Civic Engagement & Service Media Icon

As an international leader in research on civic engagement and service, the center seeks 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, in 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. A long-term perspective to global demographic changes suggests 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.

Productive Aging

The world is in the midst of a demographic revolution. Globally, those age 60 and above will comprise 13.6 percent of the population by 2020 and 22.1 percent of the population by 2050. In the United States, these numbers will be even higher. As the aging population grows in the U.S. and around the world, it will be necessary to develop policy and programs that support active engagement in later life.

In its work on productive aging, CSD seeks to advance national and international research and policy innovation to actively involve older adults in employment, volunteering, caregiving, education and other productive activities. The imperative to change policies and expectations about aging in America is based on evidence that ongoing productive engagement produces positive outcomes for older adults, their families, communities and society as a whole.

“Advance long and productive lives” is one of the 12 Grand Challenges for Social Work.

International Service

International service is defined as service across borders. In an era of increasing globalization, international service may have significant potential to contribute to international peace, cooperation and development. The Center for Social Development’s research explores how to create avenues for participation in international service and to ensure that it provides meaningful and long-lasting value to both sending and hosting communities. 

The Center has collaborated with the Brookings Institution to further a global research agenda on international service, and with Duke University on the role of higher education in international service learning (summit on International Service Learning at Duke University, 2015).

Community and National Service

Research suggests that community engagement and nonmilitary (or post-military) national service may have great potential to foster civic engagement and employability. In some cases, national service may provide employment for underemployed youth and may be a career path, especially for disadvantaged youth. In addition, it may be used to bring people from different groups together to promote understanding, tolerance and cooperation.