Pre-Planning Civic Action: An Analysis of Civic Leaders’ Problem Solving Strategies


  • Jason Fitzgerald Wagner College


civics, problem solving


Despite the recent increased attention civic education has received, there is little research on the ways that civic leaders problem solve. Such information would be helpful to teachers as they engage students in problem-based learning models of civic education such as classroom-based deliberations and debate and community-based action civics projects. This study explores the civic thinking heuristics civic leaders use when pre-planning action. Across eight think-aloud protocols, findings suggest that three heuristics are employed. Frame alignment refers to the process of harmonizing personal beliefs and interests with the particulars of a civic action issue to find personal meaning in the work. Participants used (1) personal beliefs, (2) lived experiences, (3) their professional roles, and (4) their heritage to facilitate such framing. Referencing is the process of using past personal and historical civic action experiences as case studies for planning. Contextualization is the process of situating a civic issue within a community’s political and cultural climate. These three heuristics are sense-making activities that could be taught to and used by students to make sense of civic issues and possible actions available to them. Implications include the need for increased focus on the historical dimensions and personal relevance of civic action.