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Understanding Our Perceptions of Civic Language

Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement released their new report last month, The Civic Language Perceptions Project, which explores the different perceptions of how “civic work” language is used. The initial sentence in the summary states the importance of this work succinctly, “when your work is as grand and complex as democracy—and as dependent on shared understanding and participation—language and effective communication are critical”. We encourage folks to read about the project below and find the original version of this information on the PACE site here.


Language Perceptions Project

In late 2018, PACE undertook a research effort to better understand the perceptions of language our field uses to describe civic engagement and democracy work. In other words, when we say “civic engagement” or “democracy” or “patriotism,” “activism,” or “justice” to most Americans, what do they hear?  And what does it mean to them?

The exploration took shape in both qualitative and quantitative research methods. Our research team included Topos Partnership, communications experts who led a series of focus groups to delve into these words and phrases, and Dr. Parissa Ballard, a researcher at Wake Forest School of Medicine, who developed and distributed a detailed online survey. Both approaches elicited feedback from a diverse and nationally representative sample of participants. It was limited in size and scope, but we hope may illuminate possibilities for additional exploration. (To learn more about the inspiration for our exploration, view a high-level summary.)

The research illuminated a great deal about Americans’ relationship to civic language. Click here for the summary report from PACE, highlighting what we heard.

This summary was drawn from comprehensive memos from our research teams, detailing results from both focus group conversations and survey data:

A central goal of this effort was to spark conversation—both about what we heard, and how the findings might inform the work of practitioners.  Below are two resources that can serve to guide discussions:

This project was made possible with collaboration and/or support from the Foundation for Harmony and Prosperity, Kettering Foundation, Fetzer Institute, Ford Foundation, the National Conference on Citizenship, and the Pritzker Innovation Fund. We also acknowledge the contributions of the working group that provided insight and guidance that was invaluable to the conceptualization and execution of this project.

You can find the original version of this announcement on the PACE site at www.pacefunders.org/language/.

Keiva Hummel
Keiva Hummel serves as NCDD’s Communications Coordinator. She graduated cum laude from San Francisco State University with a B.A. in Communication Studies, Minor in Global Peace, Human Rights and Justice Studies, and a Certificate in Conflict Resolution Studies.

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