BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Brad Fulton and Matthew Baggetta, both associate professors at the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, have been awarded a $437,495 grant from AmeriCorps to continue their Observing Civic Engagement project.
The project began in 2020 and focuses on the roles of civil society organizations in shaping the civic infrastructure of communities, as well as the organizations’ ability to promote civic engagement among members. AmeriCorps, a U.S. federal government agency that engages Americans in service programs, also supported the project’s research effort last year.
“We aim to increase our sample of participating organizations to 30 Bloomington nonprofits,” Fulton said. “Over this next year, we plan to observe approximately 500 of their convenings. The data we collect will help us better understand how the internal dynamics of nonprofit organizations relate to their effectiveness in strengthening civic infrastructure, promoting social cohesion, and increasing civic engagement.”
The latest grant will play a significant role in advancing the project as well as provide funding for project manager and Ph.D. candidate Julie Beasley and more than a dozen student research assistants.
“This year, we’re doing a lot of data collection,” Baggetta said. “The data collected this year will provide the foundation for all the analyses we’ll do in the future. Our first preliminary analysis suggests that there are a surprising number of meetings and events where substantial proportions of the participants—upwards of a quarter of the people in attendance—do not interact with anyone while they’re there. It’s surprising given that these are people who joined an organization and went to a meeting. There’s lots of work left to do on this, but it might say something about how some meetings and events are run and how organizers might want to think differently about how they do what they do.”
Fulton and Baggetta are in the process of hiring additional RAs and training them before they are sent out into the community to collect data. They are also analyzing the data and will be presenting preliminary findings from the research at upcoming academic conferences.
The Observing Civic Engagement project is the first large-scale trial of the systemic social observation approach to examining how being involved with civil society organizations can positively or negatively affect individuals, communities, and society.