The Principles for Equitable and Inclusive Civic Engagement

by Kip Holley, The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University

Executive Summary

Civic engagement is more than collection of meetings, techniques, and tools. It takes place in an environment made up of diverse people, practices, conditions, and values. Our civic environments are where we derive our opportunities to succeed. Some communities have healthy, sustainable and rich civic and built environments. Others suffered from decades of segregation and disinvestment, leaving residents segregated from opportunities and unable to strongly influence the policies that drive community investment.

As a result, residents in these communities have lost the structural and cultural supports necessary to ensure justice and to achieve successful outcomes in their lives. The result is that civic engagement is often viewed as a means of gathering consent for initiatives supported by those with wealth and power, rather than a vehicle for delivering civic power to the community. Because of these circumstances, civic engagement has begun to lose legitimacy and effectiveness, as people look elsewhere to make change, particularly in communities that are struggling.

To restore the power and stature of civic engagement, we must become mindful that those who are excluded from community-based decisions are not excluded from community development impacts. Social inequities can lead to highly polarized and uncertain civic environments, conditions that can discourage free and open exchanges of ideas. In turn, these constraints can lead to inequitable investments, which again lead to lack of trust, polarization, and even more retrenchment.

For people to exercise their civic power and voice equitably, we must change the way we think about civic engagement, making transformative changes in our longstanding customs, assumptions, and institutions. It also means moving our conversations away from those that foster polarization and towards those that build relationships, foster mutual accountability, and strive for understanding among neighbors. Transforming the civic engagement environment is a change in both context and culture. The legitimacy of outreach efforts is tied to the amount of opportunities that community members have to exercise leadership.

Changing the civic engagement environment so that it is based on principles of honesty, hospitality, trust, a respect for the power of dissent, and most importantly of all, the sharing and honoring of gifts, can be instrumental in creating an environment where all can share in our communities’ bounties. Empowerment can begin by sharing gifts. For individual community members to share their gifts and move from being spectators to co-creators, large-scale projects must be directed by robust community-led engagement.

Creating an engagement environment that links neighborhood concerns to larger regional or societal issues encourages residents to realize their full potential to change circumstances on a larger stage.3 Substantive community change happens when people form authentic connections with each other at any scale. Realizing the interconnectedness of the stakeholders in our civic environment can help further bind our communities together while empowering the individual to make change on a larger level. Embracing this type of bottom-up community decision-making and community-based resources creates a more meaningful engagement environment and fosters a sense of community ownership that is at the heart of long-lasting change.”

The principles:

  1. Embracing the Gifts of Diversity
  2. Realizing the Role of Race, Power, and Injustice
  3. Radical Hospitality: Invitation and Listening
  4. Trust-building and Commitment
  5. Honoring Dissent and Embracing Protest
  6. Adaptability to Community Change
By Source and Author Noted Above
Source and Author Noted Above