The difference between community engagement, civic participation and public engagement?

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What’s the difference between community engagement, civic participation and public engagement?

Often the terms Community Engagement, Civic Participation and Public Engagement are used interchangeably. Arguably these are very similar and there is much overlap, however, they are not exactly the same.

Public Engagement or Participation

Public participation is the broadest term and defines any way in which the public engage with governments and organisations e.g. protests, lobbying, reading public announcements, taking a survey, collaborative decision making etc. Now more than ever, the public are asking for increased ways to be involved in shaping policy and agendas and demanding transparency at all levels of government and private-sector organisations.

Civic Participation or Citizen Participation

Civic or citizen participation is a core element of democracy and broadly defines any way in which citizens engage with their governing organisations e.g. public interest groups, voting, attending council meetings etc. The scope of civic participation is narrower than public participation as it generally refers to government and public sector engagement.

Community Engagement

Community engagement differs to public and citizen participation as it infers more intention and action from the organisation to reach out and engage e.g. creation of an online engagement platform, holding a community display or creating a survey. The onus is more on the organisation to initiate the interaction and to create the channels for feedback.

Does it matter which term you use?

The more important question as an organisation is ‘What is our purpose in engaging people?’

  • Are you seeking feedback on a project?
  • Are you informing on an issue?
  • Are you building a community of citizens, residents or customers who are engaged in your organisation and willing to participate in empowered decision making?

The term you select is really secondary to your objective but is it important when selecting your approach to your engagement. For some support and ideas, check out our blog – ‘Types of Community Engagement’.

To learn how essential an online engagement platform can be in your engagement toolkit, visit our demo site or book a virtual software demonstration directly with one of our team of engagement specialists.

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