Community engagement, also called civic engagement, isn't a term most people use regularly, but most of us have experience with what community engagement is all about! Community engagement is active participation in your community and being invested in what happens in your community. This includes a lot of different activities, like community service, donations, voting, career work, and more. According to Thomas Ehrlich of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, "Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and nonpolitical processes."

Community engagement is work that deepens people’s commitment to their community and the condition of their community. At OSU, we use the term community engagement to mean: 

“Civic engagement is acting upon a heightened sense of responsibility to one’s communities and a heightened understanding of one’s identity. This includes a wide range of activities, including developing civic sensitivity, participation in building civil society, and benefiting the common good. Civic engagement encompasses the notions of global membership and interdependence. Through civic engagement, individuals—as members of their communities, their nations, and the world—are empowered as agents of positive social change for a more democratic world.” —adapted from Barbara Jacoby, Civic Engagement in Higher Education, 2009

Community Engagement & Leadership is grounded in and guided by the following values and principles and utilizes this framework and rubric to approach our work.

Community Engagement Values and Principles:

  1. Reciprocity in Partnership: Develop and cultivate collaborations with community partners for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity (Carnegie Foundation, 2012). Partnerships should honor the community partners’ expertise and experience and involve community partners in the design, facilitation, and evaluation of service initiatives to the fullest extent possible to ensure the value and relevance of the work to the community. Participants should seek to do with rather than to do for or do to the community. 
  2. Clarifying Expectations and Commitments: Develop goals and outcomes based on the needs and preferences identified by community partners.  Model accountability and the importance of honoring commitments made to community partners.
  3. Preparation: Prepare for a community engagement initiative with the attitudes, skills, and knowledge needed to serve effectively and enter community mindfully and respectfully. Preparation should include issue-, community-, and identity-based education. Community partners should be provided opportunities to share content and contribute to context setting.
  4. Empathy and Respect for Diversity: Model respect for diversity, broadly and inclusively defined, in all elements of the initiative. Actively challenge any biases, stereotypes, and assumptions regarding the community that is being worked with and include reflection on students’ identity and relationship to the issue as part of the experience. Acknowledge and explore any differences in culture between the university and community as well as in identity, experience, and/or culture between participants in the program in an effort to increase learning and understanding of self and others.
  5. Safety and Wellbeing: Anticipate and take steps to ensure the physical and emotional wellbeing and safety of all community engagement participants. Seek out and comply with any special safety concerns or liability requirements of the community partner and university.
  6. Reflection and Evaluation: Intentionally incorporate opportunities for reflection before, during, and after community engagement, involve community partners in reflection whenever possible. Include opportunities to gather feedback from student participants and community partners to assess value and impact and inform future projects.
  7. Humility: Engage with community with a listening and learning mind, heart, and attitude that is mindful of the community’s needs, assets, and interests. View all community engagement as a valuable learning opportunity that expands understanding and compassion.

Values and principles were adapted from the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University.

Types of Civic Engagement

Direct Service: Also known as community service or volunteering, direct service is when you help with projects in the community directly. Things like helping build houses with Habitat for Humanity, stream cleanups, helping with an after school program, or helping walk dogs at a humane society are examples of direct service.

Activism/Advocacy: Activism or advocacy is when you participate in activities that raise awareness on issues that are important to you. Joining a protest or a march are examples of activism or advocacy.

Philanthropy: Philanthropy is when you give money or physical items to causes that are important to you. For example, if you donate canned goods to a food drive or give money to a fundraiser, these are both forms of philanthropy. 

Public Discourse: Public discourse is when you join others with differing opinions on an issue to discuss the issue more deeply. Discourse is different from debate in that you are trying to find common ground with people who disagree with you and working toward a common understanding and solutions that you both find acceptable rather than trying to win the discussion like you do in a debate. Discourse is about being open to other ideas, learning and listening deeply to others, and coming to compromises together.

Political Engagement: Political engagement is about being informed on issues, voting regularly, and participating in political activities like attending debates, helping with voter registration, or joining a campaign.

Community Organizing: Community organizing, or grassroots organizing, is when groups of people who are passionate about a shared issue work together to address the issue. These movements may begin in a small organization or with an individual or group of people who want to make change. Examples of community organizing in recent years include the #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter. Both were started by a few people who cared passionately about an issue, and by working with others passionate about the same issue, they were able to more effectively fight for their causes.

Employment: Your job choices can have a big impact on your community, and employment choices are a great way to be an active member of your community. Joining the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps after college, taking a job with a nonprofit organization, or working in a business that shares your values are all examples of ways your employment can also be a form of civic engagement.

Lifestyle Choices: Every day, we make little choices that can impact the world. Choices like what brands we support, if we recycle, and if we bike and walk more than drive are all examples of lifestyle choices that can impact your community.

Being civically engaged doesn't mean you actively engage with all these activities or that you spend all your time doing these things. Some people will be more inclined to participate in direct service, while others may prefer political engagement. Some people will have the time and energy to do a lot of civic engagement, while others will have less time. No one type of civic engagement or level of engagement is more valuable than any other; we need people to participate in all these types of engagement at the level that works for them for us to have a vibrant, thriving community!