Engagement Vs Involvement

Dave MacLeod

Ideas matter. The language we use to convey ideas matters too. Defining, or redefining, words so they align with our ideas is a key activity in all sectors that aim to communicate with and receive the support of their communities.

We have noticed that there is a range of definitions and ways of interpreting engagement and involvement in the education sector. Here’s what we have found.

What is engagement?

If you look at traditional definitions it is clear that this is not something to aim for in the education or other person centered sectors.



  • a formal agreement to get married.
  • the duration of such an agreement
  • the state of being in gear
  • a hostile encounter between military forces

We can do better than that. We define engagement as:

a mutually beneficial interaction that results in participants feeling valued for their unique contribution

What about involvement?

Involvement implies many of the qualities of an interaction that we include in our definition of engagement. The problem with “involvement” is that it is also used to describe a variety of one-way communication processes like surveys, newsletters and “talking head” info sessions.

The difference between engagement and involvement

So the distinction between engagement and involvement seems to be grounded in the act of reciprocity or mutual benefit.

It appears we are not alone in our quest to redefine engagement in organizations. Debbie Pushor published a great research paper on engagement way back in 2007.  Remember those days?

She says:

…that the person ‘engaged’ is an integral and essential part of a process, brought into the act because of care and commitment.

Here is a further excerpt about defining engagement from the paper:

Engagement, “in comparison to involvement, comes from en, meaning “make,” and gage, meaning “pledge” – to make a pledge, to make a moral commitment .  The word engagement is further defined as “contact by fitting together; … the meshing of gears” (Engagement).

If we look at the education system as an example, the implication is that the person ‘engaged’ is an integral and essential part of a process, brought into the act because of care and commitment.  By extension, engagement implies enabling parents to take their place alongside educators in the schooling of their children, fitting together their knowledge of children, teaching and learning, with teachers’ knowledge.

The power of genuine engagement

With genuine parent engagement, possibilities are created for the structure of schooling to be flattened, power and authority to be shared by educators and parents, and the agenda being served to be mutually determined and mutually beneficial.

Could the same hold true for other groups? Constituent or community groups, boards, and perhaps in more enlightened workplaces, employee or staff groups? What about customer engagement?

The question we need to consider is this: while we might be able to “involve people” with a survey, a newsletter or an invitation to an information session, how can we transform this involvement into authentic engagement where both sides realize the benefit?

About the Author

Dave MacLeod

As the CEO of ThoughtExchange, Dave provides product vision, team leadership and well-timed jokes. He has been focused on supporting his team as they continue to grow the company to help more and more organizations around the world bring people together by leading challenging conversations about things that matter.