CIRCLE is committed to funding research that is relevant to practice. We work with teachers, administrators, youth workers, young people, and others to set a research agenda and disseminate findings. We welcome questions and advice from practitioners.
Measuring Civic Engagement
The Education Commission of the States’ National Center for Learning and Citizenship has started a database of civics assessments. The database contains questions categorized by national civics standards that have been juried by civic learning experts for their clarity and meaningfulness in relation to the competencies of civic knowledge, skills and dispositions. These items can be used in program evaluation, as indicators in strategic plans, to spur improvement or to address policy-makers’ requests for accountability. An additional resource is CIRCLE’s Indicators of Civic Engagement The indicators were developed by a team of leading researchers to help identify different aspects of civic behavior. The indicators were developed as a part of a national study, The Civic and Political Health of the Nation: A Generational Portrait conducted by researchers at George Mason University, Rutgers University, and DePaul University. Their work was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and presented in collaboration with CIRCLE. Resources affiliated with the study include:
CIRCLE was happy to support the research of ten youth-led teams investigating different community issues around the country. To find out more about involving youth in research, visit our Youth-Led Research Resource Page.
The Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools features practice examples for high-quality, civic learning. Examples are categorized for students’ grade level and by approach.Read CIRCLE and Carnegie Corporation of New York’s report available on the Campaign for The Civic Mission of School’s Web site. Written and endorsed by a distinguished group of more than 50 scholars and practitioners, The Civic Mission of Schools summarizes the evidence in favor of k-12 civic education; analyzes trends in political & civic engagement; identifies promising approaches to civic education; and offers recommendations to educators, policymakers, funders, researchers, and others.
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Since the release of the report All Together Now: Collaboration and Innovation for Youth Engagement, CIRCLE has been in conversation with a wide range of stakeholders interested in and committed to improving the civic and political engagement opportunities and outcomes for ALL youth in the United States. This FREE and open online seminar is an effort to reach out and engage individuals and groups interested in extending the conversation about that state of youth engagement and future strategies to improve it. The seminar welcomes young people, parents, educators, policymakers, youth advocates, researchers and others to join this five-week learning community. The seminar is also designed to allow for multiple levels of participant and will have synchronous and asynchronous elements to accommodate those who need flexibility.
Introduce participants to the key findings and recommendations of the report as a means to ground our conversations in the research and provide an opportunity for participants to exchange additional information about what they have seen on the ground.
Engage a diverse set of participants in thinking and dialogue around the report that would not be possible in more geographically- or strategy-bound environments
Provide a platform for advocates, those working in the fields of civic learning and engagement, researchers, commissioners and CIRCLE staff to write, reflect and share their thinking and response to the report
Create an environment and structure that would prompt participants to adjust, design or propose strategies, actions, programming or activities that could extend the report into real world environments.
A better and deeper understanding of the research behind the report
How the research and recommendations of the report can be applied to participants’ practice
New ideas for actions and activities to support the recommendations in the report
Extended thinking about challenges, opportunities and recommendations in the report as well as provide additional information and ideas to supplement it
Information and experience exchange between groups committed to improved civic learning and engagement of youth
Researchers connect to work in the field and practitioners think about elements that they could use to evaluate the work
Creation of materials (in any format) that can be shared online (digital artifacts) for the benefit of a broader audience
In addition to providing technical assistance, CIRCLE often partners with organizations and has been proud to provide evaluation services to several groups and organizations. Examples of these include:
Bloggingheads – CIRCLE evaluated the impact of Bloggingheads videos on the viewers’ tolerance and civility, using a randomized controlled experiment. The intervention and evaluation were funded by the Omidyar Network.
Bonner Foundation – The Bonner Foundation is a network of college campuses with programs providing scholarships for low-income youth for civic engagement work. CIRCLE, in partnership with the Bonner Foundation, studied the use of technology and social media to organize and promote civic engagement work on campuses.
Bringing Theory to Practice (BTtoP)/Tufts University – CIRCLE, in collaboration with BTtoP and Tufts University, studied whether there is an interconnection between Tufts students’ civic development and psychosocial well-being.
Building Impact – CIRCLE partnered with Building Impact on the Study “Work and Service: How Building Impact’s Model Fosters Civic Engagement in the Workplace,” which studies the effects of providing individuals and companies with opportunities to donate and volunteer on sustainable participation and connection to local communities.
Center for Public Integrity – CIRCLE interviewed reporters and editors to learn about the impact of the CPI’s investigative reporting on campaign coverage in 2012. The intervention and evaluation are funded by the Omidyar Network.
CloseUp Foundation – CIRCLE conducted a formative evaluation of the DC high school program.
Columbia Journalism Review – CIRCLE evaluated efforts by the Columbia Journalism Review to influence campaign coverage in the 2012 elections. The intervention and evaluation were funded by the Omidyar Network.
Flackcheck – CIRCLE evaluated the impact of this project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, using a combination of surveys, online focus groups, and a randomized controlled experiment. The intervention and evaluation were funded by the Omidyar Network.
Healthy Democracy Fund – CIRCLE evaluated the impact of the Oregon Citizens Initiative Review process on media coverage and policymakers in other states. The intervention and evaluation are funded by the Omidyar Network.
iCivics – CIRCLE evaluated the effects of a new iCivics digital civics curriculum using a randomized, controlled experiment in Florida high schools.
Illinois Civic Mission of Schools Coalition – CIRCLE helped to design school climate assessments.
Indiana Humanities Council – CIRCLE helped to design a statewide study of the impact of the public humanities.
Junior State of America – CIRCLE evaluated the impact of Junior State of America, a national student-run organization which provides political engagement opportunities including student debates, thought talks, problem solving and simulations in high school chapters across the country.
Massachusetts Department of Education, Service-Learning Initiative – In partnership with the MA Department of Education, CIRCLE studied the effects of service-learning courses on academic achievement.
TakingITGlobal– CIRCLE, along with TakingITGlobal, studied the effects of TakingItGlobal programming on the civic engagement of its users. TakingITGlobal use the power of online community to facilitate global education, social entrepreneurship, and civic engagement for millions of youth worldwide.|
YouthBuild – CIRCLE and YouthBuild collaborated on the study entitled “Pathways into Leadership: A Study of YouthBuild Graduates.” Using participatory action research, we learned about the effects of the YouthBuild program on sustainable leadership. YouthBuild is a youth and community development program that simultaneously addresses core issues facing low-income communities: housing, education, employment, crime prevention, and leadership development.
CIRCLE is proud to work and partner with several organizations, mostly direct providers of services to youth. We are eager to understand how our research, data, and tools are used so that we can strengthen our products and their impact. Please let us know: How did YOU use CIRCLE research?
Circle and our colleagues and partners have developed and tested various measures of young adults’ “civic engagement” (including their political participation; their community service and local civic work; and their knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values). These measures are available for anyone to use without our permission. Different measures are appropriate for different ages and situation. CIRCLE staff can provide advice as needed.
Did you vote in the presidential election in 2008 (John McCain versus Barack Obama?)
Since the 2008 presidential campaign, have you done any of the following?: contacted, elected officials or the news media about any issue that was discussed during the campaign, tried to persuade freinds about an issue that was discussed during the campaign, tried to change local policies in a place like a school, workplace, college or neighborhood?
How often have you used the Internet to gather information about politics, a social issue, or a community problem?
Measures of volunteering
Since this time last year, have you done any volunteer activities through or for an organization?
Which organizations have you volunteered through or for in the last year?
Measures of community engagement
Are you a member of any nonprofit broad or committee that has a budget?
Have you allowed a relative to live in your home for a period of time because they needed a place to live?
Have you gave food or money to someone who isn’t a relative?
Have you submitted a letter or article for a magazine, newspaper or online publication?
Measures of civic knowledge
Some people seem to follow what’s going on in government and public affairs most of the time, whether there’s an election going on or not. Others aren’t that interested. How often do you follow what’s going on in government and public affairs?
Do you happen to know what job or political office is now held by Joe Biden?
Measures of social capital
Aside from weddings and funerals, how often do you attend religious services?
Would you say that most of the time people try to be helpful or are they mostly looking out for themselves?
Adolescent Development of Trust, September 2008: This working paper (#60) discusses what role trust plays among adolescents. Authors Connie Flanagan and Leslie Gallay from Penn State University developed measures of trust which were administered in the beginning of the semester, and then again at the end of the semester. These repeated measures were used in judging the role of trust in the lives of adolescents.
Democracy for Some: The Civic Opportunity Gap in High School, February 2008: This working paper (#59), written by Joseph Kahne and Ellen Middaugh studies high school civic opportunities and how demographics such as a student’s race, academic track and socioeconomic status “determines the availability of the school-based civic learning opportunity.” Their study used a survey to measure students experiences and their ability to: discuss current events, study important issues, interact with civic role models, work on service learning projects and engage in simulations.
Best Practices in Civic Education: Changes in Students’ Civic Outcomes, August 2007: This working paper (#57), written by Amy K. Syversten, Constance A. Flanagan & Michael D. Stout highlights “six promising approaches to civic education.” The teachers involved with the study used a variety of practices in their classes over the course of the Fall 2004 semester. Ultimately, these practices were aggregated to form three broader categories: Civic Skills, Civic Engagement and Awareness of Civic Issues & Concepts.
These resources were compiled previous to a youth-led research initiative in 2002-2005.
Resources for Youth-Lead Research
Youth In FocusYIF specializes in youth-led action research, evaluation, and planning. Their Web site includes a project gallery of youth-led research, links to articles, and other resources including ordering information for Youth REP: Step by Step – a guide to beginning a youth-led research project.
Handbook for Supporting Community Youth Researchers
Developed by the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities at Stanford University, this handbook includes lesson plans and sample program documents available for use. The Web site also includes links to youth-led research reports.
You don’t need to have a complete research team to begin brainstorming project ideas. But, you should have a core team with at least a few members – enough that you can discuss a variety of ideas and come to agreement on the main topic area that seems most important to you and your community. It will be harder to recruit members if all of the key decisions about the project have already been made. CIRCLE-funded research teams must include at least 5 young people under the age of 18. They may also include adult mentors.
Think about your community.
What concerns you about your community?
What would you like to change?
What have you noticed that you would like to learn more about?
What have you noticed that you think others should learn more about?
Together the core of your research team should think about these questions, and decide what your research project should be about. You may want to consult others in the community to receive feedback on your ideas.
Your topic should be important to you and to others in the community. As you consider different topics, think about who might be interested in your findings. Who could you share your findings with to help bring about change?
Formulate a key research question.
Once your core team agrees on a topic to research, think about some of the specifics. Which aspect of the topic are you most interested in? Is your topic focused enough or does it need to be narrowed down?
For example, a youth research team in Hyattsville, MD was interested in how geography related to health. They decided their question was too broad, and narrowed their focus to how moving, especially from one country to another, might affect what people eat.
Once you’ve determined your key research question, you may develop sub-questions. In the example above sub-questions were:
Did eating habits change after people moved from their home countries? Do young people who moved think their diets improved or became worse? Do their parents agree with them?
Whether or not your team develops sub-questions, your key research question should guide your project.
Choose a Research Methodology.
Now that you have a clear research question, how will you answer it?
There are many ways you can begin investigating a research question. It is up to your team to agree on the method that is the best match for your question. Do you want to know how many people in your neighborhood have lived in another country? Or, do you want to know how someone’s life changes when they move from one country to another? The methodology you choose should depend on the question you ask.
Methodologies can be quantitative, qualitative, or may use a combination of these approaches.
Quantitative methods deal with numbers; they are good for answering research questions that begin with how many or how much. If you did wonder how many people in your neighborhood lived in another country, you might want to do a survey. This would be a quantitative approach. Usually, if you use a quantitative approach, you will try to ask a few short questions to as many people as possible.
Example of quantitative methods: Surveys (can be done by phone, in-person, or as a written questionnaire)
Analyzing large data sets (for example Census Bureau data, or data collected by local government)
If your team develops survey questions or a questionnaire to distribute to a large number of people, you should frame your questions so that answers can be easily counted. In general, close-ended questions will be easier to tally up than open-ended questions. For instance, if you want to find out whether people think your neighborhood is safe you can ask this in an open ended way:
What are the things you think are safe and unsafe in your neighborhood? Describe both.
However, if you ask this question to 50 people, you might get 50 different answers. It would be easier to count up responses if you were to ask the question in a close-ended way. Here are two examples of the above question rewritten in a close-ended way:
Do you think your neighborhood is safe? ___ Yes ___ No
Do you think your neighborhood is: ___Safe at all times ___Generally safe during the day ___Safe during the day, but not safe at night ___Not safe at any time of the day or night
Qualitative methods can help you understand why or how something happens. If you were interested in how someone’s life changes while moving, you might want to interview someone who is in the process of moving or has just moved. If you had the opportunity, you might even want to observe someone as they move. Usually, if you use a qualitative method, you will focus on collecting as much information as possible from a small number of people.
Examples of qualitative methods: Interviews
Focus Groups (Focus groups are small group interviews; the researcher asks open questions and participants answer in a discussion format.)
Some methods can not be easily categorized as quantitative or qualitative. For example, a youth research team working with Youth Force in the Bronx did a study of The New York Times. They analyzed how young people were portrayed in news stories over a period of time. They counted the number of times that youth were mentioned in different kinds of stories and analyzed the language used to describe youth. In this example, their approach mixed aspects of quantitative and qualitative research.
You may decide that the best way to answer your research question is to combine more than one method. This is fine. Just make sure you have enough time and people to do all of the work.
Questions to consider when choosing a research methodology: What is my research question?
In order to answer my research question, what do I need to know?
How can I best collect this type of information?
Plan Project Details.
Project details will probably change as your project progresses. But, your team should be able to answer the following basic questions before you get started:
If you plan on collecting data from people: Who are your research participants? (ie Who are you going to survey, interview, observe etc.)
Do you need their permission in order to do the research?
Some topic areas are sensitive. Will you keep the respondents’ answers confidential?
Will you inform all respondents of how you plan on reporting your findings up front? Where will the research take place?
When will the research take place?
Which members of your research team will be involved and who will do what?
You may also have to create a data collection instrument. For example, if you are giving people a written survey, your team will have to write the questions, or find a survey that already exists. If you are planning on interviewing people, your team should come to agreement on what to ask.
Additional questions to consider when planning: How do you plan on analyzing the data once you collect it?
How will you share your findings once the research is done?
Note: If you do ask any sensitive questions make sure your team agrees on a plan for protecting the anonymity of respondents, and that respondents are comfortable with both the research project and the way you will report your findings. For more information on the ethics of research see the following Guide to Human Subjects Protection on the Web site of the National Center for Juvenile Justice. If you have any questions about making sure your research project is respectful to all involved, please email Carrie Donovan.
Outline your project budget.
Think carefully about your project. What aspects of your project require funding in order to succeed? What aspects of your project can you do without funding? There may be parts of your project that your team can accomplish without spending any money. Other aspects may require financial support, or will be strengthened if you have support. For example, you might be able to recruit youth researchers to volunteer their time for the project. But, if you suspect that homework, jobs, and other demands on their time will likely interfere, it might be worth paying researchers a stipend.
Who in the project will receive a stipend? Will youth researchers be paid a stipend?
Will adult mentors receive a stipend or will the project cover a percentage of their salaries and/or benefits?
Will any others involved in the project – including any people you may interview, observe, etc – receive a stipend or an incentive to participate?
Will your research team have to pay for meeting space? Will your research team have donated space and resources such as computers?
Does your team need to request money to cover overhead costs such as meeting space and use of computers?
(Keep in mind that a CIRCLE grant can cover some overhead costs. Overhead requests must be 10% or less of the salaries & benefits portion of your budget)
Will you need transportation at any point in your project?
Can all researchers make it to your meeting place?
Will you need transportation for any other participants in the project – including anyone you may interview, survey etc?
Will you need funding for any special events?
Will your project have any large meetings, focus groups, kick-off events, community meetings etc? If so, consider the items you will need for these events including: food, beverages, room rentals, presentation materials, photocopies etc.
Do you need funding for photocopies, materials, and supplies?
Will you need materials for research team meetings?
What materials will you need in the field when you are conducting your research? Will you need to photocopy surveys or guidelines for researchers?
Will you need tape recorders and cassettes?
Will you need materials for video recording at any point?
Will you need funding for any products/events to disseminate your findings?
How do you plan on packaging your findings? (Once you complete your project, does your team want to produce a c.d., a video, a report, a presentation, or something else?
Do you plan on having any events to share your findings?
Do you plan on producing and copying a final report?
Will you need postage for mailing out findings?
Youth-Led Research Grantees
In 2003-2004, CIRCLE was happy to announce the winners of our youth-led community research grant competition sponsored by the Cricket Island Foundation. We received nearly 300 project proposals from teams doing amazing work around the country. We were proud to support the youth-led teams below:
East Point Youth Action Team, Fulton County, GA What disparities and inequalities exist between schools in the Northern and Southern regions of Fulton County, GA?
Summer Enrichment Program, Greencastle, IN What is the extent of hunger among children in our community during summer? Teen Leadership Inst. at the Penn Center, St. Helena Island, SC How many African Americans on the island have lost land in recent years and what are the stories behind their landloss? TINCAN, Spokane, WA Why have some teens chosen to have babies and how did their lives change once they did?
Wisconsin Rural Challenge; Hollandale, WI
Youth research teams, in collaboration with 9 rural communities in Wisconsin, will investigate reasons young adults leave, and will research possible effects of place-based civic education.
Find all of our data and analysis about youth voting in the 2016 presidential election—from the primaries all the way to November. We provide exclusive estimates of youth voter turnout and the most up-to-date numbers on youth share and youth vote choice. The Election Center also includes data maps, important media narratives, and other resources for understanding and contextualizing young people's political participation.