Civic engagement can take many forms—from individual volunteerism, community engagement efforts, organizational involvement and government work such as electoral participation. These engagements may include directly addressing a problem through personal work, community based, or work through the institutions of representative democracy. Many individuals feel a sense personal responsibility to actively engage as a sense of obligation to their community. "Youth civic engagement" has similar aims to develop the community environment and cultivate relationships, although youth civic engagement places an emphasis on empowering youth.
A study published by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement at Tufts University, divided civic engagement into three categories: civic, electoral, and political voice. Scholars of youth engagement online have called for a broader interpretation of civic engagement that focuses on the purpose behind current institutions and activities and include emerging institutions and activities that achieve the same purposes. These civic engagement researchers suggest that the reduction of civic life into small sets of explicitly electoral behaviors may be insufficient to describe the full spectrum of public involvement in civic life.
A Civic Engagement reform arose at the beginning of the 21st Century after Robert Putnam's provocative book, Bowling Alone, brought to light changes in civic participation patterns. Putnam argued that despite rapid increases in higher education opportunities that may foster civic engagement, Americans were dropping out of political and organized community life. A number of studies suggested that while more youth are volunteering, fewer are voting or becoming politically engaged.
The State of the World's Volunteerism Report 2015, the first global review of the power of volunteer voices to help improve the way people are governed, draws on evidence from countries as diverse as Brazil, Kenya, Lebanon and Bangladesh. The UN report shows how ordinary people are volunteering their time, energies and skills to improve the way they are governed and engaged at local, national and global levels. Better governance at every level is a pre-requisite for the success of the new set of targets for future international development, the Sustainable Development Goals, which has been agreed upon by the United Nations in September 2015.
At the global level, for instance, a diverse group of 37 online volunteers from across the globe engaged in 4 months of intense collaboration with the United Nations Department of Economic Affairs (UN DESA) to process 386 research surveys carried out across 193 UN Member States for the 2014 UN E-Government Survey. The diversity of nationalities and languages of the online volunteers—more than 65 languages, 15 nationalities, of which half are from developing countries—mirrors perfectly the mission of the survey.