Assessing the Practices of Public Scholarship (APPS)

Assessing the Practices of Public Scholarship (APPS)

Reimagining and reclaiming the democratic potential of assessment


What is your assessment story? How did you come to assessment? How do you feel about it? What does it mean to you? What do you want it to mean?


As members of Imagining America’s Assessing the Practices of Public Scholarship (APPS) research group, we have asked ourselves and many others these and similar questions over the past five years. Our answers have led us to read, to think, to write, to ask more questions, and to talk with yet more colleagues.

What drives APPS as a collective is our desire to bridge the gap we and others too often encounter between assessment as bureaucratic management and assessment as a transformative process that involves all stakeholders in values-engaged exploration of the processes, relationships, and results of collaborative work. We want to reclaim assessment. We want to empower ourselves and our colleagues in communities and on campuses to stand in this gap and help close it with integrity, confidence, and a sense of agency.


A Democratically Engaged Assessment (Read our White Paper.)

DEA is an orientation to and framework for assessment that is explicitly grounded in, informed by, and in dialogue with the contested values and commitments of democratic civic engagement.


DEA, like democracy itself, is a difficult and elusive ideal, not a fully accomplished model with simple metrics or easy standards; it is a set of principles and processes through which we can organize inquiry that invites and even demands creative acts of reimagining.

APPS is motivated to explore and develop DEA by a desire to bridge the gap between assessment as it is too often experienced — a managerial imposition, an expert-driven process, a perfunctory afterthought, to name a few — and assessment as what we think it can and should be — a transformative process that involves all stakeholders in values-engaged exploration of the processes, relationships, and results of their collaborative work to reshape and renew public life. In short, we are compelled by this question:


How might assessment be an empowering process that enables us to create our path forward together, helps us “walk the talk” of our highest values, and allows us to share the story of our work in ways that are not only accurate but also a form of democratic practice?


We welcome you to join us on this journey.




DEA offers an approach to assessment not merely as measuring, documenting, and reporting outcomes but also as a way to explore shared realities and co-create new possibilities. We regard a democratic and justice-oriented transformation of assessment methods and the community engagement efforts they support to be the overarching ideals — the ends — that motivate DEA. We see the following six core values, interdependent and in some ways overlapping, as comprising the heart of democratic community engagement and DEA: full participation, co-creation, generativity, rigor, practicability, and resilience.

DEA is rooted in the commitments of Democratic Civic Engagement (DCE). DCE’s purpose, as described by Saltmarsh, Hartley & Clayton in their Democratic Engagement White Paper, “refers specifically to enhancing a public culture of democracy… and alleviating public problems” (2009, p. 9). More than just an attention to ends, it also attends to a process of community engagement that “seeks the public good with the public and not merely for the public” (2009 p. 9), one committed to inquiry and practice that is co-creative, inclusive, and empowering of all voices in creating a more just and democratic public culture.

Approached this way, assessment contributes to transformative processes and outcomes of community engagement and public scholarship. The process of assessment mirrors the ideals of democratization by creating possibilities — new ways of being — arising from new relationships and the knowledge they produce.

For a more expansive introduction to DEA — its history, development, nuances, tensions, stories and cases, as well as many tools for its application — please see the APPS White Paper: Democratically Engaged Assessment: Reimagining the Purposes and Practices of Assessment in Community Engagement.




  • Document the landscape of Democratically Engaged Assessment (DEA) as a form of transdisciplinary inquiry rooted in diverse bodies of knowledge and practice.
  • Build knowledge and evidence about the legitimacy, validity, and effectiveness of democratically engaged approaches to assessment of community engagement and public scholarship.
  • Co-create strategies that cultivate capacities for using democratically engaged approaches to assessment in community-academic partnerships.
  • Contribute to efforts to shift prevailing ways of knowing in assessment towards deeper commitments to full participation, co-creation, resilience, and generativity.
  • Support DEA approaches that further the practice of Democratic Civic Engagement (DCE) in public life.




  • Collect, adapt, create, and disseminate frameworks and tools that enable democratically engaged approaches to assessment at varying scales and in diverse contexts.
  • Identify and share case studies, stories, and critical reflections that illuminate democratically engaged assessment values, approaches, and uses.
  • Engage IA members and broader communities of assessment practice in demonstration projects related to DEA.
  • Co-create original scholarship and analysis that synthesizes extant and emergent knowledge from this initiative for a wider audience.
  • Curate and develop resources and facilitate learning opportunities for members through IA’s convenings, publications, and other forums.

Case Studies

Research Team