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civic engagement community engagement engagement identity perceptions strategic thinking student engagement systems change Theory youth engagement

A Spectrum of Engagement

There are places throughout our communities that engage us as people in things outside of ourselves that are larger than ourselves. Then there are other things people do that deeply engage us within ourselves. In popular culture that seems to pull us into those extremes constantly without attention to balancing our interests, it can be important to acknowledge that there are different positions for different activities throughout our lives.

Envisioning Our Connections

One day a comrade and I were talking about different ways folks engage throughout their lives when I had an epiphany about how to illustrate this dynamic between self-oriented engagement and socially-oriented engagement.

Adam Fletcher's Spectrum of Engagement
The Spectrum of Engagement shows the relationship of personal engagement and community engagement to universal engagement. © 2020 Adam Fletcher, all rights reserved. Permission is granted to use this for nonprofit educational purposes only.

Rather than draw it on a static spectrum I saw the necessity of demonstrating the breadth of value different activities can have towards their given ends. Quickly brainstorming some possibilities, I acknowledged the following patterns emerge in my own work.

  • Different types of engagement activities affect different people in different ways.
  • The broadest measurement for success in engaging people is how closely they fit a given definition of engagement.
  • Engagement is the sustained connection a person feels with something inside or outside of themselves. This definition makes no value judgment about different perspectives and outcomes of engagement; instead, it positions engagement as a non-linear phenomenon both within and outside of a person.

Brainstorming Activities

For the purpose of measuring the efficacy of an activity in relationship to this definition, in a workshop participants would brainstorm a variety of activities that engage people within themselves and in their own lives, and activities that engage people outside of themselves and throughout their whole communities.

Personal engagement (or self) happens when activities engage a person within themselves. This could include exercise, listening to music, studying, meditation, and reading.

Community engagement (or social) activities engage a person throughout their larger world. They may include reading the newspaper, eating dinner with your family, volunteering at an animal shelter, sitting on a nonprofit board of directors, volunteering for a play, and so forth.

Charting Engagement

When people brainstorm these lists, it can be useful to be as specific as possible.

Spectrum of Engagement
This is the Spectrum of Engagement. Copyright 2014 Adam Fletcher, all rights reserved.

The essential part of this activity happens next:

  • Have a brief conversation comparing what they’ve found in their own identifying of activities.
  • Then chart actions on the following diagram. On this diagram, activities with the most impact on an individual (personal engagement) would be charted at the extreme left of the spectrum; while the activities we do solely for others (community engagement) would be on the right. Activities that mutually benefit both ourselves and others would be in the middle (universal engagement).

When completed, participants should have a wide array of activities represented on their Spectrum of Engagement, acknowledging the depth and breadth of engagement activities that are happening throughout a given community.

Let me know what you think!

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By Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker, writer, trainer, researcher and advocate who researches, writes and shares about education, youth, and history.

2 replies on “A Spectrum of Engagement”

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