The Engagement Activity is really a distinguishing part of the IB Global Politics course. I have seen several of my friends use their experiences from the EA in their university applications, as it really stands out and shows that you are committed to your beliefs. Also, it was an invaluable experience for me, because it was an opportunity to research in a more first-hand, interactive way than just from the textbook. However, to make this an enjoyable experience, I would recommend choosing a political issue you are really interested in, and plan out the experience really well. Whilst engaging, remember that though you may be acting locally, you should always be pondering what influence you may have at the regional and global level. Most IB schools (rather sensibly) start their EAs before a long break, so you have holiday time to engage. I am working from this assumption in the following advice - if your school does not do this, then I would recommend working as quickly as you can.
The following is a step-by-step guide to how to succeed in your EA.
Brainstorm and Plan
- Brainstorm which topics interest you
Being very interested in the abortion debate, this was a no-brainer for me - I knew I wanted to engage participating in and studying the abortion debate. You need to choose something that interests you for two reasons - 1. you will be assessed on how well you explain your personal interest - 2. the engagement will be really boring if you don’t.
- Look through the syllabus
At the end of the day, your EA will be assessed on “using the key concepts of the course where relevant” (criterion C), meaning that your topic should ideally link to the syllabus in some way. For my topic, the obvious link is to the “claims to human rights”, and “nature of human rights” learning outcomes. Something you can start doing at this stage is to read the relevant sections of your textbook, bearing your engagement at the back of your mind.
- Choose how to engage
Engagement is usually done locally - I have seen some EAs conducted in international locations, but these were limited to one local area. In other words, don’t try to overdo the EA - think globally, but act locally. Some more popular and successful engagements include interviews with politicians and professionals, organising/participating in a protest or movement, organising a petition, and helping minority groups. Some popular unsuccessful engagements include video game “simulations” of conflict, and merely signing a petition. A strong engagement plan will use several related engagements. Your engagements should be chosen based on additional, on-the-ground research you find necessary whilst reading the textbook.
In my case, I interviewed a Member of the Korean National Assembly, participated in a protest, and interviewed several protesters and healthcare experts. I initially chose and contacted 3 politicians and 2 protest groups (from either side of the debate) but only got a response from one politician and one protest group. From my experience, it’s better if you choose several engagements, as there may be a negative response from many possible engagements you had in mind.
- Contact relevant people
For each engagement, this will vary, but in almost all cases, you will need to phone or email a protest organiser or a politician/expert to interview. This is the most difficult stage for many people, especially if you are studying in an area (such as Korea), where high schoolers engaging in politics is frowned upon. I made phone calls and emailed the individuals I wanted to interview during the summer break. On retrospect, this was a bad idea, as I had to spend my weekends after the long summer break engaging (up to 2 months before the Mock Exams). You should be a risk-taker and contact the relevant people well ahead of summer break for maximum efficiency.
- Plan your engagement
After you get a few responses, try to plan out your engagement on a calendar, so you have a set timeframe for getting things done. You may need to prepare questions in advance of an interview, or prepare signs for a protest. Then you should try to set an approximate time to finish up your engagement to start writing the bulk of your Report.
Engage and Research
- Engaging should be a part of research
In a large sense, your engagement helps you to become a better global citizen, engaged with the political issues that concern you. However, you should also realise that you are going to be assessed on your work, which is done through your report. You should therefore think tactically - try to make each engagement activity be part of a larger picture within your research as a whole. The strongest engagements I’ve seen have a combination of on-the-ground research and theoretical research. You should think of your engagement more as on-the-ground research than as an attempt to change the world.
- Interviews are the source and summit of your report.
Start thinking about your report when you are doing your engagement. I found that the most useful data in my report was the interviews I conducted. Interviews by themselves aren’t strong enough to qualify as an “engagement” in my view, but even in other engagements, you should try to fit in a few interviews, so that you can quote people in your report to prove a wider point about concepts related to the course.
For instance, even when I was protesting with a pro-life group, I asked activists and the public questions about Human Rights. From the beginning, I had the view that my report would be about different claims to Human Rights - whether Life and Liberty as Human Rights are compatible or incompatible. In my interviews, most pro-life protesters claimed that the right to Life should precede the right to Liberty, whereas most politicians I interviewed/researched claimed that the two rights should be harmonised in some way. My essay was based on this contrast, rather than on any actual debate between the Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice camps. My report relied heavily on interviews I conducted in these stages of the engagement.
On a more practical note, record your interviews on your phone, so you can both quote accurately and so you can attach a transcript of the interviews in your appendices.
- Take Pictures for appendices
Taking pictures of your engagement is good evidence of your engagement, so your teacher and any potential moderators can see that you have really engaged well.
If you have followed these steps, writing your report shouldn’t be all too hard. The structure, broadly speaking, should look something like this:
- Give a theoretical overview of your engagement, as related to the learning outcomes
In my essay, I began by talking theoretically about the nature of Human Rights, then about politicisation of Human Rights - specifically, whether Human Rights are “indivisible” or whether some rights can be placed above other rights.
Here, it may be useful to cite the textbook or a broad source (such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)
- Talk specifically about the theory in the context of your own location
In my essay, I explained that the theory surrounding whether Human Rights are indivisible or not is especially relevant in the abortion debate, in which both sides presume that their right takes priority over other rights. I then talked more specifically about Korea, explaining that abortion is illegal in Korea, except in cases of rape, incest, or severe illness to mother or unborn child.
- Show your personal interest and explain how your engagement links with a larger, global issue
In my essay, I explained how Human Rights are vitally important, as according to Liberalists, they legitimise the policies of state actors. I then explained that despite the global significance of the abortion debate, it is hardly mentioned by politicians in the popular press, perhaps manifesting a political culture in Korea, which I wanted to change.
Here, it is often helpful to show that you are doing something new - changing a culture, or doing something in a different way.
- Explain that you are not engaging in partisan domestic politics
As I mentioned several times before, the IB Global Politics course is not really learning about the specifics of domestic politics - the political left and right are mentioned, but the key debates we learn about are not really there, but in the implicit assumptions between the two.
In my essay, I explained, “Although I was initially drawn to this engagement due to strong personal views, I realized that which right takes precedence is secondary to the larger question regarding whether two seemingly conflicting rights can be reconciled." - which shows that I am not concerned in my report about which side is right, but whether there is a conflict on the first place, and whether such a conflict can be reconciled in the framework of Human Rights.
C. Summary of Engagements
- Summarise each of your engagements in about one sentence per activity
Try not to over-write here, as you earn the bulk of your marks from writing analytically about how your engagement fits with various conflicting/debatable theoretical elements. Try to state what you did and what the reason for this particular engagement activity was in the larger picture. If there is a larger debate that emerged from the different activities (i.e. one group you interviewed had completely different theoretical views to another group), group these together, so the debate becomes clear.
- Link your engagements to theoretical, Global-Politics-syllabus-related ideas
This is where the bulk of your marks come from. The rubric literally states, “The student’s experiences and more theoretical perspectives are synthesized”, which means that you are expected to integrate the deeper, theoretical perspectives in the syllabus with the more concrete, practical research of your engagement. The textbook is a good starting point, but ultimately, you will need to conduct research about aspects of the syllabus both in books and on the internet.
In my essay, I linked theoretical perspectives about social movements with my own engagement, in which I participated in a social movement, which protested against abortion. Rather than focus on the less-relevant specific debating points, I wrote descriptively about how the social movement challenged an existing view using various academic sources, including my textbook.
- Quote from your interviews to give evidence for theoretical points
I found this most useful in my own essay, as a rich, deep diversity of opinions were presented in my interviews, which could be linked to theoretical ideas. In my essay, I talked about the theoretical view that Human Rights are “indivisible” and whether this is true in a politicised debate about particular claims to Human Rights. I argued that whilst the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, as well as politicians that I interviewed tended to posit that Human Rights are indivisible, several political activists that I interviewed argued that their preferred right should trump other rights.
- Draw out a debate between the views of various groups you engaged with
The rubric states, “There is evidence of evaluation of the political issue from multiple perspectives”. The most obvious way to show that you explored multiple perspectives is through drawing out a central debate between the different groups you engaged with.
In my essay, the main debate was between whether Human Rights are indivisible or whether they can be placed in something of a hierarchy, especially in relation to abortion. The politicians I interviewed and/or researched from the mainstream Korean parties seemed to suggest that the two rights, life and liberty, should be harmonised in some way and a compromise should be reached because the two rights are ultimately indivisible and both are inherent. By contrast, the social movement groups on both sides of the debate I interviewed and/or researched argued that one right precedes another in importance. I think drawing out this debate made my argument more compelling and more importantly, interesting to read.
- If possible, bring a theory from outside the syllabus to give that extra “spark” to your essay
Going off the syllabus is often expected in IB to get a 7. However, make sure you go beyond, not against the core ideas given in the syllabus. In my essay, I wrote about the “Framing Theory” by Benford and Snow to suggest that social movements are legitimised by their strive to portray views that are not readily available on mass media and state actors. I argued that the seemingly more extreme view of the pro-life campaigners (that abortion should not be permitted at all, as opposed to Korean law, which states that abortion is illegal with exceptions for rape, incest, severe defect with fetus) are shifting the frame of the legitimate view and thereby changing the dynamic of the debate as a whole.
- Avoid giving an “everyone is right” conclusion
The rubric states, “Conclusions are clearly stated, balanced and consistent with the evidence presented”. I don’t take “balanced” to mean point-blank “relativism”, but rather to mean that you look at the multiple sides of the argument and show that you subtly lean towards one way, giving a key reason for this view. In the IB, you’re allowed to have a view - the must be well-justified by the evidence and balanced though.
In my essay, I explained that the collectively imagined narrative, that Human Rights are “indivisible” are inherently connected to the other aspects of Human Rights, and that if we wish to preserve the legitimacy of Human Rights in this politicised, polarised age, state actors should strive to mediate the perceived conflict between different rights.
- Justify the implications of your Engagement in the wider context of Global Politics
In my essay, I first explained that my engagement was merely an example of a wider global issue in Human Rights - the collective narrative that Human Rights are “indivisible” is collapsing at the face of politicisation, as each extreme posits that their preferred right takes precedence over other rights. Furthermore, at a more practical level, the office of the President of Korea had released a statement that he would soon take an official position on the matter of abortion after decades of implicit support for the status quo. I wrote, “Very recently, in direct response to social movements for and against abortion in Korea, the President’s Office has indicated that the government would make a policy decision on abortion after conducting further inquiries through various departments.”
Even if it were not for this announcement, simply linking my engagement to the wider context of the nature of Human Rights and the politicisation of Human Rights was invaluable in scoring highly.
- Try to link your engagement to other parts of the syllabus
I think a good way to conduct an “integrated and rich treatment of the political issue” is to link your engagement to another unit, if possible. In my case, I linked my engagement to theories surrounding legitimacy. I argued that whilst the legitimacy of Human Rights hinges on its indivisible nature, the legitimacy of social movements often relies largely on their views that are not well-portrayed in the media, which often posit that their right takes precedence over other rights. For instance, the pro-life movement, as the name suggests, takes the right to life as preceding other rights, whereas the pro-choice movement takes the right to liberty as having precedence.
Often the Power, Sovereignty and International Unit seems to link strongly to engagement activities, which are often focused on Human Rights and Development units. I have also seen the “structural violence”, “cultural violence” and “non-violent conflict” parts of the Conflict and Peace unit used in my friends’ engagement reports.