The Action Civics Landscape

If young people are the future of democracy, then throughout the critical years of their adolescence, they should be provided meaningful opportunities to practice citizenship. Action Civics may be the remedy to the problem.

Action Civics is defined by the National Action Civics Collaborative as “a student-centered, project-based approach to civics education that develops the individual skills, knowledge, and dispositions necessary for 21st century democratic practice.” The concept is not new and in fact teachers, schools, and students across America are engaged in meaningful civic learning. However, too many students are deprived of the opportunity to engage in a laboratory for democracy or work on issues that affect their lives today. It is in this spirit that we seek to find organizations and resources to support and empower educators in delivering Action Civics to students across America through a landscape mapping. Understanding the organizations that support elements of Action Civics provides a greater understanding of how to collaborate and ensure students are empowered to be be engaged. This is a snapshot of the Action Civics landscape and adjacent sub-fields and does not claim to be exhaustive. Our hope is the project is iterative and ongoing.

Uses for this Interactive Tool

The landscape data exists for users in multiple forms to facilitate a variety of uses. The data can be viewed as a text list of organizations and programs, a geographic map, or an interactive, sortable visualization of similarities and differences. There will be diverse audiences and use-cases but three main potential audiences:

  1. Educators & School Leaders - These individuals may come to this landscape analysis to find Action Civics resources and opportunities for their school and students.
  2. Organizations using Action Civics Components - Organizations that evolve their programming may return to find like-minded organizations to share best practices, update their programming, and seek partnerships.
  3. Funders and other Field-Builders- Potential funders of civic learning may use this tool to understand where there may be gaps in offering high quality civic learning.

Methods

The research question at the heart of this project is: What organizations currently use components of Action Civics? Ultimately, we wanted to understand breadth of use of these different components, as well as find commonalities and eventually potential intersections that can lift the field.

Our procedures began by creating a list of organizations who are involved in support for broadening Action Civics. The researchers used organization websites as the primary source of data for the features of Action Civics within curriculum and program descriptions. A priori coding (i.e. theoretical) was done, then analysis and recoding using a mix of a priori and deductive codes. Coding is based on the organization’s Action Civics-aligned program. For instance if an organization has eight programs, only the programs that use Action Civics components were coded. Organizations were added based on researcher knowledge and resulted in 97 organizations or programs at this time.

Teasing out the features of Action Civics meant siphoning through the reasonable disagreements between Action Civics organizations. Instead of harping on exact definitions, we found emergent primary features consistent throughout the data. Some of the data coded included:

  • Youth Voice: Youth as a decision maker in the learning process and product
  • Real World Action: Their learning trajectory involves actual interaction with civic practices beyond simulation
  • Systemic Change: Students are addressing causes of social issue not simply providing bandaids in a service capacity.
  • Reflection: Pedagogical, students need to articulate what the experience was like for them, and what they learned from its successes and challenges
  • Deliberative Discussion/Research: Students come into the action armed with research and knowledge to make well-informed decisions
  • Support Facilitation and PD: Organizations that focus on empowering teachers to in turn provide their students Action Civics
  • Allies: Organizations that are aligned and in support of Action Civics but do not carry an Action Civics program within their portfolio
Initial Findings

  • Communications: Websites are not indicative of work we know is going on. It can not be emphasized enough, that throughout the process of scanning the landscape of Action Civics providers, the most salient theme was the premise of rhetoric matching action. In short, just because it is not on the website does not mean it is not happening!
  • Contexts: Among those organizations with programs using Action Civics components, most of the organizations are nonprofits (68) and 40 operate in an out of school context.
  • Exposure to Opportunity: Action Civics components are primarily used in programs that focus on high school-aged youth, while only 9 include elementary youth. Twenty-eight programs (roughly 30%) explicitly focus on youth from underserved populations (e.g. youth of color, low-income youth).
  • Distribution: In light of recent research about Civic Deserts, it’s important to surface areas with access to high quality Action Civics as opposed to those areas bereft of opportunity. Organizations that are national in scope do provide Action Civics, but it is a fair observation that resources are centered in large cities.
  • Goals: A few interesting observations surfaced in the scan of organizational goals and desired program outcomes. First, the outcomes were often those which are not centrally nor systematically collected, which provides difficulty in providing data to people interested in impact and investing in the space. Second, in spite of the use of program components that might suggest a commitment to action and future engagement, the outcomes were heavy on knowledge and skills, but less so on motivation and efficacy. Far fewer organizations mentioned outcomes related to employment and academic performance.

Next Steps

As stated above, this is a work-in-progress which we hope can provide insights for building Action Civics exposure and evolve as the field does. There is, of course, information not included in the tool which considerations, such as program reach and duration. This information was very often not on websites, but is important for users.



 
Research conducted by

 
Circle
Ronald reagan presidential foundation institute student leadership program
 



Action Civics Landscape is a project of Generation Citizen.
This project was completed with the support of
The Ford Foundation and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.


Generation citizen
 
Ford foundation
Hewlett
 


This microsite was created by Civic Studio.

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