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Carsey Launches New Toolkit for Civic Engagement

Published Monday Apr 10, 2023

Author Melanie Matts, Granite State News Collaborative

Carsey Launches New Toolkit for Civic Engagement

Click here to watch the full conversation on "The State We’re In."

The University of NH’s Carsey School of Public Policy has launched a new toolkit, “Local Civic Health: A guide to Building Community and Bridging Divides.” 

The guide serves as a follow up to its 2020 New Hampshire Civic Health Index, which examined civic health at the state level. However, the toolkit aims to help communities gauge civic health at the local level and provide tools and resources to help take action to strengthen it. 

The Carsey School of Public Policy defines civic health as “distinct from, yet interconnected with, other forms of well-being, including physical and mental health and access to basic needs for food, shelter and clothing.”

Civic health reflects the strength of local democracy, by how much residents of a community or state participate in civic activities. This includes factors such as how much people trust each other, attend public meetings, get involved, vote and help out neighbors.

Quixada Moore-Vissing, co-author of the guide, explained that examining civic health at the local level is crucial in 2023 because of the unprecedented challenges facing democracy.

Three years into the COVID-19 pandemic, with many still working from home, New Hampshire and the rest of the nation are experiencing extreme levels of isolation, and lack of face-to-face interaction, according to Vissing.

“We’re the most isolated we’ve ever been,” she said. “It’s an epidemic. It’s affecting people’s mental health.” 

Although the toolkit is just a guide, and doesn’t answer all of the challenges currently facing the nation's democracy, Vissing said the goal is to help communities get in front of the negative trends around the country. 

“What we’re hoping is that communities actually use this guide, and that they start to develop some civic interventions once they’ve assessed civic health, to strengthen civic life in their communities,” she said. 

2020 Findings

The 2020 index found that NH has many civic strengths, but some areas need attention and could be at risk in the future. 

Some of the strengths include that New Hampshire is fifth in the nation in voting in the 2016 election, fifth in connecting regularly with friends and family and sixth in attending public meetings. 

While Granite Staters regularly interact with friends and families to discuss political or societal issues, the index found a decline in engagement outside one's inner circle. New Hampshire was ranked in the bottom five states in the nation in terms of connecting with people of different racial, ethnic or cultural backgrounds. 

“I think we're starting to lose a sense of shared humanity, you know, people who are different from ourselves,” said Vissing. 

While the civic index is good at capturing this data at the state level, it doesn’t show what is happening at the individual community level, which can be significant, Vissing said. 

 “Civic life is different in the North Country than it is in Portsmouth or than it is Manchester,” she said. “There’s just different realities in different parts of the state.”

With these thoughts in mind, the Carsey School of Public Policy created the “Local Civic Health” guide to analyze communities more closely at the local level.

How Does the Guide Work?

The guide provides a variety of exercises that help communities examine civic health from multiple angles, according to Vissing. 

Some of these include more qualitative research methods, such as interviewing local people within the community about their experiences with civic engagement and local democracy. 

On the other hand, the guide also has fun and creative activities to assess local civic health through different methods and lenses. 

“There’s an engagement technique called Photovoice, where people can go and take pictures or photographs around an issue, and then use it to sort of expose issues in the community or identify assets and have conversation,” Vissing said. 

Another activity that gets participants out of the house and interacting with others is the “civic walking tour.” This activity asks participants to walk through civic spaces with a diverse group of people who think differently about civic issues.

Vissing said this could include people of different ages, political identities or cultures. 

“They might walk through a community center or town hall together and examine, ‘How does this welcome people?’” she said. “Or how does this create barriers to people engaging in this space and engaging with each other?”

Along with these activities to help assess local civic health, another section of the guide applies the findings from the 2020 index, and aims to help communities apply and relate some of their conversations to the bigger picture state data.

Vissing gave the example that in the state index, youth were engaging less than other generations. She said communities could unpack this idea and see if it resonates within them. If it does, they could use the information to examine what barriers exist at the local level and how they can be resolved. 

How to Use the Guide

The 80-page guide is quite extensive. Vissing suggests starting with the toolkit’s website ( and the two introduction videos that function as an “orientation,” she said. 

Another resource to navigate the guide is New Hampshire Listens, a civic engagement initiative of the Carsey School of Public Policy that produced the toolkit. 

Vissing said that New Hampshire Listens is there to help communities navigate the guide, if they don’t know where to start, or want to create long-term civic projects. 

The guide is available online, and both the UNH Carsey School of Public Policy and New Hampshire Listens are available for support in navigating both the toolkit and conversations around local civic health. 

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