Evaluation and The New Civics Initiative

Susan Dauber
Colin Ong-Dean
Lauren Jones Young

In the initial years of The New Civics initiative, a key aim is the recruitment and support of high quality work on civic action, the quality of those actions, and the opportunities afforded to young people to learn and act. To help the Spencer Foundation track its progress on the civic action focus of research studies, we commissioned three papers to describe the current state of the field. The first of these reports was produced by E.J. Glennie and P.J. Green at RTI International in 2009, providing a snapshot of the field in the prior two years. The review included peer-reviewed articles in multiple academic disciplines selected according to criteria aimed at capturing the current status of research and analysis on “civic action.” The synopsis describes the methodological, disciplinary, and topical approaches employed in research about civic action among children and young adults. Of the factors highlighted in the review, we were particularly struck by two phenomena: (1) Most of these studies focus on adolescents and young adults; very little research has taken a longitudinal approach to examining predictors occurring in early and middle childhood that influence subsequent civic action; and (2) few studies specifically examine the differential experiences of young people based on their group membership.

To complement this review of the field and to help us gauge the development and prominence over time of ideas targeted by the Initiative, we invited papers from Constance Flanagan, a developmental psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Elizabeth Beaumont, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota who looks at higher education. Each was asked to review the studies identified by [RTI International] and to comment on whether this set of readings captured their sense of the current landscape of civic learning and civic action research in k-12 (Flanagan) and higher education (Beaumont) settings. In addition, we asked the authors to review the literature with respect to Initiative themes and to focus on key questions addressed and what theoretical perspectives are represented or dominate. The papers that follow provide a snapshot of the field along these key themes.