Civic engagement strongest in young from culturally diverse families

2 September 2021
Sydney Policy Lab launches index on community spirit
Civic engagement - one of the Sydney Policy Lab's guiding principles - is higher in people from younger, multicultural backgrounds, a new poll shows.

Credit: Sydney Policy Lab/Essential Media. 

The Sydney Policy Lab at the University of Sydney will today launch its inaugural Civic Engagement Index, building a national profile of how Australians connect with the community.

The Index - designed in partnership with Essential Research - scores individuals based on their levels of trust, participation and connection with other members of their community.

Key findings of the inaugural index include:

  • Younger people who grew up in a home where English is not the primary language spoken in the home emerged as the most engaged citizens.
  • Older, poorer, rural people rate significantly lower when it comes to civic engagement. 
  • People with children rate significantly higher on civic engagement than people without children, suggesting family draws people into civic spaces. 
  • The ability to form new relationships with people outside one’s existing network of family and friends is one of the strongest indicators of an engaged citizen.

Sydney Policy Lab Director Professor Marc Stears said the Civic Engagement Index provided a revealing baseline to understand how different groups were responding to the challenges of the pandemic.

“What these results suggest is that the more diverse your experience, both at home and more broadly, the more you feel a part of your community. Critically, people who actively seek connections outside their own personal bubble of friends and family are more civically engaged.”

Two women on a rainbow pedestrian crossing.

The poll found that younger poeple from multicultural backgrounds are more civically engaged. Image credit: Grace Sui and Tim Fennis: “Portraits of Sydney”.

The Index will be launched at an online event today to coincide with the release of Professor Stears’ book, Out of the Ordinary - How Everyday Life Inspired a Nation and How it can Again.

Civic engagement covers the importance of community leadership; diversity in decision-making; and how universities can help enable this. It is a foundational tenet of the Sydney Policy Lab, which aims to drive societal change through the work of diverse coalitions. Its research spans an array of disciplines, from migration to work and labour rights to advocacy. Recent projects include polling Australians on their views on the reopening of national borders, and an alternate plan to reboot Australia’s economy.

The launch will be accompanied by short speeches and panel discussions. In keeping with its themes, the speakers are from a range of backgrounds, including University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Mark Scott, Wiradjuri woman and Project Manager of Strategic Collaborations at the University of Sydney, Katie Moore, and Acting CEO of the Muslim Women Australia, Nemat Kharboutli.

The Sydney Policy Lab is a great example of how universities are inseparable from their communities.
Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Sydney, Professor Mark Scott

Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Mark Scott said, “The Sydney Policy Lab is a great example of how universities are inseparable from their communities. The civic involvement Professor Stears and the Sydney Policy Lab are championing speaks to a central role of the University.

“We’ve always been an indispensable part of Australian public life which, sadly, the events of COVID-19 have underlined.  

“What is discussed, taught and researched here constantly changes and benefits our society.  It includes the solution to complex research challenges but also our contribution to public policy, our education of the next generation and our civil discussion of the newest concepts and ideas.”

Professor Stears said: “As countries around the world try to rebuild from the pandemic, success will depend as much on the contribution of the broader public as it will on the efforts of political or industry leaders.

“For years now, political scientists have known that the stronger the commitment of everyday people to their own societies the more likely those societies are to be prosperous, fair and strong.”


  • Sydney Policy Lab’s Director, Professor Marc Stears
  • Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor of the University of Sydney, Mark Scott
  • CEO of the Paul Ramsay Foundation, Professor Glyn Davis
  • Acting CEO of the Muslim Women Australia, Nemat Kharboutli
  • CEO of the Health Justice Australia, Tessa Boyd-Caine
  • Lab Research Lead, Dr Amanda Tattersall, University of Sydney
  • Chair of Australia’s Mental Health Think Tank, Professor Maree Teesson, University of Sydney
  • Chair of the Sydney Policy Lab Open Society Common Purpose Taskforce, Mark Rigotti
  • Community Organiser at Sydney Community Forum supporting the work at Oz International Student Hub, Chaitra Hareesh
  • Wiradjuri woman and Project Manager of Strategic Collaborations at the University of Sydney, Katie Moore
  • Community Organising Director at Australian Progress, Anita Tang
  • Sydney Policy Lab Real Deal Project Manager, Elise Ganley
  • Director of Stronger Places, Stronger People initiative at the Department of Social Services, Tara Day-Williams.

Hero image: L-R: Professor Mark Scott, Nemat Kharboutli, Professor Maree Teesson, Professor Marc Stears, Dr Amanda Tattersall, Dr Tessa Boyd-Caine, Professor Gyn Davis. Credit: Sydney Policy Lab.

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