civic engagement today - strengths, limits, opportunities

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Civic Engagement Today: Strengths, Limits, OpportunitiesMatt LeighningerPresentation to the San Diego FoundationJanuary 16, 2013

The Deliberative Democracy Consortium

The DDC network includes practitioner organizations, operating foundations, and academic researchersThe context: How have citizens* changed?

More educatedMore skeptical different attitudes toward authorityHave less time to spareBetter able to find resources, allies, information

* citizens = residents, people

This is the challenge and opportunity we all face, no matter what kinds of organizations we lead or belong toThe context:Families with young children

Have the most at stake in community successMore motivation to engage, but even less timeWant to engage in community, not just politics

The context: Increased use of the Internet

Three minutes at the microphoneRetrieved from, July 27, 2012Successful tactic: Proactive recruitmentMap community networks;

Involve leaders of those networks;

Who is least likely to participate?

Use online as well as f2f connections;

Follow up!

Successful tactic: Small-group processesNo more than 12 people per group;

Facilitator who is impartial (doesnt give opinions); Start with people describing their experiences;

Lay out options;

Help people plan for action.

Successful tactic: Framing an issueGive people the information they need, in ways they can use itLays out several options or views (including ones you dont agree with)Trust them to make good decisions

Successful tactic: Encouraging citizen actionSometimes this means action by citizens that is seeded by govt with small grants10

Successful tactic: Online toolsParticularly good for:Providing background informationData gathering by citizensGenerating and ranking ideasHelping people visualize optionsMaintaining connections over time

Refer to Using Online Tools guide13Questions or comments?

Strengths of public participationMaking policy decisions, plans, budgetsCatalyzing citizen actionBuilding trust, fostering new leadershipConnections = disaster preparednessAttachment = economic vitality

Change slide15Limitations of public participation (as we practice it today)Lots of work for temporary gainInefficient every organization on its ownCommunity moves back to politics as usualEngagers set the agenda, not the engagedLimited impact on equityLaws on participation out of step with practicesNot well measured or benchmarked

Change slide16What is civic infrastructure?

The regular opportunities, activities, and arenas that allow people to connect with each other, solve problems, make decisions, and be part of a community.

Portsmouth Listens Portsmouth, NHOngoing process since 2000Several hundred participants each timeAddressed a number of major policy decisions: bullying in schools, school redistricting, citys master plan, balancing city budget, whether to build new middle school

Jane Addams School for Democracy West Side of St. Paul, MN50-200 people in neighborhood learning circles every month since 1998Involves recent Hmong, Latino, Somali immigrantsYoung people involved in circles and other activitiesCultural exchanges - food, crafts, storytellingHas resulted in new projects, initiatives, festivals, and changein INS policy

Participatory Budgeting in Brazilian cities

Commitment from govt to adopt budget;

Wide range of ways to be involved;A carnival atmosphere;

Started small, now huge 60,000+ people

Rio Grande do Sol - 21New model ordinance on public participationAvailable at www.deliberative-democracy.netDeveloped as a collaboration of:


Building blocks for civic infrastructureBuilding block:

Helping neighborhood and school groupsbecome more- effective- inclusive- participatory

Building block: Hyperlocal online forumsMore sustainedLarger, more diverse numbers of peopleEasier for engagers recruitment doesnt have to start from scratchMore open to ideas from the engaged

Digital divides (plural)Overall, Internet access growingAccess to Internet, to government has never been enoughDifferent people use different hardwareDifferent people go to different places on the InternetCommunities just as complex online as off recruitment must be proactiveBuilding block: Civic IndicatorsCapture more of the basic dataUse databasesEstablish mid-level indicators to connect basic data with metadata like Soul of the CommunityBe transparent and think about ways to allow people to contribute and analyze data

Building block: Youth leadershipSometimes you need a meeting that is also a party. Sometimes you need a party that is also a meeting. Gloria Rubio-Corts, National Civic LeagueDont forget: Fun

Slides available

Guides: www.everydaydemocracy.orgwww.publicagenda.orgwww.kettering.orgQuestions or comments?


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