What is Community Engagement?

It is important to begin by gaining clarity on what we mean by “community” and “engagement.” Defining these terms is complex and often dependent on the context and the people involved.

From this, we may say that to community engagement is to involve, interact, or work actively with a group of people with a set of common characteristics, interests, or history, and/or people living together in a particular area. However, similar to the concept of a sustainable community, the term ’engagement’ can have different definitions depending on the sector/discipline, service, or communities with whom you are engaging.

Community engagement according to the Centre for Disease Control

For example, the Center for Disease Control’s public health agencies focus on promoting health and well-being. They define community engagement as…

“the process of working collaboratively with and through groups of people affiliated by geographic proximity, special interest, or similar situations to address issues affecting the well-being of those people. It is a powerful vehicle for bringing about environmental and behavioral changes that will improve the health of the community and its members. It often involves partnerships and coalitions that help mobilize resources and influence systems, change relationships among partners, and serve as catalysts for changing policies, programs, and practices” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 1997, p. 9).

Community engagement according to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a philanthropic organization devoted educational initiatives, defines “community engagement” through the lens of higher education with an emphasis on exchanging knowledge and developing educated, engaged citizens. They define community engagement as…

“collaboration between institutions of higher education and their larger communities (local, regional/state, national, global) for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity” (2020, p. 1).



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Building Sustainable Communities: The Impact of Engagement Copyright © 2022 by Ryan Plummer; Amanda Smits; Samantha Witkowski; Bridget McGlynn; Derek Armitage; Ella-Kari Muhl; and Jodi Johnston is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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