Why I picked it up: I'm interested in why some people are connected to their community, and others are not so much. Does connection to community correlate with engagement with the broader world? Why might that matter? And how might museums help? I didn't expect this report to answer all of these questions, but instead shed some light from a very reputable source (I love the Pew Research Center, BTW).
What you need to know: Those who engage with their community more are also more likely to consume local news and more likely to vote. Or, in my words, the "do mores do more." The big concern I see coming out of this data, as well as my own and that of other sources, is that only a relatively small percentage of people are truly engaged with their community and/or broader world. Which means a rather big chunk of Americans have little or no external engagement or connection. That has some pretty big societal ramifications.
Implications for museums: This report doesn't mention museums, but based on my data (findings I am in the process of releasing over on The Data Museum blog), I think it is safe to assume a correlation between a high engagement with community and museum-going. The larger questions, however, are: how can museums help boost citizen engagement with community and the broader world; how may museum methodologies be particularly effective at this; and why does broader engagement matter in the first place?
Read or skip? Skip. It is a high-quality research project and a go-to report. But you get the gist of it from this review. The only exception might be if a museum was seeking a specific collaboration with a local media organization or if a grantwriter needed solid data points for a relevant community proposal (though it still would be of limited use since it does not include museum data).
The Nitty-Gritty (for those interested, my page-by-page commentary):
P. 3 - Starts off with some clear statements, noting that the civically engaged "play a key role in civic life" and are "more likely than the less engaged to use and value local news." Totally makes sense. But civic engagement is more than voting in local elections and consuming local news. What are the other factors of community engagement? How do they contribute? And, ultimately, what gives the civically engaged that outward view of life in the first place? That seems rather important to know (and, admittedly, out of the scope of Pew's report).
P. 5 - Pew characterizes about a third of US adults as more highly engaged in their community through perception or action (or both). This makes sense to me based on my own data sets as well, but that also means there are a lot of people who are only somewhat or not at all engaged in their community. In my data there is a very strong relationship between high civic engagement and museum-going. Museums are simply more relevant and useful to the engaged citizen.
P. 6 and P. 16 - The data shows that young adults are less civically engaged than older adults, and my data generally agrees. I find a general uptick in engagement begins in the 25 - 34 age band, while Pew notes it in the 30 - 44 band. The question that Pew doesn't raise is why. That is, is this a problem (and the current generation of young adults won't grow into civic engagement), will they transition into civic engagement with age, or did Pew not provide a broad enough range of answer choices in their survey?
I suspect it is a mixture of the second and third factors. Young adulthood is about establishing your life, so it makes sense that civic engagement happens a few years later. But I also strongly suspect Pew wasn't capturing the things young adults are more inclined to do. On p. 16 they note that they tracked "activity in seven different types of civic groups, from sports leagues to church groups to charity organizations, and six political activities." Since the report did not actually list all of those activities, based on this language my hunch is that it doesn't include newer, more informal, forms of engagement. To give one example, in my research I am finding that food is a catalyst for community engagement for a strong segment of young adults. While I can't be sure, I doubt that was on Pew's list.
P. 8 - People's interest in sports news has no correlation with other forms of civic engagement. This is what I expected to see as well (though I was surprised they noted it).
P. 14 - A frustration I felt throughout this report is that they did not distinguish between those who felt connected to their community by virtue of birth (and lifelong residency), and those who had moved in and worked hard to establish roots. While many lifelong residents work hard to keep their roots healthy, I suspect there are quite a few others who feel strongly connected by birth but are, in actually, not that civically engaged. I would have liked to have seen that broken out … especially since they asked the right questions to do so.
P. 21 - Political persuasion has little effect on local news consumption or attitudes. While national news may be rather polarized, local news seems to cross political boundaries.
P. 28 - Republicans are more likely than Democrats or Independents to say they know "all" their neighbors. This makes sense to me. According to my data, moderates and liberals are more likely to have moved away from their childhood hometowns, and that mobility would make knowing "all" your neighbors less likely. Conservatives are more likely to reside in their childhood hometown, and that lifelong residency gives respondents a whole lot more time to know "all" their neighbors.
P. 29 - Pew asked how respondents rated their community, and what leapt out at me was how differently white, non-Hispanics answered than people of color. Whites were 50% more likely to rate their community as "excellent" than people of color (who were, in turn, well over 2x more likely to rate their community as only "fair" or "poor"). That indicates to me some difficult divides based on lived experience. Do museums contribute to this, or can they be catalysts for change? Let's be honest that this is a more difficult question to answer than we would like it to be.
Final thoughts: The report backed up some of my assumptions with data, and had few surprises. The do mores do more. But I want to dig deeper into generational differences (as some of my tweets have indicated) and consider how museums can increase civic engagement among those who are not-so-engaged now.
Full citation: "Civic Engagement Strongly Tied to Local News Habits." Research report published by Pew Research Center. Released November 2016.
Have a suggestion for my reading list? Email it to me at susie (at) wilkeningconsulting (dot) com.