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Civic engagement or civic participation has been defined as "Individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern." Civic engagement has many elements, but in its most basic sense it is about decision making, or governance over who, how, and by whom a community's resources will be allocated. The principle of civic engagement underscores the most basic principle of democratic governance, i.e. that sovereignty resides ultimately in the people (the citizenry). Civic engagement is about the right of the people to define the public good, determine the policies by which they will seek the good, and reform or replace institutions that do not serve that good. Civic engagement can also be summarized as a means of working together to make a difference in the civil life of our communities and developing the combination of skills, knowledge, values, and motivation in order to make that difference. It means promoting a quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.
Civic engagement can take many forms—from individual volunteerism to organizational involvement to electoral participation. It can include efforts to directly address an issue, work with others in a community to solve a problem or interact with the institutions of representative democracy. Another way of describing this concept is the sense of personal responsibility individuals feel to uphold their obligations, as part of any community. "Youth civic engagement" has identical aims, only with consideration for youth voice.
A study published by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement at Tufts University, divided civic engagement into 3 categories: civic, electoral, and political voice. Scholars of youth engagement online have called for a broader interpretation of civic engagement that focuses on the purpose behind current institutions and activities and include emerging institutions and activities that achieve the same purposes. These civic engagement researchers suggest that the reduction of civic life into small sets of explicitly electoral behaviors may be insufficient to describe the full spectrum of public involvement in civic life.
|Measures of civic engagement|
|Community problem solving||Regular voting||Contacting officials|
|Regular volunteering for a non-electoral organization||Persuading others to vote||Contacting the print media|
|Active membership in a group or association||Displaying buttons, signs, stickers||Contacting the broadcast media|
|Participation in fund-raising run/walk/ride||Campaign contributions||Protesting|
|Other fund-raising for charity||Volunteering for candidate or political organizations||Email petitions|
|Run for Political office||Registering voters||Written petitions|
An alarm was sounded at the beginning of the 21st Century about changes in civic participation patterns by Robert Putnam in his provocative book, Bowling Alone. Putnam argued that despite rapid increases in higher education opportunities that may foster civic engagement, Americans were dropping out of political and organized community life. A number of studies suggested that while more youth are volunteering, fewer are voting or becoming politically engaged.
Civic engagement is a community builder. When civic engagement is done properly, you begin to build the community and the participation within the local side of government. Civic engagement and community work is basically a side by side concurrence that together can each help to grow your community and help start off with a strong foundation for the role of government.
“Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome.” –Angeles Arrien
Benefits of Civic Engagement in Local Government
• States implement public health programs to better benefit the needs of the society. The State Child Health Insurance Program, for example, (SCHIP) is the largest public investment in child health care aiding over 11 million uninsured children in the United States. “This statewide health insurance program for low-income children was associated with improved access, utilization, and quality of care, suggesting that SCHIP has the potential to improve health care for low-income American children.". States take part in the program and sculpt it to better fit the needs of that state’s demographics, making their healthcare and the civic engagement process of individuals that take part in the program as well help reform and fix it apart of the state’s identity.
The goal for state government in elections is to promote civic engagement. Director Regina Lawrence of Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life states “Politics and all other forms of engagement are really about trying to make your community, your state, and your nation a better place to live.”  Voter Turnout ensures civic engagement among the state with incentives that promises volunteer organizations, charity, and political involvement with everyone in the community who will have a voice to be heard.
The state can help promote civic engagement by ensuring fair voter and redistricting processes; by building partnerships among government agencies, non-profit organizations, and private citizens; and by maintaining networks of information about volunteer and charitable opportunities.
One of the main factors that determine civic engagement among the people is voter turnout. Voter turnout gauges citizens’ level of political involvement, an important component of civic engagement—and a prerequisite for maintaining public accountability.
Example of High Voter Turnout
• The state can help promote civic engagement by ensuring fair voter and redistricting processes; by building partnerships among government agencies, non-profit organizations, and private citizens; and by maintaining networks of information about volunteer and charitable opportunities.
• There is easy access to information about government activities, decision-making, solicit and use public input, and encourage public employees to donate and serve.
Example of Low Voter Turnout
Low participation with politics in the state and local government can result in less community involvement. Civic engagement may not be a concern to the people due to lack of funding and leadership directed towards that issue of community involvement.
To answer this challenge, the incorporation of service learning into collegiate course design has gained acceptance as a pedagogy that links curricular content with civic education. In a recent study, students who participated in service learning even one time appear to have made gains in knowledge of and commitment to civic engagement when compared to non-service learners. Campus Compact, a coalition of nearly 1200 college presidents (as of 2013) promotes the development of citizenship skills by creating community partnerships and providing resources to train faculty to integrate civic and community-based learning into the curriculum. Building on the acceptance of service learning and civic engagement in higher education, The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement in Teaching created the Political Engagement Project in 2003 to develop the political knowledge and skills of college-aged students. The American Democracy Project (ADP) was launched in the same year by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).  The American Democracy Project was joined by the American Democracy Commitment, a partnership of community colleges, to sponsor an annual national conference focused on higher education’s role in preparing the next generation of informed, engaged citizens. The American Democracy Project also sponsors campus-based initiatives including voter registration, curriculum revision projects, and special days of action and reflection, such as the MLK Day of Service. In a report entitled, A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy's Future issued in 2012 by the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement, a joint project of the U.S. Department of Education and the American Association of Colleges and Universities, the authors argue that higher education must serve as an intellectual incubator and socially responsible partner in advancing civic learning and democratic engagement. The report recommends four basic steps to build civic minded institutions:
1. Foster a civic ethos across the campus culture.
2. Make civic literacy a core expectation for all students.
3. Practice civic inquiry across all fields of study.
4. Advance civic action through transformative partnerships.
These higher education-based initiatives endeavor to build in college students, a politically engaged identity while enhancing the capacity to evaluate the political landscape and make informed decisions about participation in our democracy. As evidenced by the growth in coalitions, professional development opportunities and civic education research, institutions of higher education and their association partners are committed to help prepare the next generation of citizens to become tomorrow's "Stewards of Place."
In January 2012, the U.S. Department of Education issued a road map and a call to action entitled Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy that offers nine steps to enhancing the Department of Education's commitment to civic learning and engagement in democracy. These steps include:
1. Convene and catalyze schools and post-secondary institutions to increase and enhance high-quality civic learning and engagement
2. Identify additional civic indicators.
3. Identify promising practices in civic learning and democratic engagement—and encourage further research to learn what works.
4. Leverage federal investments and public-private partnerships.
5. Encourage community-based work-study placements.
6. Encourage public service careers among college students and graduates.
7. Support civic learning for a well-rounded K–12 curriculum.
8. Engage Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority-Serving Institutions—including Hispanic Serving Institutions, Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander–Serving Institutions, and Tribal Colleges and Universities-in a national dialogue to identify best practices.
9. Highlight and promote student and family participation in education programs and policies at the federal and local levels."