Driven by data, Pact builds civic engagement for stronger democracies


Driven by data, Pact builds civic engagement for stronger democracies

Lauren Serpe, Mason Ingram · September 9, 2021
Driven by data, Pact builds civic engagement for stronger democracies Participants in the CEADZ Women's Leadership Program. (Credit: Pact)

Across the world, the ability of citizens and communities to address urgent, wide-ranging social and economic challenges depends on their civic knowledge and willingness and power to take part in civic action. Despite the importance of civic engagement – a bedrock of democracy – non-voting forms of political participation remain critically low across many country and regional contexts. This is why Pact partners with local civil society organizations (CSOs) and individual activists to increase civic awareness and, ultimately, to expand participation in formal and informal political processes. And in order to most effectively design and implement targeted, effective programming, we have made formative and evaluative data collection processes central to our approach.

Two countries where Pact has a long history promoting participatory, evidence-based civic literacy and democratic participation include Zimbabwe and Ukraine.

Depending on the context, Pact focuses on various facets of civic engagement. In Colombia, Cambodia and Somalia, for example, we work with migrant communities, young women entrepreneurs and local peace activists to understand their rights, engage in decision-making processes and advocate for the interests and needs of their local communities.

Two countries where Pact has a long history promoting participatory, evidence-based civic literacy and democratic participation include Zimbabwe and Ukraine. In Zimbabwe, Pact has worked for two decades with local CSOs and activists to foster civic engagement at the hyper-local level up to the national level. Under Pact’s current USAID-funded Citizen Engagement for Accountability and Democracy in Zimbabwe (CEADZ) program, Pact focuses on engaging youth and women in civic life.

In Ukraine, Pact has worked for 13 years to foster government accountability and transparency and civic engagement at the national, regional and local levels. Our current USAID-funded Enhance Non-Governmental Actors and Grassroots Engagement (ENGAGE) Activity in Ukraine focuses on increasing civic education, improving the capacity of civil society organizations, fostering inclusion of marginalized groups and ensuring the sustainability of civic engagement.

In Zimbabwe, and Ukraine, Pact has crafted civic education interventions and achieved outcomes by paying close attention to existing levels of actual civic knowledge and citizen perceptions. When available data is insufficient, our projects conduct their own research. For example, Pact has used periodic public opinion polling to develop a granular understanding of civic deficits and sentiments related to public opinions. These and other research products allowed Pact to target knowledge and practice areas.

In Zimbabwe, this has meant helping local partners to address specific gaps in constitutional knowledge, such as the widespread lack of knowledge about the Bill of Rights and limited knowledge about women’s rights, through public education campaigns. In Ukraine, we are using opinion data to track changes in the knowledge and practices of cohorts of citizens most impacted by project interventions.

Below are three examples of Pact-supported public opinion research. These research studies may serve as useful references for those interested in civic knowledge and public perceptions in Zimbabwe and Ukraine. These products also represent the types of public opinion research related to civic and constitutional knowledge and practices that can be conducted by development projects elsewhere.

  • The Civic Engagement and Constitutional Rights Literacy Survey conducted by the CEADZ program in 2018 reviewed public knowledge, norms and practices related to more than 60 topical areas, including knowledge of the Constitution, familiarity with key devolution processes and trust in public institutions. The survey found key gaps in civic knowledge related to key public institutions, with significant regional variation in terms of basic knowledge. The survey also provided granular information related to where citizens access civic information.

  • The Civic Awareness, Engagement, and Literacy in Ukraine: Trends and Lessons, 2017-21 conveys multi-year trends from three rounds of the ENGAGE program’s “Civic Literacy Test,” a comprehensive public survey examining the civic knowledge, practices, and opinions of Ukrainians. The analysis uncovers divergent trends, such as expanded levels of civic awareness combined with lower rates of civic participation in key areas. Survey data suggests that effective civic literacy is a product of awareness, engagement and, importantly, motivation.

  • The Impact of Civic Awareness, Engagement, and Motivation on Civic Literacy in Ukraine reviews the effect of ENGAGE project interventions on the civic literacy of participants. The study reviews ENGAGE’s “awareness, engagement, motivation” model and finds that participation in project interventions is correlated with increased rates of civic participation. Notably, the study finds that civic engagement is driven by individual factors, including personal ambitions, trust in civic leaders and the absence of negative consequences for activism. The study may be interesting to practitioners wrestling with how to capture the impact of civic education programming in terms of knowledge and practice.

This kind of local research and data, along with our experience building civic engagement in a range of contexts, has helped citizens to take effective action. In Zimbabwe, we have empowered more than 2,100 women and youth to step into elected offices. We have supported 142,000 citizens to directly participate in more than 1,200 civic initiatives, from improving municipal-level service delivery to the passage of the country’s Freedom of Information Act. In Ukraine, we have engaged more than 5.5 million citizens through online civic literacy campaigns and launched a formal civic education curriculum for 10th grade students across all Ukraine’s secondary schools. We have supported 25 networks and coalitions of national and sub-national CSOs to engage citizens in democratic reform, leading to 90 policy changes in education, health, government transparency and accountability, procurement of public services, environmental protection, anti-corruption, and decentralization.


Stay updated. subscribe now.