Individual and Social Implication in Civic Engagement. A Multicase Study on School-Community Partnership

23-25 Agosto 2022 - Yerevan (Armenia) ECER 2022
Francesca Rapanà, Marcella Milana, Marialuisa Damini, Università di Verona

This contribution focuses attention on school-community collaborations that promote Civic Engagement (CE), and explores how teachers, community educators conceptualize and practice CE at individual, interpersonal and/or social levels through these collaborations.

Previous research has shown, schools play an important role in promoting CE (Youniss, 2011; Zaff, Youniss, and Gibson, 2009; Gimpel, Lay, & Schuknecht, 2003; Kahne & Middaugh, 2009).

But civic knowledge, although important, is not enough to enable students to fully act as citizens, thus CE requires building a relationship with the community (at both local and global levels), through which students can gain firsthand experience as citizens. Moreover, schools are embedded in a geographically defined territory (neighborhood or city) but also interact with the territory in a broader sense (national, European or global context). For this reason, it is important for schools to build and maintain an open dialog and fruitful collaboration with communities at different levels that can enhance global learning and help teachers and educators maximizing the impact of content for the benefit of students (Hambidge, Minocha & Hristov, 2019).

Although CE has many different definitions and embraces a wide range of interventions in education, it commonly refers to practices and attitudes that sustain the quality of democracy in a society, based on the citizens’ participation in political and social life (Banyan, 2013; Milana, 2020). Accordingly, in our perspective there are three core aspects that characterizes CE. First, CE involves looking outwards, beyond the sphere of one’s own needs or those of one’s loved ones (Amnå 2012). Second, CE can be expressed through action exercised in a space of deliberation and autonomy by citizens capable of making informed choices (Amnå 2012). Third, CE has to do with promoting social change (Adler, Goggin, 2005) in the direction of greater equity that allows individuals to cultivate their potential and communities to empower themselves (Amnå, 2012). Along this line of reasoning, the relation people hold with the community, whether understood as a place of territorial or residential proximity, a cultural or social space of belonging, or the broader supranational or global sphere, represents the relational context in which CE takes shape.

Against this backdrop, schools play a central role in promoting CE as well as in contrasting civic disengagement, that is the disaffection on the part of individuals to the community in which they live. But, schools can also “widen” this role with a glance to issues that can involve global problems. In this sense, CE seems to be part of a tension between local and global learning and action.

Based on Amnå (2012), we identify three levels of CE learning (individual, interpersonal, social) that call for a move from the individual towards to social for a full development of CE. In other words, from an educational viewpoint, the local and global dimensions trace a path from developing individual knowledge to being directly engaged with significant others, and then to assuming civic responsibilities in the broader society. In this way, the “global” dimension of CE necessitates the preliminary more “local” one, which implies individual and interpersonal learning. Therefore, the terms “local” and “global” no longer appear to be opposites, but both contribute to make the definition of CE (and the necessary learning) broader and more complex.


Epistemologically our research follows a constructionist framework (Crotty, 1998), that combines the interest for the subjective construction of meaning with a realist ontological position. This perspective reminds of the high value of every voice in doing research on human phenomena in specific contexts.

Methodologically, we adopted a multi-case design, aimed at developing individual cases to explore a single social phenomenon (Stake, 2006), which included seven case studies in as many schools, i.e. two primary and middle schools, two high schools, two vocational training centers and state school for adults. All the schools are in the same city in Northern Italy. In total, over the period July 2020-June 2021, 32 semi-structured interviews have been collected with principals and teachers and 27 with community educators with whom schools carry out collaborative learning activities aimed at civic engagement enhancement. In addition, 14 group interviews were conducted with students. Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, collaborative learning activities were interrupted, so it was not possible to carry out observations of these activities as originally planned.

All interviews have been transcribed and coded using N-Vivo by at least two researchers (Charmaz, 2014; Saldaña, 2013). The case studies have been analyzed both individually (within case analysis) and following a comparative perspective (cross-case analysis).

The fieldwork had been preceded by a systematic review (Rapanà, Milana, Marzoli, 2021) that outlined different pedagogical approaches and practices implemented to foster students’ civic engagement through school-community collaborations


Expected outcomes

Through the data collected, we explored the different ways in which participants interpret the meaning of CE and the relationship with the learning activities implemented through school-community collaboration. A model emerged in which different elements are related, namely the idea of citizen that is to be promoted in teachers’ representations, the type of educational action that supports it, the self-perception of the roles of the school and of the community, the needs of the students and the prerequisites necessary for the exercise of CE.

What emerges is a continuity and progression between the local level of CE learning (Boggs, 1991), more related to individual prerequisites, and the global level, more related to civic action in a social context, which does not place them in opposition, but facilitates authentic participation, which is not merely adaptation to a model proposed by others.



Adler, R. P., & Goggin, J. (2005). What Do We Mean By “Civic Engagement”? Journal of Transformative Education, 3(3), pp. 236–253.

Amnå E. (2012). How is civic engagement developed over time? Emerging answers from a multidisciplinary field. Journal of Adolescence, 35(3), pp. 611-27

Banyan, M. E. (2013). Civic engagement. In Encyclopædia Britannica.

Boggs, D. L. (1991). Adult Civic Education. Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas.

Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing Grounded Theory. Los Angeles: Sage.

Crotty M. (1998). The foundations of social research: meaning and perspective in the research process. London: Sage.

Hambidge S, Minocha S, Hristov D. Connecting Local to Global: A Case Study of Public Engagement. Education Sciences. 2019; 9(1):31.

James G., Gimpel J.G., Lay J.C., Schuknecht J.L. (2003). Cultivating Democracy Civic Environments and Political Socialization in America. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press.

Kahne, Joseph & Middaugh, Ellen. (2009). Democracy for some: The civic opportunity gap in high school. Circle Working Paper 59. Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE).

Milana, M. (2020). Impegno civico-sociale. In M. Milana & P. Perillo (Eds.) RE-SERVES project: Glossary.

Saldaña, J. (2013). The Coding Manual for Qualitative Research. London: Sage

Stake, R.E. (2006). Multiple Case Study Analysis. NY-London: The Guilford Press.

Valli, L., Stefanski, A., & Jacobson, R. (2016). Typologizing School–Community Partnerships: A Framework for Analysis and Action. Urban Education, 51(7), pp. 719-747.

Youniss, J. (2011) Civic Education: What Schools Can Do to Encourage Civic Identity and Action, Applied Developmental Science, 15:2, 98-103.

Zaff, J., Youniss, J., & Gibson, C. (2009). An Inequitable Invitation to Citizenship: Non-College-Bound Youth and Civic Engagement. Washington DC: Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement