What Is Civic Engagement?

Black and white photo of a crowd performing acts of civic engagement outside of a building; inviting the question, "What is civic engagement?"

“The whole is more than the sum of its parts.”

The definition of ‘civic engagement’ varies. However, most consider it as the community and political activities performed by individuals or groups of residents in an area to enhance the quality of life for everyone. This article briefly dives into what civic engagement entails, its impacts, real-world examples, and the next steps for enhancing it.

Diving into civic engagement


Civic engagement involves holding local government leaders accountable. Keeping local governments accountable for their actions involves participating in local elections, meetings, and events. “…Of the people, by the people, for the people.”

High-education bias

Civic engagement favors higher-educated people. These citizens also tend to have a higher income and a more skilled profession. Investing more funds into the education of a community will empower the residents to engage civically.


Civic engagement is an equal opportunity for underrepresented people. The education, occupation, and income pieces mentioned just a minute ago play a part in underrepresentation. The lack of time hinders many unskilled, lower-education, and low-income residents, which gives an unfair advantage to a certain percentage of the population. However, a rise in digital services is creating a better playing field for everyone. This provides equal opportunity for people who are underrepresented in factors such as age, race, and gender.

Individual and team efforts

Both individuals and groups perform acts of civic engagement. Collective action is powerful, and ultimately the essence of how government and citizens should interact.

Community service

Civic engagement involves community services. Fundraising events like dances and races; volunteering with food banks and other shelters; building a neighborhood watch team; collectively making an effort to recycle. When citizens are participating in community service acts like this, a thriving area is built and the municipality grows from a small number of workers to utilizing the population.

Political service

Civic engagement involves political services. Acts as simple as displaying banners or stickers on your car or front lawn are very prominent. Most folks who are engaging civically do so with the power of their voice. Contributing to political campaigns, having thought-provoking conversations about various political issues, acting on campaigns, and even contacting officials themselves. All of these are ways that civic engagement involves political services.

Involvement from youth

Youth involvement in civic engagement is on the rise. Starting young creates lifelong advocates. To do that: make political literacy a high priority coming into high school. Creating programs for enthusiastic youths is the key to encouraging engagement.

The impact of good or bad engagement

Impact of good engagement

Increased collaboration on important issues resulting in more thought-provoking conversations and ideas. A more relaxed community that acts with civility at meetings and other public events. As residents are key stakeholders in any project, good engagement loosens tension and increases productivity around the area.

Residents involved with good engagement are voters. These people also speak highly of the leadership and the community. When an environment for great engagement has been created, people overall are more likely to participate; they’ve established a sense of loyalty and a powerful voice within the community.

Impact of bad engagement

The effects of improper civic engagement can be detrimental to an area. Residents begin to take more passive and harmful measures as opposed to constructive and proactive ones. The biggest sign of poor engagement is a low vote count. Another signal citizens will give when exhibiting poor acts of civic engagement is a distrustful relationship between the government and themselves; though, that’s not the citizen’s fault.

This type of passive behavior can even be taken a step further by some if civic engagement is poor. The population of the area will begin to shrink. People won’t believe their voices are being heard so they’ll go to a place they do. Along with that, others might simply opt for private services as opposed to the ones the local government offers.

Civic engagement examples

We’ve highlighted some real-world civic engagement examples for inspiration:

Volunteering/Food Banks

Volunteering is the most widely exhibited form and one of the most selfless civic engagement examples. Meals on Wheels, Sistercare, The Salvation Army, and Habitat for Humanity are some of the larger organizations involved with giving back to communities. Though, smaller events are often organized throughout the year by places all over the United States to sustain engagement.


Takoma Park, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, D.C., lowers the voting age to 16 and 17 years old in 2013, believing it will create the habit of participating and engaging in voting and related activities.


Kalamazoo, Michigan had an outdated operating system. Oftentimes, citizens would get frustrated by the lack of structure and navigational help throughout their website. Searching for items from previous meetings was also a pain not only for the residents but for city officials as well. Kalamazoo turned to digital solutions to empower themselves and their citizens. They’ve created hundreds of additional service pages, increased the responses to their forms, and increased the number of users of their services.


GoFundMe pages are created all over the world to create a community to fight a certain cause. Common forms of fundraising are walks, 5k runs, charities, and galas.

Next steps for enhancing civic engagement

You’ve asked yourself, “what is civic engagement?”, now it’s important to ask, “what’s next for civic engagement?”; staying on top of trends and making sure citizens know you care about their involvement in the future as well. The best part of living right now is we have access to so much information and so many tools.


Websites are being created all over local government offices to create a better experience for citizens living in this digital era. Digital documents such as a comprehensive plan, financial documents, or other documents about the municipality provide transparency, and providing a database of various information creates a useful tool not only for citizens but for local leaders as well.

Social media allows the residents to stay involved outside of regular channels such as television programs or articles. Local government leaders can utilize YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to build better relationships with their residents and connect them to a wider view of the community.

Online services such as entering a request for a service or submitting a picture of a pothole are allowing citizens to engage more efficiently. These digital, online services not only provide the community with a better user experience but also provides local leaders with a chance to be more effective with plans and strategies. Providing every community with access to the internet and these online services is a high priority in this digital era.

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