[This is part of an ongoing series of articles around community engagement for local government. Read the next article here.]
At its most basic level, community engagement is striving towards improving the quality of life in a given community through both political and non-political means. Community engagement is also commonly referred to as civic engagement or public participation, and all terms reference a desire to make a positive difference in one’s community that manifests itself through action, combining knowledge, skills, values and motivation.
Although voting often comes to mind when people discuss the topic of community engagement, it’s important to know that it’s much more than that. In fact, voting could be considered the bare minimum of community engagement. While voting is certainly a civic duty, or responsibility, engaging in one’s community should never stop there.
Examples of Community Engagement
The answer to “what is community engagement?” includes activism, volunteer work, community gardening, tutoring, donating blood, environmentalism and a whole lot more. There are virtually limitless forms of community engagement!
Among the many different forms of community engagement, here are just a few:
- Volunteering at a local food bank, animal shelter or homeless shelter
- Maintaining a community garden
- Participating in a local blood drive
- Helping set up a local farmers market
- Advocating for others
- Creating support groups in your community
- Attending and participating in town hall and city council meetings
- Attending and participating in school board meetings
- Voting in local elections
Models for Community Engagement
Along with the many forms of community engagement, there are also many different models for it. These models can include relationship-building projects that help bring a community together and form stronger bonds; community education projects that provide instructional services or educate the public on certain issues; direct service projects that provide something to a group in need; and more.
These varying forms of community engagement happen in communities all across the globe. While not every community has the same level of engagement, the same percentage of the population that’s passionate about it, or the same forms of community engagement, it shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the ones with higher levels of engagement fare better.
Communities with high levels of engagement and multiple forms of community engagement don’t just have higher standards of living, but they face fewer wicked problems that require complex solutions.
Of course, they do still face problems, but the higher levels of engagement mean the community is better prepared to deal with them. It’s evident that life can be improved through multiple forms of community engagement because they give citizens the power to make the changes they want to see.
Why is Community Engagement Important?
While “what is community engagement?” is a good question to ask, understanding why community engagement is important is also imperative in building a better place to live. In fact, communities with a higher quality of life underscore what makes community engagement so important.
Through community engagement, citizens can build and sustain cohesive communities and help their local governments better serve their needs. Additionally, community engagement can lead to improved outcomes for the underprivileged or underserved members of a community, and it’s a driving factor in social transformation.
All of this is necessary for democratic societies to properly function.
Considering the modern political divide in America, political engagement is more important today than ever. And it looks like more and more Americans are realizing this. There were close to 160 million ballots cast in the 2020 presidential election according to PEW Research Center – that’s 20 million more than the 2016 presidential election.
Although it will take much more than voting to heal the political divide, more Americans should be asking themselves “what is community engagement?” and finding what forms of community engagement they want to participate in.