values that sustain action) levels (see Appendix C for a complete glossary of key terms of
civic engagement). To initiate our work, we propose the following definitions:

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What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Democracy:

• Coming from the Greek words “demos” meaning people and “kratos” meaning authority, most simply
democracy can be understood as a form of government where people have the right to make or
participate in the decision-making processes of government. Different forms of democracy often
correspond to the specific needs and demands of a population. Direct democracy allows everyone to
participate in all decision-making, while representative democracy provides for elected officials to make
decisions within a framework of accountability.1

Civic Engagement:

• At the individual level: Civic Engagement means “active participation in civic life.” Our focus is on
those activities that contribute to or enhance democracy and its tenets of freedom, equality, and justice.2

• At the community level: Civic engagement is “based on the participation of individual citizens in the
associations of civil and political society.”3

• At the normative level: Civic engagement is “based on normative orientations sustained, above all, by
institutions and institutional leaders.”4

• Scope of civic engagement activities: Drawing on Verba, Scholzman and Brady’s Civic Voluntarism
Model, which recognizes “the embeddedness of political activity in the non-political institutions of civil
society” (1995, 40), this project’s definition of civic engagement includes both formal political
activities e.g., voting, volunteering and contributing to political campaigns, and membership in political
organizations, as well as informal political and nonpolitical activities associated with voluntary
organizations e.g., protesting, volunteering, contributing and membership behavior associated with
charitable organizations and churches.5

Democratic Citizenship

• At the individual level: Democratic citizenship implies that a person acts in exercising their rights and
duties in manner that is participatory and representative (thus democratic), and that fosters and deepens
democracy.

• At the community level: Democratic citizenship contributes to broad participation and representation in
civic institutions and governance processes and improves the overall quality of life in a community.

1
Dahl, R.A. (1991). Democracy and its critics. Hartford: Yale University Press, p. 14.
2
By our definition, civic engaging groups such as the KKK would be against the tenets of democracy, and would thus be excluded
from the analysis.
3
Brint, S. & Levy, C.S. (1999). Professions and Civic Engagement: Trends in Rhetoric and Practice, 1875-1995. In: Civic
Engagement in American Democracy. Theda Skocpol and Morris P. Fiorina, eds., Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, p.
164, fn. 7.
4
Ibid, p. 164, fn. 7.
5
Verba, S. & Schlozman, K.L. & Brady, H..E. (1995). Voice and Equality: Civic voluntarism in American politics. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press.
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What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

• At the normative level: Democratic citizenship fosters the essential values, culture, institutions, and
practices for a democratic society.

Active Citizenship

• At the individual level: Active citizenship means that a person is obligated to exercise their rights and
duties in a society to serve the public good.

• At the community level: Active citizenship means that participating in accountable political work and
democratic governance is seen as an essential obligation and role of citizens (both as individuals and
collectively), and not the sole domain of government officials and politicians.

• At the normative level: Active citizenship means that people are “co-creators and civic producers” in
“creating the democratic way of life.”6

Measures and Key Indicators: How do we measure civic health or civic engagement?

Perhaps the only task more challenging than defining civic engagement, is the task of measuring civic
engagement and civic health. Over the course of the last decade, civic engagement has captured the attention of
scholars, policy analysts and community leaders concerned about the health of American democracy. Many
credit Robert Putnam’s 1995 essay, “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital,” for igniting a
national discussion on civic participation. Putnam (1995, 2000) cites declines in voter turnout, PTA
membership, and social trust as key indicators that signal a withdrawal from civic life. While several scholars
join Putnam in his lament for declining civic engagement, (Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swidler & Tipton, 1996),
others vigorously oppose his position, contending that just the opposite is true. Skocpol (1999) and Ladd (1996,
1999) cite shifting demographics and maintain that Americans are finding new ways to participate.
Additionally, Ladd (1996) credits steady membership in organizations, increased church attendance and new
forums for engagement offered via the Internet for the high levels of civic participation he observes.

As we reviewed the empirical literature and major surveys on civic engagement that identify key measures of
civic health, a set of widely varying indicators emerged. Table 1 provides a summary of the findings from major
surveys of civic engagement from across the U.S. and the key indicators used to assess civic health at the
community level. Table 2 catalogues the major measures and indicators used to gauge the health of civic
engagement by the four modes of engagement (i.e., electoral, political, economic, societal). We have specified
possible indicators for assessing each mode of civic engagement at the individual, community, and normative
levels.

How do these measures translate into recommended action steps for communities? Some scholars suggest that
conventional measures of civic engagement are somewhat limited in that they do not capture or adequately
measure engagement patterns of particular populations (e.g., minorities or youth). Having reviewed several
studies on civic behavior, a program officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts, concluded, that “most measures of
political engagement…provide little insight into how young people understand or participate in politics” (Stepp,
2003, C01). Moreover, how particular factors contribute to overall civic health differs depending on how
narrowly or broadly civic engagement is conceptualized. For example, conservative think tanks advocating a
very narrow conception of acceptable forms of civic engagement, which limits political participation to “the

6
Boyte, H. (2001). Center for Democracy and Citizenship, University of Minnesota web site: http://www.publicwork.org/.
.
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elected” or through “representative governance,” view the increase in participatory governance and political
involvement by NGOs and other “unelected” entities as a threat to civic health, whereas, advocates of increased
citizen involvement through more participatory governance structures view such increased visibility and
involvement as a sign of improved civic health (Lobe, 2003, A01). These two contrasting perspectives raise
important questions about “who” is engaged and with “what results.” Clearly, one test is whether the forms of
civic engagement make a difference in improving the lives of citizens (at the community level) and the overall
civic health of the community. In the interest of comprehensiveness, we have taken the broader view of civic
engagement based on how it is conceptualized in communities as well as exploring all of its potential modes
from electoral to political, economic and societal engagement.

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What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Table 1: Summary of Major Surveys: The First Step towards Community Assessment

Survey Primary Key Findings and Indicators Used to Assess Civic Health at
Investigator; Year the Community Level
Voice and Sidney Verba, Kay • Broader Scope of Civic Engagement Activities: This study
Equality: Schlozman, and expanded the definition of civic engagement to include
Civic Henry Brady; 1995 activities beyond electoral forms of participation and
Voluntarism conceptualized the relationship between voice and
in American equality. Importantly, they concluded that the voices of
Politics citizens in the U.S. are not equal, in some arenas (e.g.,
religion) more equality exists than in others (e.g., politics).
• Civic Disparities: Drawing from resource theory, this
study confirmed that differential access to education and to
key resources (time, skills, money) is a leading contributor
to participatory inequalities.

Saguaro Robert Putnam along • Social Capital/Community Connections: Advocating the
Seminar: with three-dozen key role social capital plays in facilitating civic
Civic community and engagement, this study developed a Scorecard Assessment
Engagement private foundations Tool to rate communities and to provide tailored
in America nationwide; 2001 - recommendations for improvement, including 100 ways to
Ongoing increase social capital in daily life.
Social • Religious involvement: Coinciding with Verba et al.
Capital (1995), Putnam’s assessment has also found that religious
Community involvement is one of the most important predictors to
Benchmark giving and volunteering as well as other forms of civic
Survey involvement, including: membership in civic groups,
trusting neighbors, socializing, etc.
• Diversity: The data suggest that community activists in
settings of unusual diversity need to redouble their efforts
to build trust, to reduce social isolation, to expand political
participation, and to bridge class barriers.

Political and CIRCLE (Center for On Youth: This study explores how various activities and attitudes
Civic Information and influence youth civic engagement. Key findings include:
Engagement Research on Civic
of Young Learning and • Patriotism may have little effect on youth: Despite initial
Adults in Engagement); 2002 surge after September 11th, young adults’ civic and
America political involvement has not increased in recent months.
• Parental influence has strongest affect: Parental influence
and behavior is strongest predictor of young adults’ civic
attitudes and behaviors.
• Charitable activities preferred over electoral activities:
Community involvement (e.g., volunteering, donating) is
more appealing to youth than political or electoral
engagement.

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What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Survey Primary Key Findings and Indicators Used to Assess Civic Health at
Investigator; Year the Community Level
Illinois Civic Illinois United Way • Citizen Engagement Profiles: This survey identified seven
Engagement and Illinois Issues; different groups of people based upon their engagement
Project 2001 patterns: civic leaders, community activists, faith-based
activists, cyber-activists, informal socializers, informed
contributors, and the relatively disengaged; It also
identified 68 multi-sector ideas to increase civic
engagement in any community
• Diversity in Engagement: The study found that there was
no major difference in participation levels based upon
gender, but that there were key differences based on age,
level of education, political affiliation, and type of
employment.
• Civic Barriers: Many Illinois citizens identified time,
knowledge, money, health, and social constraints as key
barriers to community participation.

Boston Civic Boston Foundation; Neighborhood Context: This study attempted to determine how
Health 1999 various neighborhood-level measures influenced Boston’s civic
Survey health. Key factors assessed include:

Indicators of • Economic Stability: This study attempted to determine if
Civic Health there was a link between neighborhood economic stability
and participation. Specifically, if national electoral
participation rates differed from participation in local
elections by neighborhood. Overall, more Bostonians
voted in national elections than in local elections. More
stable neighborhoods reflected higher voting rates than less
economically stable areas. Moreover, this study found that
neighborhoods with strong economic development and
high levels of home ownership are likely to build a sense
of community and contribute to increased levels of civic
engagement.
• Social Trust/Civic Confidence/ and Diversity: This study
reported that 80% of Bostonians trust their neighbors,
which, in light of the fact that Boston is one of the most
racially segregated communities in the U.S., is consistent
with national studies that link high levels of social trust
with low levels of diversity.

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Table 2: Measures and Key Indicators of Civic Engagement and Civic Health

Modes of Civic Individual Measures Community Measures Normative Measures
Engagement
Electoral Engagement • Individual Voting • Number of Candidates • Civil Discourse
o Voting Patterns/Participation Running for Office • Clean Elections
o Ballot Initiatives • Volunteering for a • Total Voting Population • Commitment to
o Referenda Political Campaign 18+ years Registered the Outcome of
o Participating in • Contributing to Political Voters the Electoral
Campaigns Campaigns • Community Participation Process
• Running for Political Rates for Local and
Office National Elections

Political Engagement • Attending Meetings for • Civic • Civi1 Discourse
o Direct Advocacy Local Boards or Orientations/Views/Party • Participatory and
o Indirect Advocacy Councils Affiliations Responsive
• Protesting, Marching, • Confidence in Political Governance
o Public Issue
and Demonstrating Institutions Processes
Lobbying • Lobbying Involvement • Issue Identification • Effective
o Protesting for Community and • Levels of Political Mechanisms for
National Programs Recruiting Deliberative
(Petition Writing) • Exposure to Political Democracy
• Contentment with Stimuli in Church
Political Institutions • Exposure to Political
• Relevancy of Politics to Stimuli in Voluntary
Personal Life Organizations
• Media
Consumption/Exposure
• Political
Knowledge/Skills
• Discussion of Political
Matters/ Persuasion
• Make a Speech/Write an
Article/Write Letter to
Newspaper
• Civic Orientations/
Views/Party Affiliations
• Display Buttons/ Signs/
Stickers
• Canvassed a
Neighborhood

Economic Engagement • Income • Poverty Rates • Commitment to
o Consumer Action • Perceptions of Corporate • Child Poverty Rates Community
o Labor Action Responsibility • Adequacy of Income Building
o Stockholder • Job Security Supports • Equitable
Initiatives • Work Status/Occupation • Living Wages Development
• Job Satisfaction • Affordable Housing • Economic
• Consumer Debt Levels • Unemployment Rates Democracy
• Career Plans • Working Conditions
• Union Membership • Consumer Debt Levels
• Professional • Union Membership
Associations
• Informal Workplace
Connections

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What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Modes of Civic Individual Measures Community Measures Normative Measures
Engagement
Societal Engagement • Asked to • Reported Crimes/ 1,000 • Civi1 Discourse
o Social Capital Participate/Contribute population • Collective
Creation • Youth Leadership • Divorce / 1,000 Married Identity
o Charitable Giving • Perceptions of Civic Women • Level of
o Volunteer and Obligation • Volunteerism Rates Community
Community • Perceptions of Civic • Public Education Programs Collaboration
Service Competence • Demographics and Social • Inter-
o Public and Civic • Charitable Giving in Locations of Respondents Organizational
Education absolute dollars • Cultural and Social Cooperation
o Skills Building • Charitable Giving as a Orientations of
o Service Provision % of Disposable Income Respondents
o Community
• Level of Institutional • Connectedness
Problem-Solving
Trust • Neighborhood
• Perceptions of Fairness Beautification
• Perceptions of • Access to Education
Helpfulness • Community Social Service
• Personal Neighborhood Distribution
Ratings • Community Social Service
• Personal Efficacy Capacity
• Trust of Local
Authorities
• Visits with Family and
Friends
• Attending Festivals or
Parades
• Serving on a Board
• Working Informally
with Others
• Organizational
Affiliation
• Religious Affiliation and
Attendance
• Reasons for
Involvement
• Barriers to Involvement
• Parental Encouragement
• Satisfaction with Life
• Interaction with
Children’s School
• Employment
Relationships and
Affiliations
• Tolerance of Diversity
• Education Participation
• Sense of Personal Safety
• Fundraise for an
Organization

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What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

While no consensus has been reached regarding the health of civic engagement, the debate has broadened to
include questions about the overall quality and equality of participation. Expanding the focus from the question
‘how many are engaged’ to ‘who is engaged, what are they doing and why,’ several studies investigate
underlying motivations and various factors that drive civic engagement across race, class, and gender.7 Most
recently, findings from the “largest scientific investigation of civic engagement in America,” Putnam’s Social
Capital Benchmark Survey and Saguaro Seminar Series, emphasize that: “Quite apart from increasing the level
of civic engagement in American communities, we need to attend to its social distribution” (2001, 7). The
emphasis here is to understand the multi-dimensional nature of civic engagement and different measures and
goals for enhancing it at the community level.

Goals of Strengthening Civic Engagement and Democratic Citizenship

The conceptual framework for this study presumes that the ultimate goal of civic engagement is to strengthen
democracy. Acknowledging the validity of Putnam’s most recent observation regarding the social distribution
of engagement, this overarching goal involves four key measurable objectives, which overlap with one another
but are all prerequisites for a healthy democracy. Specifically, civic innovations and strategies should:

1. Increase the quantity of civic engagement: this includes increasing the number of people involved or
percentage of the population engaged and increasing the number of organizations and civic structures
(where appropriate).

2. Increase the quality of civic engagement: this includes improving existing opportunities through
professionalized volunteer management or enhanced organizational effectiveness and creating new more
meaningful opportunities to participate (e.g., more leadership vs. rank and file staff or volunteer
opportunities), which would also contribute to the next goal, increasing the equality of civic engagement.
This also includes increasing the quality of citizens through skill-building opportunities and civic education.

3. Increase the equality of civic engagement: this involves identifying civic structures and other factors that
serve to include or exclude, leveraging differences and minimizing disparities in order to increase
participation, access, influence and representation of underrepresented groups by race, class, ethnicity, age,
gender and religion. This also includes elevating, where appropriate “fringe involvement” to “center stage”
to help strengthen the links between informal and formal networks (e.g., community leaders: gang leaders
vs. elected officials).

4. Increase the sustainability of civic engagement: this involves strengthening existing venues or
opportunities for participation and identifying and nurturing emerging strategies and innovations that seek to
build citizenship and engagement at the local level over the long-term.

Dimensions of Civic Engagement

As the discussion of definitions and measures suggest, civic engagement is a broad and complex topic. To better
understand the field, we have reviewed the existing empirical literature by demarcating dimensions that can be
divided into basic categories assessing the extent to which each dimension can gauge the health of civic
engagement and democracy. Essentially, we have outlined six major dimensions of civic engagement that
divide into three main categories.

7
For a broader discussion of these findings, please refer to Scholzman, Burns & Verba, 1994; Verba, Scholzman & Brady, 1995;
Hodgkinson & Weitzman, 1996; Skocpol, 1997; Elshtain, 1997; Newton, 1997; Minkoff, 1997; Heying, 1997; Schudson, 1998;
Skocpol & Fiorina, 1999; Hodgkinson & Kirsch, 2000.
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What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Individual and Community Factors: These factors result from individual experiences that are driven by
internal (such as personal values) and external (such as familial and societal) forces. They, in turn, shape the
context or conditions that facilitate or impede civic engagement and are identified as:

• Civic Motivations and Values
• Civic Identity, Norms, Conditions
• Civic Differences and Disparities

Civic Tools and Resources: These are the primary means, both individual and collective, used to enhance the
quality, quantity, equality, and sustainability of civic engagement and are identified as:

• Civic Education and Knowledge
• Civic Skills and Capacities

Modes and Infrastructure for Participation--Individual and Collective Action:
These are the forms, venues, and infrastructure through which people are or become civically engaged. This
dimension can be divided into four main areas:

• Civic Participation and Civic Structures:

a) Community and Religious Participation and Structures
b) Economic Participation and Structures
c) Political Participation and Structures
d) Electoral Participation and Structures

Toward a Conceptual Model of Civic Engagement

How do we understand the basic relationship among the main factors that affect civic engagement? Figure 1
below provides a conceptual model of the three main categories of factors that shape the possibilities for civic
engagement and healthy democratic communities. Individual and Community Factors set the context or
conditions both at the individual and collective levels that either facilitate or impede civic engagement. Modes
and Infrastructure for Participation are the main forms, venues, and infrastructure though which people are or
become civically engaged. Civic Tools and Resources provide essential intervention strategies and practices,
both at the individual and collective levels, which enhance civic engagement. Together the inter-relationships
among these three categories of factors shape and affect the possibilities for enhancing civic engagement (i.e.,
quantity, quality, equality, and sustainability), and thus shape the potential outcomes for building healthy
democratic communities at the individual, community, and normative levels.

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What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

FIGURE 1: The Main Factors that Affect Civic Engagement: A Conceptual Model

Individual and Modes and Civic Tools
Community Factors Infrastructure and
for Participation Resources
• Civic Motivations &
Values • Electoral Participation • Civic Education &
• Civic Identities, • Political Participation Knowledge
Norms, & Conditions • Economic Participation • Civic Skills &
• Civic Disparities & • Societal Participation Capacities
Differences

Civic Engagement
• Quantity
• Quality
• Equality
• Sustainability

Healthy Democratic Communities
• Individual Level
• Community Level
• Normative Level

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What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Using this framework, how do we reconcile the various existing measures of civic engagement (as outlined in
Tables 1 and 2) with a set of consistent indicators by which to benchmark progress across communities? To
start the process, we have defined a set of outcome and output indicators specific to each of the four key goals
identified in our framework (Table 3). These indicators provide concrete measures of the extent to which each
goal is achieved, both in the short-term (one to five years) and over the long-term (five to twenty years). More
specifically, outcome indicators measure the community-wide conditions (such as racial segregation) that such
strategies intend to change over the long-term. Output indicators provide more immediate measures of program
accomplishments (such as number of people volunteering or running for public office). Over time, programs
that are successful in producing the desired outputs should contribute to progress on the larger outcome
measures especially at the community (i.e., basis for collective action) and normative (i.e., values that sustain
action) levels. However, because outcomes change slowly and may be affected by factors outside a
community’s control (such as regional economic conditions), they are at best partial indicators of short-term
progress.

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What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Table 3: Measures and Indicators of Civic Engagement Policy Outcomes and Outputs
Goals of Policy that Promote Indicators
Civic Engagement and Outcomes Outputs
Democratic Citizenship (long-term: five to twenty years) (short-term: one to five years)
Increase quantity of civic ƒ Increased general awareness of civic engagement and ƒ Increased awareness of local civic engagement
engagement responsibilities of democratic citizenship opportunities and leverage of new national focus on
ƒ Increased number of people involved in civic activities: citizen involvement (e.g., AmeriCorps, U.S. Freedom
voters, members, consumers, workers, volunteers, donors, Corps)
advocates and campaigners ƒ Increased number of people involved in civic activities
ƒ Increased number of civic organizations, coalitions and ƒ Increased number of civic organizations, coalitions and
structures structures
ƒ Implementation of community plans and priorities

Increase quality of civic ƒ Increased number of meaningful opportunities to participate ƒ Improved quality of civic literacy and education
engagement ƒ Increased number of qualified citizens (e.g., skill-building) initiatives
ƒ Increased number of well-resourced and effective civic ƒ Improved quality of volunteer training, management and
organizations and infrastructure incentive programs
ƒ Increased level of inter-organizational cooperation and
community collaboration across sectors

Increase equality of civic ƒ Increased access, influence and representation of ƒ Increased participation by underrepresented groups by
engagement underrepresented groups by race, class, ethnicity, age and race, class, ethnicity, age, and gender (e.g., youth and
gender (e.g., meetings with local government officials, state immigrants)
legislatures, running for office or holding public office, etc.) ƒ Increased number of civic education, skills programs for
ƒ Increased types of arenas for involvement: improve or immigrants, youth, and targeted minorities
“rethink/remake the public sphere” to be more inclusive of ƒ Increased alternatives to how citizen skills are acquired
alternative civic practices and perspectives, etc. and “taught,” and reassess existing programs and
ƒ Increased community commitment to equitable development recruitment strategies

Increase sustainability of civic ƒ Maintained or increased number of people involved in civic ƒ Increased continuity of citizen involvement at the local
engagement activities in the long-term level: track year-to-year rates of involvement
ƒ Maintained or increased number of civic organizations, ƒ Maintained existing and nurture emerging
opportunities and structures initiatives/organizations
ƒ Enabling civic environment that removes barriers and fosters ƒ Progress in achieving goals set by citizen organizations
sustained participation in democratic governance (i.e., both
processes and practices) at the community level

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Major Dimensions of Civic Engagement: A Summary of Key Findings

Reviewing the Literature on Contributing Factors to Civic Engagement

The overall focus of this research effort is to provide greater clarity about the specific factors or conditions –
both supportive and unsupportive – that affect the prospects for enhancing civic engagement at the community
level. These include individual and community factors such as civic motivations and values, civic identity,
norms and conditions, civic differences and disparities; the tools and resources necessary for facilitating civic
engagement such as civic knowledge, education, skills and capacities (both individual and collective); and the
forms, venues, and civic infrastructure through which people are or become civically engaged. To provide a
thorough and consistent assessment of each dimension, we have also outlined five key research questions
relevant to the assessment of each dimension (see below).

Key Research Questions:

For each of the dimensions of civic engagement, we have addressed the following key research questions.

• Scope and Magnitude: What is the overall scope and magnitude of this dimension of civic
engagement?

• Salience: How effective and salient is this dimension in assessing the level of civic engagement and the
health of democracy?

• Implications for the Community: What lessons and insights does this dimension offer for sustaining,
enhancing or inhibiting civic engagement at the community level?

• Civic Strategies and Innovations: What strategies or innovations have been tried to address this
dimension and increase the quantity, quality, and equality of civic participation? What strategies
ensure the sustainability of civic engagement? What works, what doesn’t, and what might? (Identify
effective practices and tools)

• Key Knowledge Gaps: What are key areas of inquiry that need to be addressed on this dimension?

Each broad dimension has the potential to promote the four basic goals of civic engagement (e.g., quantity,
quality, equality, and sustainability), although the type of strategy adopted may primarily advance one goal over
another. For example, a community’s efforts to address civic disparities by improving race relations would
focus foremost on enhancing the equality of civic engagement, while also contributing secondarily to the
quantity, quality and sustainability of civic engagement.

A. Individual and Community Factors:

Individual and community factors result from individual experiences that are driven by internal (such as
personal values) and external (such as family, friends, and community) forces. They, in turn, shape the context
or conditions that facilitate or impede civic engagement.
What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Civic Values and Motivations

Varying perceptions regarding the relationship between civic values and motivations and civic behavior have
somewhat clouded the discourse on civic engagement. For example, many blame the change in collective civic
values including the surge in individualism and decline in social trust (Bellah, 1986; Etzioni, 1999; Putnam,
2000), for the perceived decline in civic participation. Recently, scholars in the field of psychology cite the
widely-held misperception that civic values are tied to permanent features of a person that “motivate” or lead to
civic behavior or participation. A review of the literature indicates that the relationship between motivations
and values and civic behavior is bi-directional in nature. Several scholars and moral activists advocate a
mobilization model or the view that participation leads to identity formation, which in turn accounts for
continued activism (Stoker, 1999; Teske, 1998; Colby & Damon, 1993). Of particular importance is activism
during youth, which helps to develop the motivations and values that shape an individual’s political and civic
identity, which leads to further involvement as an adult.

Much of the research on civic values has considered the relationship between value differences of individuals
and value differences across cultures or larger society. Examining the societal influence of collective values,
Schwartz, Melech, Lehmann, Burgess, Harris, and Owens (2001) conceptualize a “circle of values” that follows
two broad dimensions: self-enhancement vs. self-transcendence and conservation vs. openness to change.
Schwartz et al. argue that this circle of values is universal and transcends culture. They find that most cultures
rank the three most important values in the same ascending order: benevolence, self-expression, and
universalism. Indicating how civic norms and conditions influence civic values and motivations, Inglehart
(1997) emphasizes the role that resource theory and economic development play. He argues that if individuals
are not focused on meeting basic subsistence needs, they have the time and motivation to focus on “non-
material” goals such as self-expression in the form of civic engagement.

The implication of these two findings for civic engagement is that there is good reason to believe that people
share a common value structure and value hierarchy. It is probably not the case that people who participate
civically “have different values” than people who do not. Instead, it is likely that people have the same values,
but that the values important for civic participation are more influential in the lives of those who are active
civically. The research and policy question then becomes not “how do we create new values?” but instead
“which values are important for civic engagement and how can their salience be increased?” Two lines of
research have addressed this question, one focusing on differences in value salience between cultures and the
other on individual differences in values within a culture. Notably, many scholars have posited a relationship
between tolerance and various indices of civic participation. However, in general, individual values are not
powerful predictors of individual differences in behavior (Youniss & Hart, 2003, 7-8).

Drawing from the civic voluntarism model put forth by Verba et al. (1995), Youniss and Hart conclude, that,
“civic participation precedes and causes the values that ordinarily are thought to motivate civic engagement
[thus increasing] civic engagement requires attending to the powerful social forces that determine the salience
of particular values, influence motivation, and shape civic participation” (Youniss & Hart, 2003, 4).

Civic Norms and Conditions

Most of the research focuses on the relationship between various civic norms and conditions and four key
factors that influence engagement: civic knowledge, social trust, efficacy and access to resources. Important to
this analysis, efficacy has both internal and external dimensions: internal efficacy (individual feels he can make
a difference) and external efficacy (individual believes officials are responsive and that a difference can be

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made). Regarding efficacy, Uslaner (2003) highlights the considerable evidence that people who feel that they
have the power to effect change (internal efficacy), vote more often, give more to political campaigns, and

participate in local meetings (Teixeira, 1992; Rosenstone & Hansen, 1993). Likewise, he also documents the
research that suggests believing that public officials are responsive (external efficacy), leads to greater voter
turnout, attendance at local meetings, signing of petitions, contributing to political candidates, volunteering in
politics, and persuading others to vote (Rosenstone & Hansen, 1993; Squire, Wolfinger, & Glass, 1987;
Teixeira, 1992).

Civic norms and conditions that shape the context for civic engagement can be divided into two categories: 1)
those factors that can be controlled and 2) those factors that cannot. Broadly speaking, demographics on age,
race, community size are not easily influenced, whereas newspaper readership, consumption of electronic
media, public trust, mobilization, social connections and socialization, group membership, religious
involvement, education, and income are somewhat more malleable (Uslaner, 2003).

Media Exposure and Consumption: Newspapers, Television, Internet Usage

Media exposure and consumption have mixed effects on knowledge, trust, and efficacy. Regarding knowledge,
a closer look at newspaper readership reveals a strong link between voter turnout and newspapers that practice
“civic journalism,” educating their readers by presenting extensive coverage on political campaigns (Markus,
2002). Additionally, the type of ownership appears to have some impact; Local coverage by local stations
seems to stimulate community activism, whereas national coverage by nationally-owned stations has been
linked to increased campaign activity (Verba & Nie, 1972; Uslaner, 2001). However, not all forms of media
exposure or consumption lead to greater civic engagement. While there is general consensus that exposure to
local community radio and high levels of newspaper readership positively affects community and political
engagement (Teixeira, 1992; Guterbock & Fries, 1997; Putnam, 2000; and Uslaner, 2002), the evidence is
mixed regarding the net impact of television viewing and Internet usage.

Identifying a “leisure time opportunity cost” between television viewing and participation in civic life, several
scholars posit a link between high levels of television viewing with low levels of social trust and internal
efficacy (Gerbner et al., 1980, Putnam, 1995b, 1996; Brehm & Rahn, 1997, Putnam, 2000). Others observe
little effect of television viewing on trust, civic engagement generally, or volunteering more specifically and
argue that what you watch matters more than how much you watch (Teixeira, 1992; Uslaner, 1998; Newton,
1999; Norris, 2000; Uslaner, 2001). Similarly, many scholars draw parallel arguments when considering the
effect of electronic media and the Internet. Nie and Erbring (2000) suggest that those who spend a significant
amount of time on the Internet have fewer social ties, while others highlight the unique role the Internet plays to
expand communication, nurture social connections, and create unique networks and online communities that
transcend geography (Hauben & Hauben, 1997; Guterbock & Fries, 1997, Keeter et al., 2002). Uslaner (2003)
emphasizes that, with regard to civic engagement effects, like television, what people access via the Internet is
more important than how much they use the Internet.

Similarly, there doesn’t seem to be a clear link between the media and efficacy either (Uslaner, 2003). While
some argue that citizens are empowered by increased knowledge and civic journalism efforts, others suggest
that increased media exposure to political life has alienated citizens, resulting in less confidence in public
institutions like Congress (Hibbing & Thiess-Morse, 1998). Again, arguably, it seems that what people access
through the media not how much they access through the media is what can potentially compromise public
confidence, trust, and ultimately efficacy.

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In sum, the evidence is mixed regarding the effect the media has on civic and political engagement. There is
little evidence that television or the Internet either spurs participation or leads people to become disengaged.
Civic journalism by newspapers and strong local roots can stimulate engagement, but this is becoming less
common. The media can have an indirect effect, by spurring popular discontent with politics and leading people
to mobilize against those in power. This offers the potential for political mobilization, but probably works
against working with others on community projects (Uslaner, 2003, 23-24).

Social Capital and Trust

Most of the research on civic norms and conditions has focused on the importance of social capital (Putnam,
1996, 2000, 2002; Cortes, 1996; Edwards & Foley, 1998; Baron, Field & Schuler, 2000; Maloney, Smith &
Stoker, 2000; Dekker & Uslaner, 2001; Edwards, Foley & Diani, 2001), and trust in one’s neighbors and public
institutions (Putnam, 2002; Uslaner, 2001, 2002) in facilitating civic engagement. The fundamental piece of
this analysis focuses on the concept of social capital. Defined broadly by multiple scholars (Bourdieu 1986;
Coleman 1988; Putnam 1995 & 2000), social capital refers to the reciprocal social bonds that are formed
through various affiliations, ranging from formalized networks e.g. neighborhood association or regional
planning board to informal gatherings, e.g. local poker night or book club. Many scholars have linked strong
social networks and the social capital they create as critical indicators of civic engagement behavior. However,
it is important to note that social capital can also be negative, as social bonds can promote communities of
exclusion as easily as they can promote communities of inclusion.

For example, religious involvement plays a key role in the type of social capital that is created and the level of
trust, tolerance, and reciprocity observed at the community level. Earlier theorists contend that religious beliefs
and traditions suppress political participation (Niebuhr, 1929; Marx, 1967; Quinley, 1974), while more recent
scholars (Verba & Nie, 1974; Verba, Scholozman & Brady, 1995; Putnam, 1995, 2000, 2002; Wuthnow, 2002),
suggest that religious involvement or affiliation increases the likelihood of broader civic participation (Guth et.
al, 2002). Religious fundamentalism can be both a positive and negative influence on civic engagement and
community building, promoting certain relationships with tolerant attitudes, while simultaneously constructing
barriers with intolerant attitudes toward other relationships (Dionne, 2001). With regard to political
engagement, strict congregants are less likely to engage politically when compared to mainline Protestant or
Catholic groups. Campbell (2001) argues that congregants perceive a substitution effect for outside activities.
Rather than working for a political cause that may have a religious interest, strict members choose to instead
work directly for the needs of the congregation. However, if strict congregants mobilize for a particular action,
their close bonds ensure a high level of unity that could translate into political efficacy. Moreover, such
religious loyalty is key to political loyalty since specific religious groups often support the same party over time
(Djupe, 2000).

Socioeconomic Status: Access to resources necessary to participate

Most studies of civic participation draw upon resource theory and employ the Socioeconomic Status (SES)
Model to explain differences in participation levels between groups (Wright & Hyman, 1958; Wolfinger &
Rosenstone, 1980; Rosenstone & Hansen, 1992; Teixeira, 1992, Verba, 1995; Guterbock & Fries, 1997; Guth,
Green, Kellstedt, & Smidt, 2002). The SES model acknowledges that access to resources like social status,
wealth, income, and education helps to develop the necessary civic skills that allow for greater and more
meaningful civic and political involvement. Recently, scholars have focused more attention on the breakdown
of civic norms and negative societal conditions e.g. corruption, inequalities, and mistrust, which threaten to
destabilize democracy and civic engagement (Warren, 1999; Uslaner, 2001, 2002; Skocpol, 2002; Williams &

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Frasure, 2003). For example, in light of the increased role campaign contributions play in American electoral
politics, some suggest that income inequalities could continue to compromise social trust and exacerbate
participatory inequalities (Wilcox, 2003). However, Uslaner and others assert that the relationship between
social trust, income inequality, and civic participation may be more indirect rather than direct (Uslaner, 2002;
Brown & Uslaner, 2002; Uslaner, 2003). They find that “High levels of inequality lead to less generalized
trust–and generalized trust in turn lays at the foundation of many good deeds such as giving to charity and

volunteering time…[however] there is no corresponding effect of trust on most other forms of participation,
including (or especially) political activities” (Uslaner, 2003, 18).

Context and Identity: Communities of Place and Communities of Identity

While most scholars agree that the context of participation is important, how various civic norms and conditions
interact to influence participation is still the subject of much scholarly debate. Different types of engagement
(e.g., charitable, religious and political) and various populations respond to different conditions to produce
different civic impacts. The context of community is a complex concept, including both communities of place
and communities based on identity. Huckfeldt’s seminal work on social context theory (1979) underscores the
importance of the local social context to political participation. He observes that: “1) many political activities
involve locally-based social interaction and 2) the neighborhood environment is a relatively constant and
inescapable source of political and social stimuli” (174). Regarding communities of place, there is mixed
evidence as to whether neighborhood context matters. A recent study observes that minorities with strong ties
to their neighborhoods are more likely to take part in political life (Marschall, 2001). Another study suggests
that poor African-Americans are less likely to attend community meetings if they live in neighborhoods with
high concentrations of poverty (Cohen & Dawson, 1993) and still another concludes that neighborhood
economic context has little or no effect on African-Americans’ organizational membership (Alex-Assenoh &
Assenoh, 2001).

Regarding communities of identity, there is greater consensus regarding the positive impact ethnic and racial
identity has on minority engagement, however, context continues to temper the effects (Cohen and Dawson,
1993; Guterbock & London, 1983; Shingles, 1991; Uslaner, 1989). While a sense of community and
ethnic/racial identity leads to greater participation, there are conflicting arguments about trust. Whether high
trust in public officials (and integration into mainstream political life) or low trust in officials (with a more
exclusivist sense of racial identity) leads to more participation is still a point of contention (cf. Marschall, 2001;
Cohen & Dawson, 1993; Shingles, 1991; Garcia, 1997). Once again, the importance of racial identity depends
upon the political and social context. For example, in cities with black mayors, African-Americans are more
likely to have a sense of internal and external efficacy, so they will take a more active role in civic affairs (Bobo
& Gilliam, 1990). However, Gilliam and Kaufmann’s more recent 1998 study indicated that: “once minority
mayors have been in office for several decades, African American participation rates decline as empowerment
is replaced by cynicism regarding the ability of politics to solve pressing problems” (cited in Frasure &
Williams, 2003, 27).

Another key contextual factor is racial segregation. African-Americans (though not Latinos) are less likely to
vote and to participate in civic affairs more generally when they live in racially mixed environments. Oliver
finds a similar effect for whites and argues:

...racial segregation seems to boost certain types of civic activities, particularly those involving
more symbolic gestures or social connections b/ residents. Both whites and blacks are more

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interested in local politics, are more likely to take part in local organizational activity, and are
more likely to vote in local elections when surrounded by people of their own race (2001, 137).

Civic norms and conditions are fundamental to assessing civic engagement because they identify the roots of
personal and institutional correlates for action or inaction. Individual and collective action should coincide with
or reflect civic norms and local conditions. Granted, civic norms and conditions are not easily changed in the
short-term. However, a greater understanding of the norms and conditions that influence civic knowledge,
social trust, and efficacy, will equip foundations, local government, and nonprofit organizations with a
contextualized point of entry to increase the quantity, quality, equality and sustainability of civic engagement.

Civic Disparities and Differences

While early research on civic engagement focused on “why people participate,” more recent research has
focused on “why people do not participate” or “why or how people differ in their participation.” Several studies
investigate underlying motivations and various factors that drive civic engagement across race, class (income
and education), gender, age, and religion (Scholzman, Burns & Verba 1994; Verba, Scholzman & Brady 1995;
Hodgkinson & Weitzman 1996; Skocpol 1997; Elshtain 1997; Newton 1997; Minkoff 1997; Heying 1997;
Schlozman, Brady & Verba 1997; Delli Carpini 1998; Schudson 1998; Hodgkinson & Kirsch 2000; Scholzman,
Burns & Verba 2000; Junn 2000; Putnam 2000; Verba 2001; Caiazza 2001; Uslander 2001; Skocpol 2002). As
cited earlier, the “largest scientific investigation of civic engagement in America,” Putnam’s Social Capital
Benchmark Survey and Saguaro Seminar Series, observes that: “Quite apart from increasing the level of civic
engagement in American communities, we need to attend to its social distribution” (Putnam, 2001, 7).

Frasure and Williams’ analysis (2003) provides a thorough synthesis of the civic differences and disparities that
cut across the other major dimensions of civic engagement: civic motivations and values, civic norms and
conditions, civic education and knowledge, civic skills and capacities, and civic participation and structures
(e.g., community, religious, economic, political). To clarify, civic disparities are by definition negative and
entail some sort of inequality, while civic differences e.g. diversity in how different groups participate, diversity
in views, pluralism etc., can contribute to a healthy democracy and increase the quality and equality of civic
engagement. To know whether a particular factor is a disparity or a difference, one must examine its content
and effect within the immediate context. Thus in the following discussion, the binary disparity/difference
implying an evil/good will be actually defined by its social context. If the factor reinforces the subordination of
the historically deprived and limits their ability to participate in the democratic process, it is a disparity. If the
factor undermines the subordination of the historically deprived and facilitates their ability to participate in the
democratic process, it is a difference (Frasure & Williams, 2003, 17).

A review of the literature reveals the following major points of cleavage affecting civic participation, access,
influence, and representation: ethnicity, race, gender, class (SES: socioeconomic status or income and education
inequalities), and age. This analysis’ key focus is what economic, political, or social structures and which
forms of civic engagement and political participation serve to reinforce differences and exacerbate inequalities
and which ones serve to minimize them. This approach raises several questions that are not easily answered:

How do civic disparities “negatively” influence the quantity, quality, equality and sustainability of civic
engagement? How do or might civic differences “positively” influence the quantity, quality, equality
and sustainability of civic engagement? For example, are people of color different from Whites on
matters of civic and political participation; are the diverse populations within so-called racial/ethnic
minorities different on matters of civic engagement? If so, what specific factors help to explain these

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variations in civic and political behavior among these various groups? If not, how are these groups
similar? (Frasure & Williams, 2003, 4).

Overall, the research shows that minorities participate less in politics than whites, however, their rates of other
forms of civic engagement (such as membership in voluntary associations) are similar to those of whites
(Uslaner, 2003). Notably, while recent scholars identify the limitation of national survey methodology to
capture separate models of ethnicity or neighborhood-level contextual effects (Walton, 1985, DeSipio, 1996;
Leighley & Vedlitz, 1999; Leighley, 2001; Uhlaner, 2001; Frasure & Williams, 2003), the data consistently
point to a number of factors that cultivate civic differences and exacerbate civic disparities:

• Historical policies of exclusion: (slavery, gerrymandering, targeted taxation policies, relocation policies and
the creation of Native American reservations, and voting disenfranchisement across gender and race);
• Migration and immigration patterns;
• Inequalities in socio-economic status (SES);
• Resource mobilization;
• Unresponsiveness of organized political parties to marginalized groups;
• Social context and social networks;
• Psychological orientations; and
• Group consciousness.

Beyond the negative effects of historical policies of exclusion, migration, and immigration patterns, overall, the
research overwhelmingly indicates that minorities participate less than whites because they have fewer
resources. As cited earlier, Verba, Scholzman, and Brady (1995 & 1999) observe that those without key civic
resources, namely skills, time, and money, are unable to assume the costs of either political (campaigning,
running for public office, making a campaign contribution) or non-political civic engagement (working in a
non-political organization, charitable work, and charitable contribution). Frasure and Williams (2003) agree,
contending that:

education, income, and occupation count most in explaining differences in civic engagement and
political participation… [Specifically], those with higher educational attainment, incomes, and wealth
have greater resources to make their voices heard in politics. Occupations that require skills that are
transferable to the civic realm (for example, administration, writing, making presentation, contacting
elites, and decision-making--i.e., skills people gain in professional and managerial jobs) encourage
participation. These factors (education, occupation, and income) tend to run together, and their
cumulative and interactive effects are massive in influencing civic engagement—in both its electoral and
non-electoral forms (2003, 15).

Moreover, because of the lack of resources and skills necessary to participate, minorities are less frequently
mobilized than whites and marginalized by organized politics, which further depresses their level of civic
engagement (Uslaner, 2003; Rogers, 2000; Frymer 1999; Jones-Correa, 1998; Huckfeldt & Sprague, 1995;
Pinderhughes, 1987).

In an earlier examination, Verba and Nie (1972) suggest that, in addition to the lack of resources, SES may also
contribute to a difference in civic attitudes or orientations, which negatively affects participation. They argue
that: “low-status individuals are less likely to participate because they have fewer positive civic orientations that
either raise the costs of participation or reduce the benefits--the net effect being a lower probability of
participating” (cited in Frasure & Williams, 2003, 16). In contrast, many scholars credit group consciousness

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or an identity-based civic orientation for positively leveraging civic differences and overcoming civic disparities
to effectively mobilize minorities and marginalized groups (Marschall, 2001; Garcia, 1997; Dawson, 1994;
Cohen & Dawson, 1993; Uhlaner, 1991; Shingles, 1981; Miller, Gurin, Gurin, & Malanchuk, 1981; Verba &
Nie, 1972). Essentially, group consciousness theory argues that when minorities have a greater sense of group
identification, they are more likely to participate in political and social life. However, according to this theory
marginalized communities are motivated by mistrust rather than trust in establishing group consciousness for
mobilization. Frasure and Williams describe the complex implications that this inverse relationship carries for
civil society and American democracy:

…for people of color, civil society has been dual. There has been the external civil society, which has
more often than not marginalized them and their interests, and there has been the internal civil society
people of color have built themselves to contest their marginalization. It is in these internal civil
societies that people of color have built networks of reciprocity and trust which has facilitated the
development of forms of collective action that clearly contested existing policies or practices directly
affecting their communities. Concern with civic disparities is concern with marginalization and
contestation. In determining how social capital “makes democracy work,” strong and active
organizations of marginalized populations, the constraints which these organizations face, comparative
local institutional limits to access, conflicts with mainstream society, and how mainstream society works
to preserve civic disparities must be examined. The very health of democracy – American style – must
be judged by whether it eliminates civic disparities, fosters inclusion, and produces shared power (2003,
36).

While many scholars have attempted to clarify how socio-economic disparities are filtered through or overcome
by other more manipulable factors such as resource mobilization, psychological orientations, and group
consciousness, Frasure and Williams reiterate that: “the dominant finding nonetheless is that differential socio-
economic status is the chief factor producing civic disparities” (2003:15). Over time, research has confirmed
that socio-economic status plays a larger role than race, ethnicity, gender, and class in explaining civic
disparities. Holding education, income, and occupation constant, African Americans and whites report equal
participation rates in political activities (e.g., voting, campaigning, contributing, and contacting appointed
officials). Moreover, African Americans report higher participation rates with regard to non-political activities,
such as membership in voluntary organizations (Markus & Walton, 2002; Keeter et al., 2002; Leighley, 2001;
Verba et al., 1995; Rosenstone & Hansen, 1993; Bobo & Gilliam, 1990; Guterbock & London, 1983; Olsen,
1972; Verba & Nie, 1972). In contrast, Latinos participate less than both groups, indicating that “SES may be a
more potent predictor for blacks and whites than for Latinos” (Frasure & Williams, 2003, 16). Burns,
Scholzman, and Verba’s more recent work (2001) also documents a link between SES and gender. Despite
successful efforts to minimize gender inequalities over the past few decades, men, on average, are still better
educated, higher paid, and maintain higher status in the workplace. Moreover, since women are less likely than
men to be employed full-time or in jobs that develop civic skills, as Frasure and Williams suggest: “gender
disparities in the workplace figure prominently in explaining gender differences in political participation”
(2003, 16).

In sum, the research indicates that socio-economic disparities must be addressed before civic disparities can be
remedied. As Frasure and Williams observe, easier said than done:

And, thus we have the chicken and the egg problem: seemingly, about all that is needed to require
decision-makers to provide more opportunities for people of color, the poor and working classes,
women, and youth to improve their education, occupations, and income is strong political participation

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and engagement; and yet this is not likely to occur unless high levels of education, income, and
occupational status already exist. Thus, continuing ethno-racial, gender, class, and even age disparities
in civic engagement and political participation make sense only in the context of continuing sharp socio-
economic disparities (2003, 16).

B. Civic Tools and Resources

What are the principal intervention strategies and practices for addressing civic engagement? Civic tools and
resources are the primary means, both at the individual and collective levels, used to enhance the quality,
quantity, equality and sustainability of civic engagement. Ideally, they provide citizens with the essential
concepts, information, and skills about civic institutions, processes and practices to enable them to participate
fully in shaping healthy democratic communities. The two main forms are civic education and knowledge, and
civic skills and capacities.

Civic Education and Knowledge

Civic education and knowledge are the key tools and resources for enhancing civic engagement. The overall
emphasis is on providing civic “content knowledge” (i.e., concepts and information on civic and political
institutions and processes) “that is meaningful to individuals and that might motivate them to participate,” and
on developing specific “skills that would make their participation more informed and effective” for actualizing
and contributing to democratic citizenship at the community level (Torney-Purta, 2003, 29). Civic knowledge is
the basic level of understanding (i.e., information, experience, and knowledge) that people possess about the
“political institutions and processes” that contribute to and enhance civic engagement and democracy (Galston,
2001, 223). Drawing from constructivist theory in psychology, civic knowledge is “meaningful information or
knowledge that can be related to the individual’s level of cognitive structures” (Torney Purta, 2003, 12). A
person’s level of civic and political knowledge significantly affects their attitudes toward particular civic issues,
their orientation to democratic ideals and institutions, and their overall political participation (Delli Carpini &
Keeter, 1996; Galston & Levine, 1997; Galston, 2001; Torney-Purta, 2001).

Much debate has centered on what constitutes civic literacy, whereby people possess sufficient political
knowledge of public issues, institutions, and process to affect change (Flanagan & Faison, 2001; Milner, 2002).
Milner’s cross-national research has found that the level of civic literacy is the best predictor for people’s level
of participation (Milner, 2002). Civic education and knowledge strategies focus on “meaningful civic
knowledge” that equips people with the information and experience to engage as full and active citizens.
Drawing on socio-cultural theories, what an individual finds meaningful “is shaped through everyday
participation in the practice of discussion within the communities to which the individual belongs” (Torney-
Purta 2003, 6). The types of civic knowledge that are likely most meaningful in fostering civic engagement
include information about: national political structures; political leaders and issues; historical knowledge;
conceptual content knowledge about the principles of democracy; and interpreting political communication
(Torney-Purta, 2003, 9-10).

The level of civic knowledge is a strong predictor of the main types of civic engagement by adults:
volunteering, voting, party membership, and non-violent protest (Torney-Purta, 2003). However, issues of
inequality emerge as the level of civic knowledge among both adults and youths consistently varies based on
the level of their socio-economic status and education (Niemi & Junn, 1998). One promising direction for
remedying inequality is to provide meaningful and motivating civic education strategies that have demonstrated
a positive impact on improving the civic knowledge of poor as well as affluent youths (Torney-Purta, 2003, 41).

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Civic education is the range of learning activities that equip people with the skills, knowledge, and attitudes to
be informed, capable and active citizens in their communities. Civic education is seen as a means to impart
relevant political knowledge, instill democratic ideals, and foster critical thinking about civic responsibilities
and duties (Bahmueller, 1991; Galston, 2001). The primary focus of civic education initiatives is on developing
appropriate school-based strategies that improve the quantity, quality, and equality of civic education and
knowledge for youths. Through their teaching, curricular, extra-curricular and community service activities,
schools are seen as vital institutions for imparting civic norms, fostering learning about civic institutions,
processes, and practices, and developing the civic skills of youths (CIRCLE & Carnegie Corporation of New
York, 2003). Presently, there is a growing concern nationally that the existing level of school-based civic
education is inadequate and that appropriate standards and effective multi-prong strategies are needed to address
it (Ibid; Gagnon, 2003). The most effective service-learning programs are supported and sustained by fostering
ongoing learning partnerships among schools, universities, and community institutions (Jacoby et al., 2003).
The most promising approaches to promoting civic education include:

providing instruction in government, history, law, and democracy; incorporating discussion of current
local, national, and international issues and events into the classroom, particularly those that young
people view as important to their lives; designing and implementing programs that provide students with
the opportunity to apply what they learn through performing community service that is linked to the
formal curriculum and classroom instruction; offering extra-curricular activities that provide
opportunities for young people to get involved in their schools or communities; encouraging student
participation in school governance; and encouraging students’ participation in simulations of democratic
processes and procedures (CIRCLE & Carnegie Corporation of New York, 2003, 6).

In addition, a range of civic education training and media strategies targeted toward both youths and adults can
positively affect their level of civic engagement. When viewed together, these civic education and knowledge
strategies offer the means for enhancing the civic engagement of citizens.

Civic Skills and Capacities

What are the essential skills and capacities for enhancing civic engagement? For the purposes of this analysis,
civic skills are key competencies that enable citizens to participate individually and collectively to affect change
in the governance and democratic processes at the community level. This approach focuses on equipping and
empowering citizens individually, as well as on developing a community’s collective capacity. There are a wide
range of civic skills and capacities that are critical to citizens’ participation (Sirianni & Friedland, 2001; Stone,
Henig, Jones, & Pierannunzi, 2001; Briggs, 2003). The emphasis is on developing citizens’ skills for active
listening, leadership, negotiation, conflict resolution, and public speaking, and collectively for shared action,
organizing, mediation, community- and coalition-building, and advocacy (Flanagan & Faison, 2001, 3;
Friedland & Sirianni, 2003). Civic skills and capacities focus on enhancing human resource potential through
skill-building and social learning, on shaping the venues for active civic engagement, and on developing
possibilities for community-level action in affecting and advancing democratic change. Enhancing the range
and repertoire of civic skills (e.g., leadership, organizing, coalition building) across a broad group of citizens,
especially among under-represented and disenfranchised peoples, improves the possibilities for affecting change
(Norris, 2002; Briggs, 2003).

Despite the ongoing decline in social capital, Friedland and Sirianni contend that civic innovation and civic
capacity have “grown in many demonstrable instances and cases over roughly forty years” (2003, 9). Across the
United States, the emergence of new forms of civic innovation ranging from community economic development

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to environmental and living wage initiatives, youth civic engagement, university-community partnerships, and
the democratic reform of key local institutions (e.g., community policing, neighborhood councils, public
schools) have contributed to developing new civic skills and capacities at the community level (Boyte, 1991;
Sirianni & Friedland, 2001; Friedland & Sirianni, 2003; Nembhard & Blasingame, 2003).

Civic capacity is the ability of a community or its constituent parts – actors and groups, organizations and
institutions – to pose and solve community problems (Friedland & Sirianni, 2003). Specifying the local
community (not individuals) as the primary level for analysis, Friedland and Sirianni argue that: “civic
capacities… lie in the ability of groups, organizations, and institutions to mobilize the skills, techniques and
practices to engage in public problem-solving” (Ibid, 1). This approach focuses on building the civic capacities
of these groups and fostering a web of inter-organizational relationships in a community to “act in concert” to
address pressing public issues (Stone, 2001, 596). The emphasis is on consulting with and convening key civic
groups, and on mobilizing organizations and institutions across sectors – government, business, and nonprofits
– to deliberate, collaborate on problem solving, and develop a “shared agenda” for public action, ultimately to
affect change (Stone, 2001, 596).

Building the infrastructure and venues for community deliberation and activating empowerment strategies that
enhance civic literacy (Milner, 2002) and promote social learning are crucial steps to developing a community’s
civic capacity for collaboration and “democratic self-government” (Sirianni & Friedland, 2001, 241-2;
Potapchuk, 1999). Given a community’s power dynamics and institutional resources, the level of civic capacity
(i.e., individual and collective initiatives to address community governance) shifts over time and space,
requiring special efforts to sustain and increase joint community action to affect change (Shinn, 2000).
Developing ongoing civic capacities (e.g., for deliberation, collaboration, and mobilization across sectors) by
establishing a broad organizational and institutional basis rooted in the community is crucial to increasing and
sustaining civic engagement (Stone, 2001a; Potapchuk, 1999).

The implication of this approach to civic capacities is that it provides a distinctive analytical perspective to
understand the critical relationships affecting a community’s capacities for civic engagement in context. As
Friedland and Sirianni argue:

Individualistic frameworks for understanding civic capacity (and their extension to networks via the
social capital concept) are important but insufficient for studying the community-wide dynamics through
which civic capacity is generated. Civic capacity is a property of community and its levels and networks
of action, and further, only a community-level analysis can yield useful, practical insights to
practitioners of civic capacity and change (2003, 9).

This approach instead focuses on understanding a community’s civic ecology that is “the entirety of civic
relationships in a defined area.” Civic ecology is “a series of nested relationships that extend both horizontally
and vertically” (Ibid, 10; Brofenbrenner, 1979; Friedland, 2001). The emphasis is on developing a civic ecology
that identifies key actors, fosters supportive relationships, and provides the building blocks for public problem-
solving at the community level. The emphasis is on developing effective multi-stakeholder collaborations that
include business, nonprofit and political actors at the community level to solve public problems (Friedland &
Sirianni, 2003). By analyzing the dynamic relationships among key actors, this approach provides an essential
analytical tool for developing a comparative civic framework for analyzing the specific context and pathways
for enhancing civic engagement within and across communities.

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C. Modes and Infrastructure for Participation: Individual & Collective Action

Overview and Scope

The Democracy Collaborative – Knight Foundation Civic Engagement Project focuses on a wide continuum of
civic engagement, from the most partisan electoral and political forms of participation, to the least partisan
forms of community engagement. Table 4 provides a typology of the many forms of civic engagement. These
distinct forms of engagement have varied implications for the ways that people participate in civic life.

Table 4: Main Forms of Civic Engagement

Electoral Engagement • Voting
• Ballot initiatives and referenda
• Running for office or participating in campaigns

Political Engagement • Direct advocacy targeted at officials (or indirectly through the press)
(Voice) • Public issue lobbying (e.g., petitions, legislative campaigns)
• Protesting (e.g., boycotting, buycotting, marches, civil disobedience)

Economic Engagement • Consumer action
• Labor action
• Stockholder initiatives

Societal Engagement • Social capital creation
• Charitable giving
• Volunteer and community service
• Public and civic education
• Skill-building
• Service-provision
• Community problem-solving

Critical to understanding under what conditions people participate in their communities is how people are
asked, invited, or recruited to participate in these various forms of civic engagement. The analysis also
considers the vehicles and venues or civic structures that facilitate participation. Specifically, civic structures
are the institutional, political, and social contexts that affect how people participate in the governance and
democratic processes at the community level. Organized by type of engagement, Table 5 describes the vehicles
(e.g., community-based and neighborhood organizations) and venues (e.g., institutional infrastructure for
engagement and spaces for civic deliberation) that facilitate the recruitment and retention processes of citizen
engagement in its various forms.

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Table 5: The Civic Infrastructure-Vehicles and Venues that Facilitate Civic Engagement by Type of Engagement

Vehicles and Venues for Electoral Engagement • Political parties
• Political action committees
• Electoral advocacy groups
• Legislative system
• Judicial system

Vehicles and Venues for Political Engagement • Nonprofit advocacy organizations
• Public interest groups
• Social movements
• Faith-based social justice coalitions

Vehicles and Venues for Economic Engagement • Consumer organizations
• Cooperatives and community
development centers
• Labor unions
• Shareholder initiatives

Vehicles and Venues for Societal Engagement • Community-based organizations
• Churches and religious organizations
• Neighborhood associations
• Nonprofit service organizations
• Networks of organizations and
associations
• Schools and universities

What leads people to sustain their engagement in their communities? First and foremost, people must have
reason to believe that, whatever the form of involvement, their civic actions will positively affect their
communities. Political theorist Harry Boyte argues that people are most likely to sustain engagement when
people see active citizenship as “public work,” which is conceived as an ongoing creative process whereby
people find efficacy in working in public ways and venues to solve community problems collectively (Boyte,
1997, 2000; Boyte & Kari, 1996).

Various experiences in St. Paul, Philadelphia, Portland, OR, and other cities suggest that, where people find
their voice matters, they are most likely to act on some form of engagement in the broader community (Berry,
Portney & Thomson, 1993; Boyte & Kari, 1996; Markus, 2002). Markus’s study (2002) of civic engagement in
fourteen major cities finds that the role of community-based organizations in the form of neighborhood
associations, small church groups, PTAs and other citizens’ groups is critical. These local groups mobilize
people to address the problems of their communities, spanning various issues, from health to housing, hunger,
and crime. Table 6 (below) provides an overview of the key community-based vehicles and venues that
comprise the civic infrastructure for enhancing civic engagement by each major goal. To the extent that these
organizations are grounded in the communities with wide representation, they have great potential to generate
citizen awareness, facilitate active civic and political engagement, and foster leadership development. For
instance, the neighborhood governance councils in West Chicago listed in Table 6 have provided low-income
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people with an effective forum that enables them to influence and shape the policies for community policing
and public schools (Markus, 2002; Fung, 2001).

What conditions are necessary to foster and to sustain civic engagement at the community level?

How do the various forms of participation (e.g., direct political action, consumer action, advocacy, charitable
involvement, and direct service) increase the quantity, quality, equality, and sustainability of broader civic
engagement? As presented in Tables 4-6, a variety of organizations and institutions at the local level play a
critical role in facilitating and shaping the possibilities for enhanced civic engagement. Key contributions
include: establishing strong social networks, developing civic skills, and fostering deep roots for further
participation and political involvement. In addition to identifying the primary forms of participation and main
components of the civic infrastructure, the research elucidates a number of key conditions necessary for
community-level civic engagement to thrive: 1) a high level of organizational and economic diversity, 2)
responsive and participatory governance structures, 3) successful mobilization efforts of broad coalitions, 4) a
focus on leadership, and 5) access to resources and education (Nelson, Craig, & Riker, 2003).

5 Key Conditions for Fostering Community-level Civic Engagement

• A high level of organizational and economic diversity: A diverse mix of organizations is most likely to
provide broader more inclusive opportunities and responsive means for people to participate
meaningfully in their communities than individual community actors acting alone (e.g., community,
church, labor union, and local government or multi-sectoral partnerships) (Norris, 2002a; Nelson, Craig,
& Riker, 2003). The greater the level of economic diversity in middle-income communities is positively
correlated with higher levels of civic engagement by citizens, for instance, as they seek to influence
decisions about the allocation and provision of public services (Nembhard & Blasingame, 2003, 14;
Oliver, 1999; Costa & Kahn, 2003). Those communities that have a broader range of community
economic development organizations (e.g., community development corporations, cooperatives,
community land trusts, farmers’ markets) have generally demonstrated higher levels of civic
engagement and economic stability (Williamson, Imbroscio, & Alperovitz, 2002; Rusch, 2001).

• Responsive and participatory governance structures: Community-based organizations and neighborhood
associations that enable people to address their concerns through participatory governance structures can
provide effective channels for voice, representation and accountability, especially for poor, minority,
and disenfranchised peoples (Portney & Berry, 2001; Markus, 2002; Cuoto & Guthrie, 1999; Fung &
Wright, 2002; Nelson, Criag, & Riker, 2003). When people are engaged in the defining, deliberation,
decision-making and implementation of community priorities and initiatives, the sustainability of civic
engagement is enhanced (Cortes, 1993; Potapchuk, 1996; Community Building Institute & National
Civic League, 2002; Fung, 2002). In the economic sphere, employees’ participation in the democratic
ownership and governance of economic enterprises such as cooperatives or employee stock ownership
plans (ESOPs) enhances or facilitates positive civic engagement and political participation beyond the
workplace (Nembhard & Blasingame, 2003).

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Table 6: The Civic Infrastructure – Vehicles and Venues that Facilitate Civic Engagement at the
Community Level by Goal

Goals Community-based Participation & Structures

Increase the • Charitable 501 (c3) organizations
Quantity of Civic • Religious organizations, churches, congregations
Engagement • Local volunteer and community service programs
• Neighborhood associations
• Local chapters of national organizations (City Year, Common Cause, Public Interest
Research Groups – PIRGs, AmeriCorps)
• Faith-based and secular coalitions build large networks that increase the number of
citizens involved at local level

Increase the • Citizens’ deliberative forums (e.g., Jacksonville Community Council Inc., FL)
Quality of Civic • Community advocacy organizations (e.g., BUILD, Baltimore; Communities
Engagement Organized for Public Service – COPS – San Antonio; Oak Ridge Environmental
Peace Alliance – OREPA, TN)
• Neighborhood governance councils (e.g., West Chicago; Los Angeles; Hampton,
VA)
• University-community partnerships (e.g., Chicago, Philadelphia)
• Church-based community initiatives (e.g., IAF interfaith network in Texas)

Increase the • Secular coalitions of community-based organizations that represent low-income and
Equality of Civic minority people (e.g., South End/Lower Roxbury Housing & Planning Coalition,
Engagement Boston; Coalition for a Better Acre – CBA, Lowell, MA)
• Faith-based community organizing initiatives (FBCO)/ leadership development (e.g.,
IAF interfaith network in Texas, Front Porch Alliance in Indianapolis, Pacific
Institute for Community Organizations, Ten Point Coalition in Boston, Greater
Boston Interfaith Organization, ISAIAH initiative in Minnesota, PACT in Miami,
San Francisco Organization Project, the Gamaliel Foundation, DART)
• Environmental justice and living wage movements (e.g., Chester Residents
Concerned for Quality Living, Chester, PA; BUILD, Baltimore; COPs and Metro
Alliance, San Antonio, TX)
• Inter-city network of minority youth leaders to address schools and policing (e.g.,
Philadelphia Youth Civic Engagement Summit)
• Nonprofit-AmeriCorps partnerships (e.g., Admission Possible in St. Paul, MN)

Increase the • FBCO initiatives (e.g., IAF interfaith network in Texas, Front Porch Alliance in
Sustainability of Indianapolis, Pacific Institute for Community Organizations, Ten Point Coalition in
Civic Engagement Boston, Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, ISAIAH initiative in Minnesota,
PACT in Miami, San Francisco Organization Project, the Gamaliel Foundation,
DART)
• Networks of nonprofit organizations and associations that foster inter-organizational
and community-level collaboration (e.g., St. Paul, MN)
• Diverse community networks and coalitions that include unions, schools, churches
and grass roots organizations (e.g., FBCO efforts: IAF interfaith network in Texas;
Los Angeles)
• University-community partnerships (e.g., Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia)

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• Successful mobilization efforts of broad coalitions: The building of broad-based grassroots coalitions of
community and religious organizations offers an effective means for empowering people to influence
political institutions and promote economic reforms in both rural and urban settings (Cortes, 1993;
Couto, 1998; Warren, 1998 & 2001). Broad inter-group coalitions have successfully mobilized
community-wide participation to address vital issues ranging from affordable housing to policing and
public school reform. The organization of multi-stakeholder coalitions that involve poor people from
multiple ethnic groups has, in various instances, been successful in either stopping or reorienting
corporate-led economic development plans, and in mobilizing effective environmental justice and living
wage initiatives at the community level (Nembhard & Blasingame, 2003).

• A focus on leadership: Civic leadership development is critical for building and sustaining the capacity
for developing effective and responsive organizational channels and civic activities. Leaders sustain
organizations. Sustainable organizations foster social change (Warren & Wood, 1998; Wood, 1998,
2001, 2002 & 2003; Goldsmith, 2002). The emphasis should be on broadening and diversifying an
organization’s leadership.

• Access to resources and education: One of the greatest civic barriers is the lack of access to the
economic, educational, and political resources necessary to engage meaningfully in civic life. In the
economic sphere, the lack of access to economic resources (e.g., wealth and income inequality) can
significantly limit a person’s ability to participate in civic life and to influence economic and political
institutions and processes (Nembhard & Blasingame, 2003, 24). Promoting targeted educational and
skills-training opportunities and interest-group membership in a diverse range of community economic
development organizations (e.g., cooperatives, credit unions) can enhance people’s access to resources
and their level of civic engagement. In addition, well-designed civic education, media training, and non-
partisan public information initiatives targeted to specific audiences (e.g., youths and adults) can
enhance citizens’ civic knowledge and engagement (Torney-Purta, 2003; Youniss & Hart, 2003) as well
as mobilize them to register and to vote in elections (Wilcox, 2003).

Acknowledging the key contributing factors that enhance or inhibit civic engagement and the conditions
necessary for community-level civic engagement to occur, what strategies or innovations have been tried and
what priority areas have been identified to increase the quantity, quality or equality of civic engagement?

Civic Strategies & Innovations for Enhancing Civic Engagement: Recommendations and Key Examples

As the analysis above has highlighted, community-level civic engagement and the corresponding civic ecology
are shaped by a number of key contextual conditions. Within a particular community’s context, each potential
pathway available for a community to intervene should link the specific actors, the priority focus areas, and
resources available to the desired effect, outcomes, and goals for enhancing civic engagement. Acknowledging
the overriding importance of context in determining what will work, what won’t work, and what might work to
effect community impact, Applied Survey Research developed a logic model for evaluating community impact
that links effort with effect, process with outcomes, and resources, activities and outputs with both short-term
and long-term learning, action, and impact outcomes (see Appendix D). Drawing from this model, Tables 7-9
summarize the community-level strategies by key actor, by focus area, and by major goal and civic dimension
to help parse out the civic ecology at work. For example, Table 7 highlights a number of effective civic
strategies and innovations by key organizations and institutions. Table 8 identifies the specific focus both in
terms of strengthening civic skills (e.g., youth development, public education) and civic capacities (e.g.,
community organizing, institution building) for enhancing civic engagement, and Table 9 provides these
strategies within the context of our four major goals to enhance civic engagement by key civic dimension.
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Table 7: Civic Innovation and Strategy by Key Actor

Actor Key Organizations/ Initiatives Civic Strategy /Goals Key Added Value
Government USA Freedom Corps, Seeks to provide infrastructure Places service at forefront of national
AmeriCorps, Admission Possible for national service, inspiring importance, engenders volunteerism and
volunteer work/community public citizenship beyond local level
action
Faith-Based IAF Interfaith Network, Front Seeks to provide leadership Provides a venue for many unengaged
Organizations Porch Alliance, Pacific Institute development, education, and communities, including minorities and
for Community Organizations, organizing power centered on immigrants; an extensive venue where
Ten Point Coalition, Greater religious institutions many participate socially and civically
Boston Interfaith Organization, already
ISAIAH, PACT, San Francisco
Organization Project, Gamaliel
Foundation, DART, Center for
Public Justice
Community Burlington Legacy Project, Seeks to develop community Highly inclusive projects can unite
Organizing and Community HeroCard, Model connection between citizens, differing community interests and enable
Building Practices Collaborative, institutions, and government; them to pursue community-wide goals as
Organizations Jacksonville Community Council, often seeking to improve the a collaboration
Chester Residents Concerned for public good
Quality Living, Roxbury Housing
& Planning Coalition, Coalition
for a Better Acre, DC Agenda
Advocacy Center for Community Change, Seeks to improve existing Advocacy targets specific issues, people,
Organizations Community Coalition, Michigan conditions for communities by and groups to provide new or improved
Organizing Project, BUILD, leveraging the political services
Communities Organized for Public resources for positive change
Service, Oak Ridge Environmental
Peace Alliance
Key Nonprofit City Year, Public Allies, National Seeks to engage people of all Provides outlets for community service,
Service Civic League, Youth Service ages, inspiring everyone to be in addition to public recognition of
Organizations America, Philadelphia Youth active citizens in some way efforts, strives to develop the
Civic Engagement Summit participation of all groups for any purpose
Private and Boston Community Foundation Seeks to develop the Improves the ability of community’s or
Community Persistent Poverty Project, infrastructure for engagement, institutions to engage citizens; provides
Foundations Carnegie’s Strengthening including the development of funding for new programs and creates
Democracy Initiative, Pew community institutions, institutions to target community problems
Partnership’s 19 Solutions, Pew capacity, leadership, and
Forum on Religion and Public Life research

Information Pew Partnership for Change’s Seeks to improve the Distills academic research into practical
Clearinghouse, “Just Call it Effective”, Aspen educational, research, and advice; information infrastructures
Think-Tanks, Institute’s Young Voter Toolkit, evaluation base for institutions educates and enhances existing or
Research Innovation Center’s Youth and communities developing programs
Organizations Development Guide, PIRGs
University / Campus Compact, Campus Seeks to connect the university Provides an information infrastructure for
Educational Outreach Opportunity League, to the greater community by developing citizens as well as provides
Organizations Public Leadership Education providing venues for opportunities to apply civic action in a
Network, University of engagement as well as services variety of forms
Pennsylvania; University of that could enhance community
Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Higher life
Education Network for
Neighborhood Development

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Table 8: Civic Innovation and Strategy by Focus Area
Focus Area Key Organizations/ Initiatives Civic Strategy/Goals Key Added Value
Youth City Year, Youth Service Develop youth leadership, instill Advances the quantity, quality, and
Development America, Philadelphia Youth civic skills, provide a civic equality of civic engagement by
Civic Engagement Summit education, promote community developing present and future citizen
change leaders
Civic Capacity: Women in Government, Center Seeks to enhance the leadership Promotes the civic development of
Leadership for Public Justice, Model and civic capacity of specific disconnected or underserved groups,
Development Practices Collaborative groups through issue-education leadership development for non-youth;
(minorities/ and training Addresses civic barriers
immigrants)
Civic Capacity: Congress.org, Connect Provides virtual forums and Provides new avenues for engagement;
Alternative Spaces Richmond, Peer Learning communities through which lowers the costs for certain forms of
(Technology) Network, MoveOn.org individuals and groups can vote, engagement; facilitates community
serve, learn, and/or organize organizing; Addresses civic barriers

Institution Campus Compact,, Corporation Develops and facilitates Provides the key infrastructure for
Building: for National Service, National institutions and programs of national service and community service
Government, Civic League, Admission service, education, and direct programs; funds projects nationally;
Nonprofit, Possible, DC Agenda, Business engagement collaborates between sectors,
Business, Media & Strengthening America (BSA) addressing civic barriers
Multi-Sectoral
Institution Carter Center, Community Inspires community and Works locally in focused projects born
Building: Local, HeroCard, Michigan Civic neighborhood service; seeks to out of a community’s ideas and
Community-Level Engagement Project unite individuals, communities, directed toward a community’s needs;
and institutions Addresses civic barriers
Community Minnesota Active Citizenship, Seeks to inspire general Provides the tools for communities to
Organizing: Burlington Legacy Project, City- community action and active organize themselves for any purpose
Community Scan, Center for Community citizen engagement through they may seek; also seeks to improve
Change Models Change, Jacksonville community organizing and overall engagement within the
Community Council, Chester community change models community in order to clarify
Residents Concerned for Quality community values and pursue
Living community goals; Addresses civic
barriers
Community Boston Persistent Poverty Seek to inspire service, work Differing from above, the groups and
Organizing: Issue Project, Community Coalition, collaboratively, and develop institutions generally pursue a single
Specific Models BUILD, Communities leaders toward a specific organizing goal for specific sects of the
Organized for Public Service, community end community
Oak Ridge Environmental Peace
Alliance, Roxbury Housing &
Planning Coalition
Public Education: Pew Partnership for Change’s Seeks to provide tools for These products of research/ educational
Toolkits “Just Call it Effective”, Aspen organizations and citizens to organizations or foundations can be
Institute’s Young Voter Toolkit, utilize in developing engagement distributed widely at little to no cost,
Media: Civic Innovation Center’s Youth for specific groups or providing a transportable instant
Journalism Development Guide, PIRGs, communities; distills academic information base upon which to build
National Civic League’s research into practical advice
Alliance for National Renewal
Public Education: Common Cause’s Civic Provides research and education Develops an information infrastructure
General Engagement Program, Pew on civic engagement patterns, that provides the foundations of future
Forum for Religion and Public trends, and recommendations research, model development, and idea
Life, Brookings Center for exchange
Public Service, PIRGs
Public Education: AmeriCorps Evaluations, Seeks to analyze the success or Enhances the information infrastructure
Targeted Research Institutions failure of specific projects of civic engagement by refining
Evaluations according to their intended goals program techniques and advancing
or purposes quality practices

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Table 9: Sample Strategies and Innovations for Strengthening Civic Engagement by Goal and Civic Dimension

Major Goals Civic Motivations and Civic Norms Civic Differences Civic Education Civic Skills and Modes of Civic Engagement *
Values and Conditions and Disparities and Knowledge Capacities
Civic Participation Civic Structures

Increase the • Kids’ Voting Campaigns • Targeted • Targeted • Service • Youth Civic • Consumer action • Neighborhood
Quantity of Community recruitment Learning Practice • Targeted recruitment associations
• Targeted recruitment Grantmaking strategies initiatives strategies “the ask” • Voter Initiatives
Civic strategies • Civic Education for voter registration, • Clean Election Reforms
Engagement • Community • Public education Curricula • Leadership volunteering, • Responsive mediating
• Public awareness Issue Forums campaigns to training political institutions
campaigns underserved and • Civic campaigning, unions • Management Support
under-recognized Journalism • Local and National Organization programs
• School and community constituencies Volunteer Programs/ or other nonprofit
volunteer Resource Centers infrastructure orgs
programs/curriculum: Outreach • Union organizing
instill ethic of service • Union drives
Increase the • Improvements in • Electronic • “Building • Civic Service • Civic Capacity- • Voter Education • Citizen Deliberative
Quality of volunteer training, Community community” for the building • Volunteer training Forums
management and Networks initiatives Community • Skill-building • Community Advocacy
Civic incentives • Community • Convening opportunities through Organizations
Engagement Development • Targeted skill- • Civic Literacy community church and • Coalition-building
• Improvements in Projects building initiatives Initiatives planning fora community among grassroots
organizational • Bipartisan involvement organizations and
effectiveness legislator • Consumer boycott denominations
retreats • Workplace awareness • Electronic Community
campaigns Networks
• Union drives
Increase the • Targeted recruitment • Economic • Targeted • Targeted Civic • Low-income • Targeted recruitment • Recognition of local
Equality of strategies across the development recruitment Training and Immigrant strategies “the ask” social networks and
spectrum initiatives that strategies across the Civic Practices for voter registration, informal leadership
Civic address spectrum • Representation Initiatives volunteering, • Targeted Community
Engagement • Broader representation economic • Targeted in civic political Leadership and
in community inequalities community training by • Community campaigning, unions Advocacy Development
governance grantmaking Demographics technology etc. • Targeted Community
• Recognition of • Community forums: (youth, adult, centers Center Development
local social diversity awareness/ ethnicity) • Religious-based • Equality of
networks and training solutions for some representation on
informal • Community groups community issues
leadership Technology Centers
Increase the • Recruitment, Retention, • Initiatives that • Initiatives that hold • National Civic • National Civic • Recruitment, • Business and
Sustainability and Placement of target government and Education Education Retention, and Foundation funded
Volunteers, members, government and private sector Initiatives Initiatives Placement of infrastructure-building
of Civic donors, advocates private accountable to Volunteers, • Representative civic
Engagement accountability minority interests • Civic education members, donors and governance
• Ongoing Get Out the • Recognition of initiatives by advocates • Three-sector
Vote Campaigns at the local social • Recognition of local membership- • Membership and partnerships: business,
local and national level networks and social networks and based participation in local government and
informal informal leadership organizations, democratic economic nonprofit civic
leadership churches, and organizations (co- organizations
unions ops, credit unions)
• Includes Community, Religious, Economic, and Political forms of Participation and Structures
What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

The Challenge to Develop a Tailored Civic Engagement Strategy for the Local Context

By reviewing the recommendations that emerge from the literature and surveying the innovative approaches
that community-based organizations and institutions have employed to enhance civic engagement, this analysis
provides the initial basis for lessons, strategies, and effective practices that can be applied at the local level.
However, a primary objective of this research was to highlight evidence on the extent to which different
strategies or innovations produce measurable outcomes and outputs. What works? What doesn’t? And what
might? How should we measure the effectiveness of a particular innovation or strategy? And how can
communities assess their own progress toward local civic engagement goals?

Arguably, the conditions, tools, forms, and structures that make civic engagement possible differ from place to
place, due to differences in community socioeconomic conditions, history, and political realities. For example,
in some communities, where population is growing rapidly with major demographic shifts, addressing diversity
in local government might be a top priority. In communities where participation by minority populations and
trust in local government is high (e.g., Gary, Indiana), however, pursuing such a strategy may not be relevant.
Thus, it does not make sense to implement the same strategy everywhere.

A local – or metropolitan – civic engagement strategy should be crafted to address current and expected
community conditions. It is not sufficient to identify simply civic differences or disparities. Just as important,
local policy makers need to understand the unique context and community specific factors that may be
contributing to these disparities. Only then can they determine which goals make sense, and which should
receive the highest priority. Based on these priorities, a mix of programmatic initiatives should be crafted to
address the community’s identified needs and promote appropriate change. This is easier said than done.

How do you take a social innovation or strategy that has worked in one community and “take it to scale,” or
take it to another community? In an earlier study commissioned by the Russell Sage Foundation, Hollister and
Hill (1995) identify several definitional and methodological challenges inherent in the evaluation of
community-wide initiatives. This study highlighted specific problems with developing consistent reliable
outcome measures, using community as the unit of analysis and comparison, measuring community-level
variables such as social networks and formal/informal institutions, and linking short-term measures with long-
term outcomes. Acknowledging these issues, The Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at
Duke University is attempting to answer this question and is in the early stages of creating a matrix of strategic
options for scaling out to assist with “the geographic spread of social innovation.”

While we attempted to organize and synthesize what is known about the performance of various approaches in
civic engagement, unfortunately, perhaps the most prominent research gaps identified in the literature review
underlined in many of the dimension reports, describe the lack of longitudinal data in evaluating the state of
civic engagement in any form or through any vehicle or venue. The lack of such comprehensive data
fundamentally limits the study of civic engagement to areas where there is the most information – such as voter
participation, registration, and so forth. Moreover, a lack of longitudinal data precludes the necessary
development of program evaluation and program intervention to understand what practices are working over
time. Nevertheless, existing research does point to a number of areas where obvious gains can be made in every
mode of engagement. Specifically, the research encompasses four broad priority areas for pursuing effective
civic strategies and innovations that enhance civic engagement at the community level:

1. Strengthening civic infrastructure;
2. Addressing economic inequalities and fostering community economic stability;

Synthesis Report: The Democracy Collaborative-Knight Foundation Civic Engagement Project 37
What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

3. Developing youth with a focus on education; and
4. Strengthening the electoral process.

A critical first step is to strengthen a community’s civic infrastructure to foster civic engagement. Developing
a civic ecology of community capacities that identifies key actors, strengthens their skills and capacities, and
fosters supportive relationships among them for shared purposes provides the essential building blocks at the
community level for public problem-solving (Friedland & Sirianni, 2003). This means fostering effective
multi-stakeholder collaborations that include business, nonprofit and political actors at the community level to
solve public problems (Nelson, Craig & Riker, 2003). Civic journalism represents a promising area for
developing a community’s civic capacity, where local newspapers and other media (i.e., television and radio)
can play a catalytic role in highlighting key issues facing a community, stimulating broad community-level
deliberations, and creating an agenda for action on pressing public issues (Friedland, 1996, 2001; Sirianni &
Friedland, 2001).

A second priority area is to address economic inequality and to foster community economic stability. A key
finding of this project is that explicitly addressing social and economic inequalities is critical to reducing civic
disparities and enhancing civic engagement of those lacking access, opportunities, and resources (Frasure &
Williams, 2003; Nembhard & Blasingame, 2003). In the case of economic participation, there are several
promising areas for enhancing civic engagement, such as supporting economic interest group membership,
increasing socio-economic diversity, and promoting greater wealth equality. Fostering a democratic workplace
and participatory governance of economic enterprises where workers develop essential skills has a positive
impact on civic engagement (Nembhard & Blasingame, 2003). There are new emerging strategies for curbing
the economic power of corporations through different forms of advocacy such as shareholder resolutions,
boycotts, and buycotts. Broad-based, multi-stakeholder coalitions involved in environmental justice and living
wage initiatives offer positive examples where communities have made progress in addressing corporate power
and reducing economic and social inequalities (Nembhard & Blasingame, 2003). Diversifying the range and
scope of community economic development organizations (e.g., community development corporations,
cooperatives, community land trusts, farmers’ markets) enhances civic engagement and fosters community
economic stability (Williamson, Imbroscio, & Alperovitz, 2002).

Third, there is a continuing need to focus on youth development and education. As cited earlier, civic
identity, values, and adult patterns of participation find their roots in youth participation (Youniss & Hart,
2003). Based on this finding, Youniss and Hart advocate greater investment in targeted youth programs that
encourage community and civic involvement, with a particular emphasis on bridging the resource gap in inner
cities to level the playing field for disadvantaged youth. In addition to community-based programs to engage
youth, school-based curricular and extra-curricular initiatives are critical to developing the appropriate content
knowledge to ensure that civic skills and the propensity to participate are grounded and informed (Torney-Purta,
2003). Fostering meaningful civic knowledge requires enhancing the content and skills for enabling
participation through a combination of school-based civic education, media education, and parental engagement
in a youth’s civic development (CIRCLE & Carnegie Corporation of New York, 2003). School-based strategies
that have a significant impact in enhancing the civic engagement of youth are curricular offerings with high
civic content, an open classroom climate that allows for respectful discussion of issues, and a school
environment that empowers students. Participation in student council, other forms of extracurricular activity
and in community service have a strong positive influence on a student’s civic engagement. In order to
encourage a student’s potential political and electoral participation, there should be an explicit focus in the
curriculum about the importance of voting and elections in school (Torney-Purta, 2003).

Synthesis Report: The Democracy Collaborative-Knight Foundation Civic Engagement Project 38
What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Investing in media training and education with an explicit civic content is an effective strategy. Civic education
is enhanced by exposure to local, national, and international news in the media and by active discussion and
connection of the news to civic and political practices. Students who regularly read a newspaper and/or
regularly watch television news achieve a higher civic education knowledge score. Home literacy resources and
the active involvement of parents in discussion of civic and political affairs have a positive reinforcing impact
on the civic education of youth (Torney-Purta, 2003).

Fourth, a timely priority area is to strengthen electoral infrastructure and opportunities for electoral
participation. The controversies surrounding campaign finance reform and the 2000 Presidential election put
pressure on FEC officials to tighten controls on election monitoring and step up structural reform, regarding the
relationship between money and politics. A review of the literature also indicated that several civic barriers to
electoral participation remain, especially for marginalized groups e.g. minorities, immigrants, and former
convicted felons. As cited earlier, because of the lack of resources and skills necessary to participate, minorities
are less frequently mobilized than whites and marginalized by organized politics, which further depresses their
level of civic engagement (Uslaner, 2003; Rogers, 2000; Frymer 1999; Jones-Correa, 1998; Huckfeldt &
Sprague, 1995; Pinderhughes, 1987). Frasure and Williams (2003) suggest the following strategies to address
civic disparities in electoral participation: 1) move towards proportional representation, 2) make naturalization
simpler and easier, 3) support efforts to diversify the candidate pool and ensure that elections are competitive,
and 4) enfranchise voters including felons and perhaps resident aliens. Many scholars and political activists also
recommend strategies to lower the social and economic costs of participation for everyone. Specifically, to
make voting and voter registration easier and more accessible for everyone, they advocate multi-day balloting,
same day registration, and keeping the polls open longer on election day (Wilcox, 2003). There is also evidence
that citizen mobilization efforts should be stepped up to include more rigorous door-to-door efforts, to leverage
political work through houses of worship and to expand reach to marginalized groups through the political party
system (Uslaner, 2003).

These four priority areas provide the basis for the four recommendations for strengthening civic
engagement summarized below:

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What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Recommendations for Strengthening Civic Engagement

1) Focus on strengthening the civic infrastructure

a) Strengthen local institutions: community-level institutions provide initial opportunities to engage.
b) Support multi-sectoral partnerships: government and foundation initiatives should work with
colleges and universities to promote university’s civic role.
c) Acknowledge power of community-based organizing for leadership development and social justice
change.
d) Develop a civic ecology of civic capacities that identifies key actors, fosters supportive
relationships, and provides the building blocks at the community level for public problem-solving.
e) Foster effective multi-stakeholder collaborations that include business, nonprofit and political actors
at the community level to solve public problems.
f) Promote civic journalism that fosters and facilitates community dialogue, deliberations, and agenda
setting about pressing problems and priorities.

2) Address economic inequalities and foster community economic stability

a) Support economic interest group membership.
b) Increase socio-economic diversity.
c) Promote greater wealth equality.
d) Increase restrictions on corporate political power.
e) Encourage workplace democracy and democratic economic governance.
f). Strengthen and diversify the range of community economic development organizations.

3) Focus on youth development and education

a) Incorporate trends of civic engagement in designated courses and across the curriculum.
b) Connect civic and political practices outside of the classroom.
c) Allow different opinions to be expressed in the classroom: empower students to look beyond adults’
perspective for solutions.
d) Expect students to reason about the support for their own positions and reflect about the experience
in and outside the classroom.
e) Invest in youth programs that encourage civic involvement.
f) Help bridge the resource gap in inner cities to provide mentors and additional support for inner city
youth.
g) Focus on strengthening educational opportunities for under-privileged youth.
h) Target age groups differently.

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What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Recommendations for Strengthening Civic Engagement (continued)

4) Strengthen the electoral process

a) Advocate for increased election monitoring and structural reform.
b) Move towards proportional representation.
c) Make naturalization simpler and easier.
d) Support efforts to diversify the candidate pool.
e) Ensure that elections are competitive.
f) Lessen costs of voting: multi-day balloting, same day registration, polls open longer.
g) Enfranchise voters including felons and perhaps resident aliens.
h) Provide citizens with ample ways to become informed about campaigns and issues.
i) Mobilize citizens: civic voter mobilization campaigns, door-to-door efforts.
j) Mobilize potential voters through political parties and houses of worship.

Drawing from the four priority areas highlighted in the research, the inventory of civic innovations and
strategies listed in Tables 7-9, and the logic model for evaluating community impact cited earlier, Table 10
(What Works Table) offers a summary of the current and promising approaches to enhancing the quantity,
quality, equality, and sustainability of civic engagement at the community level. In the left-hand column, we
have listed the areas for targeted intervention according to three broad categories: individual and community
factors, civic tools and resources, and modes for participation. In the four columns that follow to the right, we
have classified the civic innovations and strategies by “what works,” what doesn’t work,” “mixed reviews,” and
“best bets.” As cited earlier, while we attempted to organize and synthesize what is known about the
performance of various approaches in civic engagement, unfortunately, perhaps the most prominent research
gap identified in the literature, describes the lack of evaluation or performance measures in assessing “what
works” to enhance civic engagement. This glaring gap underscores the need for developing criteria to evaluate
programs and interventions to understand what practices are working over time. Nevertheless, existing research
does point to a number of areas where obvious gains can be made in every mode of engagement.

Synthesis Report: The Democracy Collaborative-Knight Foundation Civic Engagement Project 41
What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Table 10: What Works Table: A Review of Civic Innovations & Strategies to Enhance Civic Engagement

Civic Innovations and Strategies
Areas for Targeted What Works What Doesn’t Mixed Reviews “Best Bets”
Intervention Work

INDIVIDUAL &
COMMUNITY
FACTORS
-Developing a civic ecology -Urging people to get -Leveraging television and -Developing electronic
Civic Infrastructure of civic capacities: inventory involved Internet for civic journalism community networks
*Government for local context -Unresponsive or civic education purposes -Strengthening citizen
*Business -Promoting multi-stakeholder government and civic deliberative forums
*Community-based collaborations: strengthen structures -Community-university
organizational diversity and partnerships for community
Organizations multi-sectoral partnerships leadership development and
*Foundations -Supporting participatory problem-solving
*Unions and responsive governance
*Universities & structures
-Leveraging locally-based
Colleges and locally-owned media to
*Schools shape the community
*Unions dialogue process
* Media (media effects)
* Alternative Spaces
(technology)

-Strengthening educational -Homogenization of -Empowering grassroots -Promoting diversity in
Economic Inequalities and training opportunities economic development groups to leverage group community economic
-Mobilizing at the grassroots -Limited opportunities consciousness/ development organizations
Socioeconomic level to reach out to for local control of identity politics -Supporting efforts to
conditions and marginalized groups (e.g., economic development -Mobilizing through political democratize the workplace (e.g.,
faith-based community priorities parties and houses of worship ESOPs)
diversity organizing) -Socio-economic -Supporting interest group
-Leveraging alternative isolation and socio- membership
venues for skill building and economic segregation -Mobilizing citizens through
leadership development (e.g., campaigns (e.g., living wage,
churches, unions, environmental justice)
cooperatives)

CIVIC TOOLS &
RESOURCES
-Strengthening school-based -Closed and rigid -Expanding service learning -Supporting service learning and
Youth Development leadership development classroom learning initiatives (without reflection community service activities that
and Education programs environment and learning components) enable formal and informal
-Targeting classroom and -Stand alone courses in opportunities for reflection and
curricular strategies for both Civics are insufficient learning
process and content -Targeting media education on
-Incorporating civic civic and public issues toward
participation in the students and youths
curriculum -Strengthening community-
-Creating an open and based youth leadership and
supportive classroom service programs (e.g., City
-Connecting civic practices Year, AmeriCorps)
outside the classroom

-Strengthening membership
Community-based and skills training in
community-based
Initiatives organizations
-Encouraging youth
voluntarism that strengthens
their sense of self-efficacy

Synthesis Report: The Democracy Collaborative-Knight Foundation Civic Engagement Project 43
What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Areas for Targeted What Works What Doesn’t Mixed Reviews “Best Bets”
Intervention Work

MODES FOR
PARTICIPATION
-Reducing barriers to voting -Negative issue ads and -Phone and direct mail -Face-to-face voter mobilization
Electoral & Political and voter registration: multi- campaigning appeals and civic education efforts
Processes day balloting, same day -Uncontested and -The role of the Internet in -Ensuring elections are
registration, extended polling uncompetitive elections mobilizing participation competitive by providing public
hours -Supporting efforts to funding, subsidies, and access to
-Mobilizing citizens through diversify the candidate pool public media
civic, faith-based, and -Moving toward proportional
neighborhood organizations representation
and specific issue campaigns -Making naturalization simpler
(e.g., living wage) and easier
-Increasing election -Enfranchising former felons
monitoring and clean election and resident aliens
reforms

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What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Key Knowledge Gaps: Recommendations for Future Research

The research presented in this report crosses the gamut of civic engagement, utilizing information from both
academics and practitioners. A great deal is known about ways to immediately influence community and
national engagement patterns, ranging from electoral reforms such as same-day voter registration to societal
reforms such as youth leadership campaigns. However, in measuring the unique and overlapping contributions
for each category of civic engagement, a number of questions remain unanswered. As cited previously, perhaps
the most prominent research gap identified is the lack of longitudinal data. In addition, civic engagement
encompasses a breadth of academic knowledge, thus, gaps necessarily exist between disciplines or areas of
study and with practitioners. Moreover, inadequate program evaluation inhibits understanding about the value
and impact of specific initiatives. Without appropriate evaluation, policymakers, scholars, and even citizens
cannot gauge the true impact of their efforts or make informed decisions about the potential opportunity costs.

Another key research gap relates to group differences or the study of the engagement patterns across race,
religion, class, and gender within the U.S. Minority populations often develop tight community bonds and
express their specific societal, political, and economic engagement in unique ways. The unique contribution of
specific groups remains unclarified. To date, research has focused on lumping groups into broad categories,
eliminating the possibility of understanding the discrete contribution of specific nationalities. This grouping
based on race rather than national origin reveals nothing about potential engagement differences between
nationalities, blurring existing engagement patterns into a racial average. Likewise, similar problems can be
seen in measuring the religious involvement of ethnic groups. While new research projects are underway e.g.,
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s Pluralism Project and Immigrant Initiative Programs, key
knowledge gaps still remain in the area of non-Christian religions’ civic participation. Religious involvement
related to engagement has primarily dealt only with Judeo-Christian groups and belief systems. Yet, the influx
of many new religious groups in the past thirty years requires an additional perspective. Any civic engagement
related to Buddhist, Hindu, or even Muslim churches remains largely unconsidered.

Moreover, while recent research has focused on the relationship between gender and civic engagement patterns,
the interaction of socioeconomic and gender transformations requires further study. Skocpol’s recent review of
civic transformations and inequalities predicts that: “Since women were traditionally central to many voluntary
membership federations that stressed cross-class fellowship and non-market-oriented public values, it will be
fascinating to learn how all this changed during the recent era, as class inequalities have increased and gender
differences have attenuated” (Skocpol, 2002, 38).

While research gaps exist both within and across the modes of civic engagement, many areas require further
consideration. The mode of economic engagement receives limited attention as an outlet for civic engagement
when compared to electoral or social engagement. Much of the data for economic engagement remains
anecdotal, non-systematic. Few studies have sought to understand what specific skills and attitudes can be
transferred from economic governance to civic and political participation.

The research field also lacks analysis that explores the characteristics of local organizations and how these
characteristics affect individual and group participation for any given purpose. Efforts are needed to improve
the means for assessing organizational capacity in facilitating civic engagement. Such research could impart not
only valuable lessons for all community organizations attempting to develop civic engagement, but also would
differentiate between participation rates and success/failure of institutions over time. While much is known
about the participation patterns over time of larger membership organizations and elite-class associations, much
less is known about advocacy groups or cross-class associations (Skocpol, 2002, 38).

Synthesis Report: The Democracy Collaborative-Knight Foundation Civic Engagement Project 45
What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

An even more prominent critique of research in the field of civic engagement involves the “disconnect”
between civic engagement as a means to a desired outcome and civic engagement as an end or desired outcome
itself. Societal engagement because of social capital could be high in a community; however, this specific
reality does not predetermine that a community will be successful in terms of accomplishing any particular end.
Thus, research should not only seek to measure civic engagement nationally and locally, but should also
measure what such engagement produces in terms of national and local results.

Greater analysis is also required of the institutional infrastructure and social context that affect the quantity,
quality, equality, and the sustainability of community-based civic participation. Further study should examine
both the positive and negative roles civic structures play at the community level. This type of analysis could
help determine when and how civic structures serve as bridges facilitating greater participation as well as when
and how they serve as exclusionary barriers to equal participation.

Conclusions and Recommended Next Steps

By reviewing the literature and highlighting effective examples of civic engagement at the community level,
this summary report identifies promising approaches and innovative strategies that have helped to catalyze civic
engagement and enhance democratic citizenship. Out of this analysis, we have also identified important areas
and questions for further research, experimentation, and exchange about the key factors that affect civic
engagement at the community level. To improve our collective understanding of the civic challenges facing
communities with different institutional contexts, future research and practitioner efforts to enhance
community-level civic engagement must continue to be informed by the constructive collaboration among
scholars and feedback from community practitioners.

How can the Knight Foundation leverage this analysis to create real change at the local community level?

To date, we have learned concretely about the many challenges inherent in accomplishing the project’s
fundamental goals: identifying effective strategies and practices and developing relevant tools for enhancing
civic engagement at the community level based on a comprehensive assessment of the academic literature. The
real test will be how to connect research and practice effectively to present our findings in a way that best
informs and enables community practitioners to apply these innovative strategies and to identify best practices
to enhance the civic engagement of citizens in the specific contexts of their communities. Table 11 provides a
summary of key community priorities identified by the 26 Knight partner communities to date. While just seven
of these communities have identified specific civic engagement or related priorities (e.g., improve race
relations), all of the Knight partner communities can readily benefit from enhancing civic engagement whatever
their community priorities may be. The challenge remains to work together with foundation officers,
community leaders, practitioners, and citizens to develop appropriate strategies and to identify relevant
practices that can be adopted and tailored to their specific community context.

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What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Table 11: List of Knight Partner Communities by State and Identified Community Priorities
State Community Top Priorities (civic engagement related goals in italics)
California Long Beach • To improve school readiness.
San Jose • To improve school readiness.
Colorado Boulder • To improve school readiness.
Florida Bradenton • To increase positive outcomes for middle school youth.
Miami • To increase financial security of households.
• To improve community development.
• To increase civic engagement.
Palm Beach County • To increase positive outcomes for middle school youth.
Tallahassee • To improve school readiness.
Georgia Columbus • To increase positive outcomes for at-risk youth.
Macon • To reduce number and percentage of teen pregnancies.
Milledgeville • To increase positive outcomes for middle school youth.
Indiana Fort Wayne • To improve school readiness.
Gary • To increase economic development with an emphasis
on minority business.
• To improve child development.
Kansas Wichita • To improve school readiness.
Kentucky Lexington • To reduce equity gaps in public schools while
improving academic achievement.
Michigan Detroit • To increase community development.
• To increase access and diversity in arts and cultural
organizations.
Minnesota Duluth • Priorities to be determined.
St. Paul • To increase access to affordable housing.
Mississippi Biloxi • To improve family economic well-being.
North Carolina Charlotte • To improve school readiness.
• To improve race relations.
• To preserve and maintain open space.
North Dakota Grand Falls • To increase the community’s capacity for economic
growth.
• To increase the organizational strength and stability of
arts and culture nonprofits.
Ohio Akron • To increase job expansion and retention of jobs.
• To increase positive outcomes for middle school youth.
Pennsylvania Philadelphia • To improve literacy for young children.
• To increase cultural arts participation.
State College • To improve the health and development outcomes for
young children
South Carolina Columbia • To equip middle-school youth to become productive
citizens.
Myrtle Beach • To improve community engagement.
South Dakota Aberdeen • Priorities to be determined.
Source: Based on the Knight Foundation web site as of June 5, 2003
Synthesis Report: The Democracy Collaborative-Knight Foundation Civic Engagement Project 47
What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Appendix A:

The Democracy Collaborative – Knight Foundation Civic Engagement Project
Consultation Meeting

The Aspen Institute
Washington, DC

October 24, 2002

List of Participants

Gar Alperovitz, University of Maryland, The Democracy Collaborative & Department of Government & Politics

Gary Bass, OMB Watch

Anthony Blasingame, University of Maryland, Department of Economics

Richard Couto, Antioch University, Ph.D. Program in Leadership and Change

Michael Craig, Georgetown University, The Center for the Study of Voluntary Organizations and Service

Lewis Friedland, University of Wisconsin—Madison, School of Journalism & Mass Communication

William Galston, University of Maryland, Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy & the Democracy Collaborative

Jessica Gordon Nembhard, University of Maryland, The Democracy Collaborative & Afro-American Studies
Department

Daniel Hart, Rutgers University—Camden, Department of Psychology

Virginia Hodgkinson, Georgetown University, The Center for the Study of Voluntary Organizations and Service

Jeanette Lang, City Year

Annie Leonetti, University of Maryland, The Democracy Collaborative & Department of Government & Politics

Katherine T. Loflin, The Knight Foundation

Debbie Matisoff, City Year

Margaret Morgan-Hubbard, University of Maryland, The Democracy Collaborative

Kathryn Nelson, Georgetown University, The Center for the Study of Voluntary Organizations and Service

Miles Rapoport, Demos

James Riker, University of Maryland, The Democracy Collaborative

Carmen Sirianni, Brandeis University, Department of Sociology

Clarence Stone, University of Maryland, Department of Government & Politics

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What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Nancy Stutts, University of Richmond, Jepson School of Leadership

Judith Torney-Purta, University of Maryland, Department of Human Development

Natalie Patrice Tucker, Georgetown University, The Center for the Study of Voluntary Organizations and Service

Eric Uslaner, University of Maryland, Department of Government & Politics

Lisa Versaci, The Knight Foundation

Clyde Wilcox, Georgetown University, Department of Government

James Youniss, The Catholic University of America, Life Cycle Institute & Department of Psychology

Synthesis Report: The Democracy Collaborative-Knight Foundation Civic Engagement Project 49
What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Appendix B: The Democracy Collaborative—Knight Foundation Civic Engagement Project
List of Working Papers

MAJOR DIMENSIONS OF CIVIC ENGAGEMENT

Individual and Community Factors

Civic Engagement Working Paper No. 1
• Civic Motivations and Values
“Motivation, Values, and Civic Participation”
By James Youniss, Catholic University; and Daniel Hart, Rutgers University-Camden

Civic Engagement Working Paper No. 2
• Civic Identity, Norms, Conditions
“Civic Engagement in America: Why People Participate in Political and Social Life”
By Eric Uslaner, University of Maryland

Civic Engagement Working Paper No. 3
• Civic Disparities and Differences
“Civic Disparities and Civic Differences: Ethno-Racial Civic Engagement in the United States”
By Lorrie Frasure, University of Maryland; and Linda Williams, University of Maryland

Modes of Participation and Infrastructure for Participation: Individual and Collective Action
Civic Participation and Structures: Forms, Venues and Vehicles

Civic Engagement Working Paper No. 4
• Community and Religious Participation
“The Infrastructure for Civic Engagement: Community and Religious Participation and Structures”
By Kathryn E. Nelson, Georgetown University; Michael Craig, Georgetown University; and James V. Riker,
University of Maryland

Civic Engagement Working Paper No. 5
• Economic Participation
“Economic Dimensions of Civic Engagement and Political Efficacy”
By Jessica Gordon Nembhard, University of Maryland; and Anthony Blasingame, University of Maryland

Civic Engagement Working Paper No. 6
• Political Participation
“Political Structures and Political Participation”
By Clyde Wilcox, Georgetown University

Tools and Resources

Civic Engagement Working Paper No. 7
• Civic Education and Knowledge
“Tools and Strategies: Civic Education and Civic Knowledge”
By Judith Torney-Purta, University of Maryland

Synthesis Report: The Democracy Collaborative-Knight Foundation Civic Engagement Project 50
What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Civic Engagement Working Paper No. 8
• Civic Skills and Capacities
“Building Civic Skills and Capacities through Civic Innovation”
By Lewis Friedland, University of Wisconsin; and Carmen Sirianni, Brandeis University

Synthesis Report: The Democracy Collaborative-Knight Foundation Civic Engagement Project 51
What Works to Strengthen Civic Engagement in America: A Guide to Local Action and Civic Innovation

Appendix C: A Glossary of Key Terms of Civic Engagement

Key Terms At the Individual Level At the Community Level At the Normative Level

Active Active citizenship means Active citizenship means Active citizenship means
Citizenship that a person is obligated that participating that people are “co-creators
to exercise their rights collectively in and civic producers” in
and duties in a society to accountable political “creating the democratic
serve the public good. work and democratic way of life.”8
governance is seen as an
essential obligation and
role of citizens, and not
the sole domain of
government officials and
politicians.
Civic Civic capacity means Civic capacity is the Civic capacity is the shared
Capacity both the abilities and ability of a community or commitment to develop
work of citizens and the its constituent parts – people’s abilities – as
communities in which actors and groups, individuals and collectively
that work takes place. organizations and – to address and solve
institutions – to pose and community problems.
solve community
problems.
Civic Civic differences reflect Civic differences reflect Civic differences value
Differences the diversity in how the diversity in how diversity and recognize the
different individuals different groups positive roles that different
participate (e.g., diversity participate (e.g., diversity voices, both individually
in views, pluralism) and in views, pluralism) and and collectively, can
can contribute to can contribute to contribute to increasing the
increasing the quality and increasing the quality and quality and equality of
equality of civic equality of civic civic engagement and to
engagement and to engagement and to building a healthy
building a healthy building a healthy democracy.
democracy. democracy.
Civic Civic disparities are the Civic disparities are the To overcome civic
Disparities negative management of negative management of disparities requires
inequitable societal inequitable societal concerted action to address
factors (e.g., age, race, factors (e.g., age, race, the societal structures and
ethnicity, gender, class) ethnicity, gender, class) barriers that exclude or
that exclude or limit an that exclude or limit a limit the full participation
individual’s access to group’s access to of individuals or groups
participate fully in civic participate fully in civic due to some form of
processes. processes. inequality.

8
Boyte, H. (2001). Center for Democracy and Citizenship, University of Minnesota web site: http://www.publicwork.org/.
.
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Civic Civic education is the Civic education is the Civic education fosters
Education range of learning range of learning and sustains essential
activities that equip activities that equip learning (e.g., skills,
people with the skills, groups, organizations and knowledge, and
knowledge, and attitudes communities with the attitudes) that enables
to be informed, capable, skills, knowledge, and people to contribute
and active citizens in attitudes to contribute to actively to
their communities. informed and active strengthening civic
participation in their processes and practices
communities. as informed citizens
and leaders in their
communities.
Civic Civic engagement means Civic engagement is Civic engagement is
Engagement “active participation in “based on the “based on normative
civic life,” with a focus participation of orientations sustained,
on those activities that individual citizens in the above all, by
contribute to or enhance associations of civil and institutions and
democracy and its tenets political society.”10 institutional leaders.”11
of freedom, equality, and
justice.9
Civic Civic knowledge is Civic knowledge is Civic knowledge
Knowledge meaningful information meaningful information creates, fosters, and
or knowledge about civic or knowledge about civic sustains meaningful
processes and practices processes and practices information and
that is valued and that is valued and knowledge about civic
valuable to an individual valuable in groups to processes and practices
in serving the public which the individual that serves the public
good. belongs for serving the good.
public good.
Civic Norms Civic norms are the Civic norms are the Civic norms foster the
values that shape values that shape group, values that guide and
individual action for the organizational or sustain citizen and
public good. community action for the community action to
public good. serve the public good.

9
By our definition, civic engaging groups such as the KKK would be against the tenets of democracy, and would thus be excluded
from the analysis.
10
Brint, S. & Levy, C.S. (1999). Professions and Civic Engagement: Trends in Rhetoric and Practice, 1875-1995. In: Civic
Engagement in American Democracy. Theda Skocpol and Morris P. Fiorina, eds., Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, p.
164, fn. 7.
11
Ibid, p. 164, fn. 7.
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Civic Skills Civic skills are key Civic skills are key Civic skills enable
individual competencies organizational and citizens to participate
that enable citizens to community competencies meaningfully in
participate meaningfully that enable citizens to affecting change in the
in affecting change in the participate meaningfully governance and
governance and in affecting change in the democratic processes at
democratic processes at governance and the community level.
the community level. democratic processes at
the community level.
Democratic Democratic citizenship Democratic citizenship Democratic citizenship
Citizenship implies that a person acts contributes to broad fosters the essential
in exercising their rights participation and values, culture,
and duties in manner that representation in civic institutions, and
is participatory and institutions and practices for a
representative (thus governance processes democratic society.
democratic), and that and improves the overall
fosters and deepens quality of life in a
democracy. community.

Public Public problem-solving Public problem-solving is Public problem-solving
Problem- involves citizens in the engaging key groups, fosters full citizen
Solving public processes needed organizations, participation in the
to address and make institutions, and public deliberations
decisions about vital stakeholders in the public and decisions affecting
community issues. processes needed to a community.
make decisions about
vital community issues.

This Glossary is informed and adapted from the following sources:

The Democracy Collaborative—Knight Foundation Civic Engagement Working Papers (2003); Minnesota
Active Citizenship Initiative (2002); CIRCLE & Carnegie Corporation of New York (2003).

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Appendix D: The Democracy Collaborative—Knight Foundation Civic Engagement Project

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