Civic Efficacy and Community Empowerment

Efficacy, empowerment, and agency are similar terms, but one or the other tends to be used by certain programs or individuals to indicate a belief by an individual that he or she can make a difference.  In the civic arena, these terms indicate an individual’s sense that he/she can understand and influence politics.  In the community, the terms indicate a sense of confidence in skills to make the community better or address social problems. 

This belief in an ability to make a difference is frequently a precursor to participation in civic and community efforts to make change. Some youth, however, have the opposite experience.  They are only able to imagine their potential to make change after they have participated in engagement activities and have seen the results (Ginwright & Cammarota, 2002; Schwartz & Suyemoto, 2012).  For these youth engagement leads to a greater belief in themselves which, “in turn, engendered other positive outcomes, including broader changes in self-concept related to an increased sense of connection and civic responsibility” (Schwartz & Suyemoto, 2012, p. 12).
Skills that help youth believe in their ability to make change include critical thinking/decision-making regarding civic and community issues, the ability to reflect on the perspectives of others, learning to participate in groups, communicating with others (including those who may be different from you), and conflict resolution.

By Urban Institute



Sources Cited

Chi, B., Jastrzab, J., & Melchior, A. (2006). Developing Indicators and Measures of Civic Outcomes for Elementary School Students. Working Paper #47. The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).

Ginwright, S. & Cammarota, J. (2002). New terrain in youth development: The promise of a social justice approach. Social Justice, 29(4), 82-95.

Price, C., Williams, J., Simpson, L., Jastrzab, J., and Markovitz, C. (2011). National Evaluation of Youth Corps: Findings at Follow-up. Prepared for the Corporation for National and Community Service. Cambridge, MA: Abt Associates Inc.

Portney, K. E., & Berry, J. M. (2007). Neighborhoods, Neighborhood Associations, and Social Capitol. In S. Ostrander & K. Portney (Eds.), Acting Civically: From Urban Neighborhoods to Higher Education (pp. 21-43). Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England.

Schwartz, S. & Suyemoto, K. (2012). Creating change from the inside: Youth development within a youth community organizing program. Journal of Community Psychology, 00:00, 1-18.


Additional Resources

Alliance for Children and Families, Civic Engagement Initiatives

Everyday Democracy: Ideas and Tools for Community Change

Innovation Center for Community and Youth Development, Research and Toolkits for Youth Engagement