Civic Engagement and Service

As one of the international leaders in research in civic engagement and service, the Center for Social Development's initiatives seek to understand, inform, test and expand opportunities for civic engagement and service worldwide.

At CSD, civic engagement is defined as social action that makes a difference at a local, national, or international level. Building houses for Habitat for Humanity, serving on an association’s board, and voting are all examples of civic engagement. The center's research on civic engagement concentrates on inclusive participation in voting. CSD uses its expertise to assess and test practical innovations that remove barriers to voting and enhance voter participation.

Civic service is a particular type of civic engagement, defined as formal volunteering in a structured program. (The Peace Corps and AmeriCorps are well-known examples of civic service programs.) Civic service can be viewed across the life course. A young person today may be involved in a service-learning program during secondary school, an international service experience in college, and in national service following college graduation. This person may then focus on career and family, returning to service in later adulthood and in retirement. Applying a long-term perspective to global demographic changes, it is likely that older adults will be an important vehicle for social change through service programs. In this view, a lifelong ethic and practice of service may become common. ​

The center's research on service across the life course concentrates on community and national service, international service, and productive aging. 

  • Our research on community and national service​ investigates the potential to foster civic engagement and employability.
  • In our work on international service​, CSD assesses trends and recent growth, conducts impact research on both servers and beneficiaries, and develops best practices. 
  • Our research on productive aging ​examines the roles service by older adults play in social and economic development, citizenship, and skill development.

In addition, CSD has built research capacity worldwide through its Civic Service Research Fellows program that provided funding and training to a network of scholars and researchers representing over 17 countries.