Community Participation

A Guide to Credit for Prior Learning

The topic area of Community Participation covers many types of experiences and, thereby, many areas of learning. Examples of the wide ranging roles and duties upon which students have drawn to demonstrate their learning include: Neighborhood Development Projects, Fund Raising, Union Organizing, Citizen Action, Youth Leadership, Church Activities, Sports Coaching, Advocacy, and Volunteer Coordination, among others. There are common features throughout, as well as specific knowledge and skills appropriate to each experience. Through community participation, students should have gained an understanding of the complex ways in which social institutions affect their lives and the lives of others, and the myriad elements that go into people investing themselves in efforts to improve their communities.

Overview of Evaluation of Students Earning Lower-Level Credit:

  • The learning to be assessed is based more upon volunteerism and civic involvement than paid employment, and where other formal courses would not capture the student's learning.
  • Evaluation may explore concepts and skills within diverse areas such as: values, methods of recruiting and motivating people, civic responsibility, communication, group and organizational dynamics, the process of change, problem-solving, conflict resolution, social systems which exist to address human and community needs, project management, and politics.
  • Students need to demonstrate that their learning can be generalized beyond their personal experiences. Knowledge and skills must have applicability within varied populations and needs, and show how the process of engagement and change can be effective in other community situations.

Overview of Evaluation of Students Earning Upper-Level Credit

In addition to the above, students should:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of theoretical models regarding community development, action strategies, leadership, and social change.
  • Have a historical perspective on social movements in the US, and the capacity to cite examples in their discussion of community participation issues.
  • Be able to draw parallels and distinctions between local grassroots community efforts and more formally organized citizen-based actions at regional and national levels.

Discussion Topics:

If students are familiar with some (but not necessarily all) of the following topics, they may be eligible for lower-level credit in the area of community participation. If students are familiar with advanced questions, they may be eligible for upper-level credit. If knowledge of some of the topics is substantial, the students may consider requesting additional credit in more narrowly defined areas.

Community Definitions and Social Context:


  • Define "community" and cite examples of multiple communities in which a person can concurrently exist
  • What is the importance of community to an individual?
  • Define idealism and pragmatism and discuss their roles in citizen participation.
  • Why does US society, with its vast wealth and resources, need citizens to become involved in community service?
  • Define volunteerism.
  • Identify the historical roots of volunteerism in America.
  • Discuss the historical roots of community organizing.
  • Cite three historical examples of collective community participation that effected major changes within US society.
  • Define the concept of empowerment, and discuss how it applies to community work with both individuals and groups.
  • Explain the relationship of community organizing to community participation.


  • Define altruism and self-interest. Compare their impact upon both one's initial motivation and sustained involvement in community service.
  • Explain the purpose behind formal citizen participation structurally built into the regulatory procedures of government (e.g., citizen participation boards, public hearings).
  • Discuss the purpose, methods and current status of a formal community service program, such as: AmeriCorp, Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross, the United Way, VISTA, volunteer fire companies.

The Process of Personal Involvement:


  • What motivates an individual to become a volunteer? What inhibits people from becoming involved?
  • What personal characteristics contribute to a volunteer's effectiveness within community service activities?
  • Describe the different levels at which one can become involved in community endeavors, and the scope of change an individual or group could pursue.
  • Explain how one can involve, work with, and motivate others - initially and throughout the life of the project.
  • Cite one example of different kinds of opportunities available for a person to engage in community service with each of the following:
    • preschoolers, environmental causes, farmers, a local library, new immigrants, a political campaign, the elderly, a local school district, and single parents.
  • Describe methods to recruit volunteers. How can they be held accountable for their responsibilities?
  • Discuss differences in motivation and behavior between youth, adult, and senior volunteers in a proposal for a community activity center.
  • What people skills are important to possess, in order to be effective in a participatory community role?
  • What technical skills are often needed to assist in a volunteer community project?
  • Discuss several common mistakes made by people of good intentions, as they try to help others.
  • What is an effective means of resolving an improper fit between a volunteer and the volunteer's community assignment?
  • When participating in a community project within a culture different from your own, what barriers and benefits might be experienced?
  • How can others be inspired in civic responsibility?


  • What are the benefits and challenges when mixing volunteers and paid staff within an organization?
  • Identify some counter-productive motivations of people who become community participants. Explain effective ways to deal with these.
  • How would you utilize a media campaign in promoting volunteer recruitment?
  • Describe how you would proceed to develop/implement a volunteer program, including organizational and economic issues, as well as recruitment, training, and retention of volunteers.

The Process of Social Change:


  • How would you develop your own and other volunteers' leadership skills? Identify various ways leadership is demonstrated.
  • What are effective methods to handle conflict in a meeting (e.g., a Board meeting, a public hearing, or a planning committee)?
  • When is consensus decision-making advantageous and when is it problematic?
  • Describe how a volunteer community group might strategize their role in a public hearing on a controversial proposal to which they object. What tactics might they use?
  • Identify and discuss three sources of community power that a citizen action group may have to challenge in order to achieve its goals.
  • Name and discuss three primary reasons why community projects fail.
  • How does a community benefit from citizen civic participation, whether the specific project itself is a success or a failure?


  • Scenario: In a large rural 3-county region, there is growing recognition of a high adult illiteracy rate, and a lack of any formal services to address this problem. What steps might a group of concerned citizens take to begin improving this situation?
  • Scenario: Budget reductions have eliminated most after school extra-curricular programs. Parents are concerned about too much unsupervised time for children. School officials feel helpless. Community leaders have other more pressing priorities. What might a small group of interested parents do to respond to this community need?
  • How does a community action organization group gain credibility, influence, and power?
  • How many different kinds of decision-making processes have you experienced (e.g., majority rule, consensus, mandates, etc.)? Discuss their advantages and disadvantages.
  • How could a social action group organize the events and mobilize the people needed to conduct a successful public rally to demonstrate opposition to an issue?
  • What role does coalition building play in successful community change efforts?
  • Discuss the role and impact of civil disobedience as a tactic for citizen action. Cite two historical examples.
  • Select a social movement of the 20th century (for example: civil rights, women's rights, the environment, peace activism, gay rights, labor movement) and discuss how successful (or not) it was at engaging citizenry in active participation.
  • Explain how the use of creative arts can be an effective vehicle for engaging people in a cause and producing social change. Cite an example.

Community Participation Summary Form click here