Civic and Democratic Engagement: A Brief Overview

What is Civic Engagement?

Civic engagement is contributing and working to make a difference in the public (or civic) life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and commitment to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community and solving public problems, through both political and non-political processes. Civic engagement is undergirded by constructs of collective action and social responsibility. (Ehrlich, 2000). Democratic engagement is a component of civic engagement.

What is Democratic Engagement?

Democratic engagement is the practice of engaged citizenship (defined as membership in a community) through democratic mechanisms and principles. Politics, and agency within political processes, is a particularly important component of democratic engagement. Politics is a process by which a group of people, whose opinions or interests might be divergent, reach collective agreements that are generally regarded as binding on the group and enforced as common or public policy (AAC&U, NASPA).  

So, as situated in the United States, democratic engagement means engagement in a democracy (or democratic form of government). It is a central part of civic engagement, specifically related to applying learned skills, knowledge, and commitments to contribute to public life through the democratic political process. 


Campus Compact identifies six core components of educating students for democracy:

  • Student voting: With a goal of increasing the proportion of college students who vote in local, state, and national elections;
  • Democracy in principle and practice: With a goal of increasing student understanding of the underpinnings of democracy and the workings of democratic institutions;
  • Deliberation for a shared future: With a goal of increasing students’ capacity to listen respectfully to the ideas of others and engage in both constructive and critical discussion of public questions;
  • Media fact and fiction: With a goal of increasing the capacity of students to distinguish reliable from unreliable political information;
  • Student leadership for democracy: With a goal of building a network of student leaders committed to democratic renewal; and
  • Teaching for democracy: With a goal of preparing faculty and staff members to develop and execute high-quality courses and programs focused on democratic engagement.


Resources for further exploration