More than half of Oregonians with school-age children say that work and family life are one of the top four things that keep them from being more civically engaged (54%) as compared to 38% of Oregonians overall. These findings come from a July 9-14, 2021 statewide survey of Oregonians’ values and beliefs, conducted by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center. This survey specifically included questions elevated by Our Children Oregon to better understand what barriers to local and state-wide civic engagement Oregonians face and how they feel these barriers could be reduced or eliminated.
Civic engagement builds networks of engaged residents using their voices, knowledge, and energy in support of positive change through activities like voting, tending a plot at a community garden, signing and then sharing a petition, issue activism, checking in on elders, or volunteering with local organizations. While work and family priorities top the list for Oregonians with children as a barrier to civic engagement, other top reasons identified included a lack of trust in the public process (39%), being too limited on time (38%), and not knowing how to get involved (26%).
Top Barriers to Civic Engagement
Oregonians with children offered up a variety of solutions to break these engagement barriers down, leading to three primary action steps towards an Oregon where more families are engaged and invested in the civic process.
1. Ensure civic engagement works for working families
Have you ever wanted to do something, went to do it, and hit a roadblock before you even began? Now imagine that thing was becoming civically involved. When opportunities for engagement are not sensitive to the schedules and competing demands of working families, communities lose out.
Virtual options, named among the suggested ideas, expanded over the last year as COVID-19 protocols moved many things online. This was true, for instance, in the case of the Oregon Legislature, which conducted the entirety of the 2021 Legislative Session online. The activities of the legislature largely happened during a 9-5 workday, as is true for many public hearings, and can consequently limit the diversity of voices heard to those with the flexibility to jump onto mid-day meetings.
It’s also important to note that while virtual options for engagement may resolve barriers for some, such as child care and transportation constraints, they can also introduce challenges for others with technology barriers or those with additional access needs.
As Oregon begins shifting back towards more in-person events, there is an opportunity to rethink both the where and the when for civic engagement events. Both flexibility and a variety of pathways are essential to ensure that interested working families have the options they need to get involved.
2. Provide accessible and welcoming pathways to civic engagement
Prioritization of a robust civic education curriculum in our K-12 schools remains a long-term objective for many. However, in the near-term organizations, governments, and elected officials can commit to regularly providing families with accessible, plain-language information. When mindful of format, access, and language needs, this approach can ease the knowledge burden that may sometimes feel necessary for civic participation.
Educational materials are often helpful, such as providing background on an issue, outlining the responsibilities and obligations of our elected officials, or explaining the purpose of organized activities and meetings. And, while many issues are necessarily complex and need more than a few short paragraphs to explain, the goal of these “easy” resources is to reduce barriers and welcome more voices to the table—to open doors to deeper civic engagement through question-asking and curiosity.
3. Develop civic engagement opportunities that include the whole family
Including children in civic engagement activities may seem like an obvious solution to increasing civic participation among families, yet this barrier to involvement remains very real for Oregonians with children. The benefits of creating more inclusive opportunities for children and their families not only will reduce this barrier for the caregiver, but additionally offers lasting impacts for the children too. Research links civic involvement among children and youth to positive academic performance, improved social-emotional well-being, and increased economic mobility.
Direct involvement with civic opportunities may be more limited among babies and small children, yet there are still concrete ways to support participation among families, including providing child care or age-appropriate play-based activities.
Civic engagement opportunities can and should be family-friendly. By reimagining old approaches and dreaming up inclusive new ones, families from all backgrounds can experience full civic participation.
When Oregonians show up in civic spaces on behalf of their communities, at both the local and state level, decisions are made and changes are sought that reflect the values and unique needs of those communities. However, 75% of Oregonians report experiencing barriers to civic engagement, while this rate increases to 80% among Oregonians with children. These figures reflect a greater issue of democratic relevance—when families feel unable or unwilling to participate in the public process, their specific needs and perspectives are not fully represented in advocacy and policy spaces, and priorities are often placed elsewhere.
Our communities have deep knowledge in addressing not only these identified challenges but also other known challenges to participation born from historic oppression and language and socioeconomic barriers. These three action steps, informed by these voices of Oregonians with children, are just the start to building greater civic engagement among families:
- Ensuring civic engagement opportunities work for working families
- Resourcing families with fast, helpful resources that invite participation
- Crafting civic engagement opportunities inclusive of the whole family
This fall, Our Children Oregon launched a statewide engagement opportunity, the All Children Thrive (ACT) Collective. ACT aims to actively, responsively, and creatively engage families, alongside committed organizations and advocates, in civic engagement opportunities to improve child well-being in Oregon. Individuals and organizations are invited to join this ongoing program committed to promoting greater civic engagement and education around advocacy. Together, we can create an Oregon where all children, of all backgrounds and identities, can thrive in their homes, schools, and communities.
From July 9-14, 2021, the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center (OVBC) conducted a statewide survey of Oregonians’ values and beliefs. The online survey consisted of 1,464 Oregon residents ages 18+ and took approximately 15 minutes to complete. This survey’s margin of error, for the full sample, ranges from ±1.5% to ±2.6% depending on how the response category percentages split for any given question. Due to rounding, numbers may not add up to 100%.
Survey respondents were asked the following: “For the purposes of this survey, civic engagement is defined as being actively involved and present in one’s local and state-wide community. What barriers to civic engagement do you experience? Of the barriers you identified, please describe how you feel these barriers can be reduced/eliminated?”
The Oregon Values and Beliefs Center is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization committed to the highest level of public opinion research. In order to provide this research to organizations like Our Children Oregon, OVBC is building a large research panel of Oregonians to ensure that all voices are represented in conversations about important issues in our state. All Oregonians are invited to join, and panelists earn points for their participation, which can be redeemed for cash or donated to a charity. To learn more visit https://bit.ly/