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Local & State

Civic engagement and social duty focus of Charlotte partnership
Local involvement part of study, session
Published Thursday, June 1, 2017 6:41 pm
by Herbert L. White

Local civic engagement among interested but inactive residents is the focus of a feedback session June 5 at Grier Heights Community Center.

How much interest do you have in civic duty?

A partnership between UNC Charlotte, Johnson C. Smith University and the Knight Foundation and Google is exploring Charlotte’s civic landscape, especially among people who aren’t actively engaged. They’re hosting a feedback session June 5 at Grier Heights Community Center, 3100 Leroy St., from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

The session is focused primarily on interested bystanders, defined as people who aren’t active in civic engagement. UNCC and JCSU have conducted research since September and will share their findings with community leaders. A series of community forums will be held later in the summer.

“We’ve been collecting data for about a year, so what we’d like to do is get some feedback and let people think about it, what they’d like us to look deeper into,” said Diane Gavarkavich, director of research services at UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute. “We’re going to present some of the main data, some of the main research questions and see what’s surprising to you, what you’d want to know more about, how can this information allow more engagement of people who are termed interested bystanders so people who are paying attention but not necessarily acting.”

National research conducted by Google in 2014 found that 48.9 percent of American adults could be considered “interested bystanders,” or people who pay attention to issues around them but don’t voice an opinion or take action. The study also found they don’t take the political action they say they value – in part because they associate it with conflict, shame or negative experiences.

The Charlotte survey asked open-ended questions about what people were paying attention to and if they voted for a particular candidate or because of an issue. Specific queries regarding hot-button issues such as the Keith Scott shooting, HB2 and the presidential campaign were not included. In the Google survey, interested bystanders were more inclined to believe they have more power on a local level despite voting more in national races.

“The goal is to see how that’s different on a local level,” Gavarkavich said. “When we started this conversation, we couldn’t have imaged all the things that happened in Charlotte specifically and in the state of North Carolina and nationally, so obviously, it’s been a unique year. We’re looking more forward instead of asking straight political questions. We’re asking more like how they’re engaging, not necessarily specific questions how they’re engaging, because there are a lot of options.”


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