Participatory Budgeting Lessons Over Last 30 Years

Participatory Budgeting has been rapidly growing across the world for the last 30 years, in all levels of government, in organizations, and in schools. There was a report released by the Hewlett Foundation and Omidyar Network on the current state of PB and its future; and NCDD member org, the Participatory Budgeting Project, recorded a webinar with the report authors, Stephanie McNulty and Brian Wampler. You can listen to the webinar in the article below and find the original on PBP’s site here.


Lessons from 30 years of a global experiment in democracy

The Hewlett Foundation and Omidyar Network recently funded a major new report on the lessons learned from 30 years of participatory budgeting (PB). In July, we hosted a webinar about the state and future of PB with report authors Stephanie McNulty and Brian Wampler.

Check out the webinar recording, slides, and key takeaways below.

We asked Stephanie and Brian about what it meant to write this report in 2018, a time of great change for PB and for democracy.

Stephanie spoke to how PB has grown since beginning in Brazil in 1989: “It’s sort of exploding, and happening all over the world in places that are very different from Brazil… It’s taking place faster than we can document and analyze.”

Brian shared about experimentation in PB happening with a variety of focus areas and in new contexts. Part of the power of PB is in how adaptable it is. Many folks experiment with how to design PB to best serve their community. And so, PB looks different in the more than 7,000 localities it exists in around the world.

“PB is probably the most widespread public policy tool to undertake what we consider democratizing democracy.”- Stephanie McNulty

In 30 years, PB has created significant impacts. Doing PB and studying it need more investment to further impact democracy. We’re still learning about the ways that PB can transform individuals and communities.

Early research suggests PB strengthens the civic attitudes and practices of participants, elected officials, and civil servants. Beyond changes at the individual level, the report documents changes at the community level. Changes at the community level include greater accountability, stronger civil society, improved transparency, and better well-being.

But, in the end, good PB doesn’t just happen; it has to be built. It requires intentional effort to ensure that PB practice lives up to its promise. It can yield benefits for those who participate in the early stages, but it takes time for those to expand to broader areas. PB is growing faster as more people learn about it’s potential. We need further research to  learn from what advocates on the ground know about PB’s impact—as well as it’s areas for improvement. The future of PB will require effort and sustained resources to support new ways of placing power in the hands of the people.

The report documents key ways PB has transformed over 30 years.

  • Scale. PB started at the municipal level in Brazil, and now exists in every level of government, and even within government agencies. PB is now being done for schools, colleges, cities, districts, states, and nations—places where people are looking for deeper democracy.
  • Secret ballots to consensus-based processes. When we spoke about what was most surprising or unexpected while writing the report, Brian talked about the shift in how communities make decisions in PB often moving from secret ballots to consensus-based processes.
  • Technology. New technologies are used for recruitment, to provide information, and to offer oversight. We don’t fully understand the benefits and limitations of this particular transformation, and look forward to more research on this question.
  • Increased donor interest. More international donors are interested in promoting and supporting PB.
  • A shift away from pro-poor roots. PB in Brazil began as a project of the Workers Party to pursue social justice and give power to marginalized communities and the disenfranchised. This is a core reason why many look to PB to solve deeply entrenched problems of inequity in the democratic process. Unfortunately today, many PB processes around the world do not have an explicit social justice goals.

We’ve learned that focusing on social justice actually makes PB work better. PB processes that seek to include traditionally marginalized voices make it easier for everyone to participate in making better decisions.

To wrap up our webinar, Laura Bacon from Omidyar Network, David Sasaki from the Hewlett Foundation, and our Co-Executive Director at PBP, Josh Lerner shared takeaways for grantmakers.

They discussed what we need to make the transformative impacts of PB be bigger and more widespread.

  • Medium and long term investment is important for PB success. One off investments don’t create the impacts of PB and can lead to a decline in quality.
  • Government support is crucial. PB works best when it complements government—not opposes it.
  • Watch out for participation fatigue. If the conditions for successful PB are not fully in place, residents and advocacy organizations can grow weary of continued involvement.
  • Funders should focus PB grantmaking in areas that have conditions in place for it to be successful. They should look at political, economic, and social contexts before funding the process.

Want more updates on the state and future of PB? Sign up for PBP’s Newsletter

You can find the original version of this article on the Participatory Budgeting Project site at www.participatorybudgeting.org/lessons-from-30-years-of-pb/.

Updates from the Davenport Institute: Trainings & Certificate

For our NCDDers passionate about public engagement and local government, NCDD member – the Davenport Institute recently sent out their newsletter with opportunities to network and strengthen engagement skills. Read the post below for more information on their trainings, events, and the next professional certificate offering in Advanced Public Engagement for Local Government. To note, the first training is coming up tomorrow, August 9th, for federal agencies to learn more about local-level engagement. This announcement is from the Davenport Institute’s InCommon July newsletter and you can receive these updates by signing up here.


Davenport Institute InCommon July Newsletter

Upcoming Training/Speaking
Local Training for Federal Agencies at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy
Interested in strengthening your cross-sector skills? Pepperdine School of Public Policy Board of Advisors member Kay Ko has invited Davenport Institute local government partners to join a Federal Executive Board training on “Building Effective Relations with Congressional Districts.” You are invited to join the conversation about how federal agencies are thinking about local-level engagement and explore opportunities for collaboration.

The event will be at Pepperdine’s Drescher Graduate Campus in Malibu on Thursday, August 9 from 9 am – 3 pm. Registration is free (lunch is not provided, but is available for purchase at the Pepperdine cafeteria). You can find out more and register here.

September 5-7 – At the IAP2 International Conference in Victoria, BC, Executive Director Ashley Trim and Kit Cole, principal at Kit Cole Consulting, will present on how an era of outrage presents particular challenges to public engagement, and how, at the same time, well-designed, deliberate public participation can help local governments navigate frought politcal waters. You can find out more and register here.

October 11-12 – Ashley will be chairing a panel on preparing leaders to put the “public” back into “public policy” at the NASPAA annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia. NASPAA is the accrediting body for schools of public policy, public affairs and public administration. Panelists include Terry Amsler, Indiana University, Bloomington; Lindsey Lupo, Point Loma Nazarene University; Tina Nabatchi, Syracuse University; and Larry Rosenthal, University of California, Berkeley.

Interested in any of our trainings?
For more information on bringing a Davenport Institute Training to your community, email us.

Save the Date: Pepperdine School of Public Policy to Host Conference on Cross Sector Leadership
On policy issues ranging from economic development to disaster response, it is becoming increasingly obvious that sustainable solutions will only be found through creative engagement of the government, business, and non-profit sectors. The Pepperdine School of Public Policy will be hosing a fast-paced, multi-format educational event here at the Malibu campus exploring what cross sector leadership looks like in local, state, and federal contexts, as very complex challenges are being addressed by these collaborative processes. And as the home of the Davenport Institute, the School of Public Policy will also be exploring how collaborative processes should think about broader public engagement as well.

When: Monday, October 1, 2018
Where: Pepperdine University, Wilburn Auditorium, Malibu, CA 90263
For more information: email the SPP cross sector program.

Stay Posted: Next Professional Certificate Offering
We have already begun receiving requests regarding when our next Professional Certificate in Advanced Public Engagement for Local Government will be offered. Right now we are looking at dates in February 2019 and finalizing details with venue and trainers. We will be announcing dates within the next couple of weeks. This program will be a great way to jumpstart the last year of the second decade of the 21st century!

Stay posted! You can find out more here.

Past happenings
July 26 – Ashley served as a guest-lecturer at Cal Lutheran University’s MPA program, speaking to students about the importance of and best practices for public engagement.

July 12 & 19 – Ashley and a longtime friend of the Davenport Institute, facilitator Natoma Kier, facilitated two separate public conversations for the City of Palos Verdes Estates. If your city has a project or issue that could benefit from outside facilitation, or if you could use technical support with process design, please email the Davenport Institute.

NCL Webinar on How Libraries Serve Vulnerable People, 8/7

As part of their Promising Practices Webinars, a series dedicated to lifting up creative civic engagement projects around the country, NCDD member – the National Civic League is hosting their next one on August 7th! This free webinar will focus on how public libraries are being utilized in DC and Denver to better serve vulnerable people. NCDD knows the possibilities that libraries hold as drivers of civic engagement in their communities, which is why we are in partnership with the American Library Association (ALA), and wanted to lift up this webinar as another important example of how libraries are vital to our society. We encourage you to read more about the webinar in the post below and register on NCL’s Eventbrite site here.


AAC Promising Practices Webinar: Public Libraries Lending Social Work Resources to Vulnerable People

Join the National Civic League to learn about how libraries are serving vulnerable people.

Tuesday August 7th at 9:30 am PST / 10:30 am MST / 11:30 am CST /12:30 pm EST

Public libraries see some of the community’s most pressing problems up close. In this webinar, learn how libraries are assisting people with recovery needs and homelessness. In Denver, a community resource team helps people connect with resources to help them reach their goals. In Washington, D.C., the public library engages customers without homes and facilitates access to social services, medical care, and housing. Learn how these libraries have leveraged community partnerships, trained staff, developed programs and even engaged customers.

About the presenters:

Jean Badalamenti, a licensed social worker with more than 25 years of experience, became the D.C. Public Library’s first health and human services coordinator in 2014. A graduate of Howard University’s master’s in social work program in the late 1980s, she has been living and working in Washington, D.C. ever since, advocating for people without homes or jobs, as well as those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. At the Library, Jean spends roughly half her time focused on customers without homes – including how to manage their needs during the MLK library’s upcoming renovation. In addition, Jean has also coordinated efforts to open a library branch at the D.C. jail, which the City Council recently funded.

Elissa Hardy, LCSW is the Community Resource Manager at the Denver Public Library. This department consists of three other social workers and four peer navigators. Her role also includes providing training for library staff in the areas of trauma-informed services, homelessness, mental health, resiliency, and more. The Community Resource team connects with Denver’s citizens utilizing the library who are experiencing life challenges. The team works to support and build relationships with people and assist them in navigating community resources to achieve their goals and improve quality of life. Elissa also teaches courses on Policy, Mental Health, Substance Use, Trauma and Recovery, and Power, Privilege and Oppression at the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver.

To Join by Computer:

Sign on to the National Civic League’s Webex Meeting Room: https://nationalcivicleague.my.webex.com/meet/ncl 
Access code: 622 739 287

To Join by Phone:

+1-510-338-9438 USA Toll
Access code: 622 739 287

Have questions about AAC Promising Practices Webinar: Public Libraries Lending Social Work Resources to Vulnerable People? Contact National Civic League

All-America City Promising Practices Series
National Civic League is hosting a series of “AAC Promising Practices” webinars to share innovative and impactful AAC projects nationwide. This series will also highlight successful projects around the country with speakers from cities implementing creative strategies for civic engagement. By equipping individuals, institutions, and local governmental bodies through this series with ideas, models and insights that can be adopted/adapted to individual communities NCL hopes to accelerate the pace of change in communities across the country.

All-America City Award

2019 All-America City Application

The All-America City Experience

The All-America City Promising Practices webinars are made possible with support from Southwest Airlines, the official airline of the All-America City Awards.

You can find the original version of this on National Civic League’s site at www.nationalcivicleague.org/resource-center/promising-practices/.

Local Civic Challenge #3: Getting Ready for Election Season

In the third part of the Local Civic Challenge from by NCDD member, The Jefferson Center, they encourage folks to get ready for election season and offer some great resources to prepare. In June, JC had a mini-challenge every week for folks to be more engaged with their local democracy. This round connected folks about registering to vote and volunteering for elections. You can read the post below and find the original on the JC site here.


Local Civic Challenge #3: Getting Ready for Election Season

Maintaining the integrity of our elections is vital to democracy, so this week we’re challenging you to get more involved with the process. Below, find out where you vote, how to register yourself and help others, volunteer at the polls, and more.

1. Get Registered

First off, make sure you’re registered to vote. A great place to start is vote.gov, where you can find out how to register online, or download a hard copy of the National Mail Voter Registration Form to send in. For information about registering in person, registering in other languages, registration deadlines, voter requirements, and more, check out this voting guide.

2. Find out where you vote

You can find your local election office here. This website will direct you to your state’s voting guide, where you should be able to see your polling place (including maps and directions), districts for your precinct, and candidates and questions that will be on the ballot at the next election. Your state may also have a primary election coming up soon, which determines the candidates that will be on the ballot in the general November election.

3. Know the issues and positions

What issues do you care about? Do you know where candidates stand? Here are a few resources that will help you match your views with your vote:

iCitizen or Vote411: provide voter guides by location

Project Vote Smart: helps you explore not only issues and stances, but voting records and campaign contributions

BallotReady: research every name and issue on the upcoming ballot

iSideWith: working backwards, this matches you with the “perfect” candidate based on your stances on issues

After you find your favorite candidates, see if they could use any help on the campaign trail. Joining a volunteer team is usually as simple as making a quick phone call or sending an email.

4. Help others

Help another person register to vote. Download and share voter outreach materials like these online and at your office, college, or neighborhood centers, and see if your community has a local get-out-the-vote campaign. For teachers, programs like Your Vote Matters can help students learn more about the voting process.

5. Work at the polls

Election judges are temporary, paid employees of local election offices who handle all the aspects of voting day! Your duties would include setting up the polling place, ensuring elections are fair, impartial, and secure, and tabulating the votes for the precinct. Contact your local election office to find out the requirements, like if you have to be a registered voter in that state, of a certain age, or officially affiliated with a political party.

How are you preparing for the upcoming elections? Was it difficult to find information about voting in your community?

Next week, we’ll take a look at the power of supporting local journalism and community storytelling.

You can find the original version of this article on The Jefferson Center site at www.jefferson-center.org/getting-ready-for-election-season/.

Local Civic Challenge #2: Explore Local Leadership Roles

Democracy is all about community members being engaged in their government, and learning more ways on how to deeper connect with your local politics. A great way to do this is to join the Local Civic Challenge started by NCDD member,The Jefferson Center, where during the month of June they offer a mini-challenge every week for folks to learn more about and engage with, their local government. This second installment of the Challenge offers ways to explore local leadership roles (you can read the first installment about getting familiar with your local government here.) We encourage you to learn more about how you can become a more engaged citizen in the post below and you can find the original on the JC site here,


Local Civic Challenge #2: Joining Local Offices, Committees, and Boards

This post is part of our Local Civic Challenge, a chance to complete a few easy tasks each week that will help you become a more engaged citizen! To get the series delivered directly to your inbox, sign up here.

Learning more about the day-to-day work of your local gov, and how community members are thinking about issues, can often segue into taking on a leadership position yourself. We’ve seen this happen a few times throughout our work at the Jefferson Center. Just last week, Erin Buss, a participant in the Minnesota Community Assemblyfiled to run for City Council in Red Wing, Minnesota.

She told the local paper:

“As a participant in the Red Wing Citizens Assembly, I learned a lot about residents’ concerns and the importance of doing the work to keep this city on the right track. People want their government to be responsive, accountable and accessible. I’m excited to bring a fresh viewpoint to City Council — it’s time for Red Wing to move forward.”

Here’s a few ways you can start exploring local leadership roles:

1. See what’s open

It’s an election year, and it’s likely you’ll have some seats in your community up for grabs. Find out which seats these are, and who else is running. While the deadline to file for congressional seats has passed in most states, there may be time to file for city, township, and school district offices.

2. Learn who holds local office

Even if you won’t run yourself, it’s key to know who is. These aren’t always the elections we pay close attention to, especially when the national and state elections take over our newsfeeds. Resources like Common Cause and Ballotpedia make it easy to find your local representatives.

3. Listen to your neighbors

If running for an official title isn’t your thing, check out when your local neighborhood council or community development association meets. This is a great way to find out what issues are important to your neighbors, and where the current gaps are. You could start by listening in at meetings, and eventually move up to a volunteer leadership position.

4. Tune in

Find out when your city council meets, and see if they are streamed online if you can’t attend the meeting in-person. If they aren’t, that might be something to suggest to your city to make the meetings more accessible for everyone.

5. Search

It seems simple, but just googling “get involved in [insert your city] government” will likely bring up a page full of volunteer opportunities! For instance, you might be needed to teach local community ed classes, clean up parks and trails, help out in community gardens, participate in invasive species education, or assist library staff. If your city doesn’t have a dedicated volunteer page, try contacting the department you’d want to work with directly.

Do you hold a leadership position in your community? How did you end up there? If not, what’s holding you back? Let us know in the comments.

Next week, we’ll explore how you can get ready for election season.

You can find the original version of this article on The Jefferson Center site at www.jefferson-center.org/local-civic-challenge-2-joining-local-offices-committees-and-boards/.

Local Civic Challenge #1: Learn More About Your Local Gov

As a fantastic way to help folks further strengthen civic muscles, our friends at The Jefferson Center – an NCDD member org recently began offering a Local Civic Challenge. Every week they have a mini challenge for becoming more engaged with your local government and we will be lifting them up here on the NCDD blog. The first challenge is to get familiar with your local gov! Let us know in the comments below if you have additional great tips for getting familiar with our own city governments. We encourage you to flex those civic skills by checking out the post below, which you can find the original on the JC site here, and sign up to get it delivered to your email!


Local Civic Challenge #1: Get Familiar With Your Local Gov

To kick off the first week of the Local Civic Challenge, we want you to learn more about the ins and outs of your city government! That includes how it operates, who’s involved, and ways you can give feedback. Once you’re done, you’ll be more familiar with how the system works, and you might even have some ideas on the ways things could be improved.

Do you want the Local Civic Challenges delivered directly to your inbox? Sign up here.

1. Locate your city’s charter

In the United States, city charters usually define the organization, power, functions, and procedures of local government. Not all states allow local governments to create their own charters, so double check this list before your search.

2. Find out if your mayor is strong or weak

This isn’t a comment on your mayor’s effectiveness (that’s a different conversation), but their level of authority on local issues. In a “strong mayor” system, mayors are directly elected, and can make appointments and veto legislation. Meanwhile, most “weak mayors” are elected from within the city council, and do not have veto powers or executive authority on most matters. Yours may not be entirely one or the other, either!

3. Give some feedback

What’s one thing you think your local government is doing well? What could they improve on, and do you have any suggestions for them? Make a list, then head to your city’s website to find who to contact. Most have phone numbers and email addresses for different departments, from parks & rec to public works, so you can reach out to the right people.

4. Save the dates

If you don’t want to miss upcoming upcoming public meetings, see if your city has an upcoming events calendar or schedule published online.

5. Follow and like

Does your city or county use Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? If you follow them, you can just catch important projects updates and events as you scroll! Plus, you can easily give feedback by messaging, liking, or commenting.

6. Get familiar with the voting system

Local elections in the US vary widely, but the most common are first-past-the-post voting and instant-runoff voting (often called ranked-choice voting). In first-past-the-post, the candidate with the most votes wins the election. In instant-runoff, voters rank the candidates in order of preference rather than voting for a single candidate. Ballots are counted and each voter’s top choice is recorded, and losing candidates (those with the lowest votes) are eliminated, and their ballots are redistributed until one candidate remains as the top choice of the majority of voters.

Was it difficult to find information about your city? Could your local government be more accessible? Let us know in the comments below!

Next week, we’ll explore how to join local offices, committees, and boards.

You can find the original version of this article on The Jefferson Center site at www.jefferson-center.org/local-civic-challenge-1-get-familiar-with-your-local-gov/.

Evolving Infogagement for More Democratic Public Life

As technology and the needs of our society continue to evolve, the ways in which we engage each other and utilize information when participating in public life will also continue to change. The paper, Infogagment: Citizenship and Democracy in the Age of Connection, written by NCDDer Matt Leighninger in collaboration with Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE), was recently re-released to reflect the ways in which these changes are shaping. We encourage you to read more in the post below and find the full original report on PACE’s Medium site here.


Infogagement: Citizenship and Democracy in the Age of Connection

PACE LogoTable of Contents

Executive Summary

Our traditional notions about the “public square” are out of date. In thinking about information, engagement, and public life, we have generally put information first: people need to be educated, and then they will become politically involved (the original title of this PACE project was, accordingly, “Information for Engagement”). But as we interviewed leading thinkers and practitioners in the fields of journalism, civic technology, and public engagement, it became clear that the sources of information and the possibilities for engagement have diversified dramatically. Instead of a linear progression from education to involvement, public life seems to seethe and spark with connections and reactions that are often unexpected and always hard to map. Our Norman Rockwell image of public life has become something more like a Jackson Pollock painting.

Another question animating this PACE project was how to bring “new voices” — meaning young people, poor people, recent immigrants, and people of color — into the public square. But because public officials, journalists, technologists, and citizens (both new voices and established ones) are playing different roles, and interacting in different ways, this too is a more complex question than it first appears. The real challenge is figuring out what the new public squares might look like, how they can be equitable and democratic places, and how they should be built.

Through interviews and small-group discussions, we have identified and clarified a number of key trends:

  • Thinking of citizens mainly as voters, volunteers, and writers of letters to the editor is no longer sufficient. Civic engagement has changed radically over the last twenty years, spooling out into thick and thin strands of participation. “Thick” engagement happens mainly in groups, either face-to-face, online, or both, and features various forms of dialogue, deliberation, and action planning; “thin” engagement happens mainly online, and is easier, faster, and potentially more viral — it is done by individuals, who are often motivated by feeling a part of some larger movement or cause.
  • The institutions of journalism are going through a painful transition period, but new collaborative practices, “hyperlocal” innovations, and engagement activities (including the use of engagement as a revenue source) may be signaling the rebirth of the field. Meanwhile, in their profession, journalists are employing a greater range of skills and playing a wider range of roles.
  • Despite the early optimism, the new Internet-connected world of information and engagement has not (so far) been a more equitable and empowering environment for people of color, low-income people, and other marginalized groups. Addressing this challenge will require a better understanding of community networks, how they map cultural differences, and how they channel information and engagement.
  • Storytelling is more powerful and ubiquitous than ever: a much higher percentage of people can share their opinions and experiences, and hear the opinions and experiences of others, in ways that are more convenient, continuous, and public. By comparing notes on what we mean by storytelling — and listening — we might come to a better, shared understanding of why people want to take part in public life, and better recommendations for how to facilitate and support their efforts.
  • Big data, once the domain of experts, is now part of the public engagement picture. The opportunities and challenges of big data may require a set of intermediaries — people and organizations that can curate and interpret data for everyday citizens. The future of big data may depend less on the skill and expertise of these intermediaries, and more on whether citizens trust them.

In the past, discussions of information and engagement revolved around the wrong questions. “I’m pretty tired of the ‘How do we save newspapers?’ discussion, as well as the ‘What’s the latest techno gizmo that will save the world?’ discussion,” says Jon Funabiki, a journalism professor who directs the Renaissance Journalism center at San Francisco State. It doesn’t seem sensible or compelling to ask how we can bring back the past in the newspaper industry, or how we can realize an unrealistic future with technology.

Furthermore, we can’t keep thinking of the public square as a place that is dominated by civic professionals, where citizens occupy a limited set of predictable roles. That vision, which originated with Progressive thinkers like John Dewey, is no longer viable. To help communities build new public squares, we should focus on four questions:

1. What kinds of infogagement infrastructure and institutions at the community level would support the best flow of news, information, and engagement?

2. How can such an infrastructure support a high level of democratic engagement across the community, especially for people who have borne the brunt of past injustices and inequalities?

3. What should be the complementary, constructive, yet independent roles of journalists, public officials, and technologists?

4. What are the core democratic skills needed by people in each of these professions, and how can we provide them?

You can find the original version of this on the Medium site for Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE) at www.medium.com/infogagement/infogagement-citizenship-and-democracy-in-the-age-of-connection-cdf849610381.

DMC Hosts Third Annual Civic Institute on August 17th

The third annual Civic Institute is happening Friday, August 17th, hosted by NCDD member org the David Mathews Center for Civic Life. This will be one of the premier events dedicated to strengthening civic life in Alabama and will be a fantastic opportunity for those doing civic engagement work throughout the state.  DMC recently announced the session line up which you can read more below and on the DMC’s site here.


2018 Civic Institute: Be Together Differently

We’ve added new sessions to our third annual Civic Institute! Please join us Friday, August 17, for some deep conversations on strengthening civic life in Alabama – not for a day, but for the duration.

Each year, our hope at the Civic Institute is that Alabamians doing good, sustainable work in their neighborhoods and hometowns connect with each other in new ways. Every place has a unique story and faces a distinct set of challenges, yet across the state, the Mathews Center sees increasingly that Alabama residents and civic leaders often face similar issues. Through Alabama Issues Forums we see that when people desire to address an issue they all face – rather than politics or personalities – deliberative conversations can be especially suited for the uncommon and transformative experience of working together across difference. Wicked problems don’t tend to disappear overnight, and so the everyday habit of talking with each other as citizens – not circling issues, but working towards creating solutions we can all live with – often proves to be, simultaneously, one of the most effective and the most accessible approaches to sustainable community development.

At this year’s Civic Institute, we hope to find deeper ways to support Alabamians practicing such fundamental aspects of democracy as having sustained conversations on difficult issues, practicing innovations in journalism, bringing underrepresented groups to the table, and recognizing the potential each individual holds to make their communities better for everyone. More than ever, this year, we seek to continue modeling our call to listen first and to “pass the mic” by highlighting the following speakers and topics:

The Elephant in the Room: Talking About Difficult Issues: Talking about challenging issues in a divided political climate is hard. Listening to those we disagree with is difficult. Finding opportunities to bridge divides and discuss the “elephants in the room” in a productive, civil manner that prioritizes understanding over consensus is even more challenging. During this interactive session, learn from Alabama communities that are engaging citizens in deliberation on some of the most divisive public issues facing communities today. Discover tools and resources you can use to tackle the issues facing your community. Chris McCauley of Markstein will moderate; additional speaker details are forthcoming. This session is made possible by a generous donation from The Blackburn Institute at the University of Alabama.

“Public life is bigger than political life. We have narrowly equated the two in recent years, and we’ve impoverished ourselves in the process. Public life includes all of our disciplines and endeavors, including ourselves as citizens and professional people and neighbors and parents and friends. The places we’ve looked for leadership and modeling have become some of the most broken in our midst. And so it is up to us, where we live, to start having the conversations we want to be hearing and creating the realities we want to inhabit.”

– Krista Tippet, On Being

Who Remembers? Collective Memory and Public Life: The issue of monuments and memorials in public spaces divides communities around the nation, and people of goodwill on all sides of the issue struggle to hear each other productively.  In this facilitated discussion, participants will discuss what concerns them the most regarding this issue and whether they can imagine opportunities for deliberation within their communities and networks. This session will be moderated by Dr. Mark Wilson, Director of the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts and Humanities at Auburn University. Our thanks to the Alabama Bicentennial Commission for generously sponsoring this session.

“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.”

– Wendell Berry

The Front Doors of Fellowship: Engaging with Difference Through Faith: What is the role of faith communities in public life? What do we find at the intersection of faith and civic engagement? How can we cultivate the physical and conceptual spaces that houses of worship occupy, in order to bring people together in new ways that connect our individual experiences and our rich inner lives with the work that we must all do, collectively, as a public? Faith communities, for many Alabamians, not only feed the spiritual life, they also serve as a hub of community life. This session will focus on stories, challenges, and opportunities in bringing faith communities together across divides to address key issues and challenges facing our hometowns and our state.

“The power of belonging creates and undoes us both; if spirituality does not speak to this power, then it speaks to little.”

-Pádraig Ó Tuama, Irish Theologian

Urban Perspectives on Civic Engagement in Alabama: The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Woodlawn Project and Spring Hill College’s Foley Fellowship in Civic Leadership are experiential learning opportunities that seek to work alongside neighboring communities to better understand and address the complex effects that poverty and other related disparities have on their quality of life. The effectiveness of each project is rooted in its being tailored to fit the particular contexts in which each institution operates. Attendees of this session will take part in a dialogue that compares and contrasts the unique challenges, approaches, and learning outcomes that these programs have yielded working with community partners in urban contexts on opposite sides of the state.

“As we internalize the view of others, we change. And as our perception of others changes, we see possibilities for acting together that we didn’t see before.”

-Dr. David Mathews

Who’s Not At the Table? Engaging Youth in Civic Deserts: Over the past decade, civic engagement and volunteering rates among young Americans have declined across race, income, and education levels. However, youth and young adults living in “civic deserts” are disproportionately represented among the disengaged.  Civic deserts are communities that lack adequate opportunities for young people to learn about and participate in civic and political life. Over 40% of American youth and young adults live in “civic deserts.” In rural areas, the percentage of young people living in civic deserts climbs to nearly 60%. Youth in civic deserts are less engaged in politics, are less likely to vote in elections, and are less likely to believe in the influence of their own voice and the collective potential of their community. While the statistics can be harrowing, there are leaders, educators, and organizers across Alabama who are working to revive youth engagement within rural and urban civic deserts. By capitalizing on the assets within their community to create leadership opportunities, mentorship programs, career training, and youth programming, the guest speakers in our Engaging the Disengaged: Youth in Civic Deserts session are creating innovative avenues for youth engagement. This session is made possible thanks to the generous sponsorship of Alabama Public Television.

Passing the Mic: Representation & Empathy in Civic Media: The digital disruption of traditional news and media outlets has become an accepted, albeit cliche, archetype for the twenty-first century. The fourth estate that so many Americans revered throughout our history has been faced with growing distrust, diminished resources, and has struggled to translate its traditional structure and function into an increasingly viral model of news and journalism. At the same time, digital technologies have enabled millions to tell their own stories in a way that is diffuse, yet direct.

The rise of citizen journalism and social media has emerged as a critical component of what we today characterize as “civic media.” The centuries-long interpolation of citizen and journalist is newly-malleable, and calls for a radical reconceptualization of the citizen-journalist relationship. “I just want to be a voice for the voiceless,” is a refrain that is increasingly unable to bear the complex weight of citizens ready to speak for themselves. Why be a voice for the voiceless when you could just pass the mic?

This session will explore ways of passing the mic and equipping others to tell their own story through digital media as well as traditional journalistic outlets. From Twitter to the town square, we will consider examples of intergenerational cooperation amongst communities, local professors, and their students, as they reimagine what community journalism and self-representation can accomplish in our time.

To register, visit 2018civicinstitute.eventbrite.com. Please contact Rebecca Cleveland at rcleveland@mathewscenter.org if the cost of attending presents a burden; we have some scholarships available. To become a sponsor, contact Cristin Brawner at cfoster@mathewscenter.org. 

 You can find the original version of this announcement on the David Mathews Center blog at www.mathewscenter.org/2018-civic-institute-sessions/.

NCL Announces Winners of the 2018 All-America City Award

This weekend, the National Civic League announced the awardees for the 2018 All-America City Award, following the National Conference on Local Governance. The award is granted to those communities who demonstrate inclusive and innovative civic engagement practices that work to address critical issues and strengthen relations within the community. Please join us in congratulating all the winners and finalists of this prestigious award! You can read the announcement below and find the original on the National Civic League’s site here.


Announcing This Years’ Winners! These 10 communities all get the honor of being named an All-America City.

The All-America City Award recognizes communities that leverage civic engagement, collaboration, inclusiveness and innovation to successfully address local issues.

The Winners
Each of the following winning communities demonstrated civic engagement practices that are inspirational, inclusive and promising in their ability to unite members of the community to collectively and collaboratively help solve our country’s most pressing and complex issues.

Springdale, AR – Chosen for creating the Committee for Civic Engagement and Inclusion and initiating work on city-wide initiatives to incorporate people of color and new Americans into civic life, resulting in a revitalized downtown, active youth council and free food pantries for residents in need. Project details.

Stockton, CA – Stockton’s efforts to build a culture of engagement have resulted in community-based programs and systems that are healing decades of trauma for individuals and communities, empowering students who have been historically marginalized and providing new pathways to higher education. Project details.

Longmont, CO – Through recognizing the diversity of its population, and bringing more community members to the table, Longmont has been able to identify and address community needs creatively and cooperatively from mental health to disaster relief. Project details.

Decatur, GA – Continuing its commitment to civic engagement, Decatur is actively seeking to build an equitable and inclusive experience for its residents and visitors, focusing on racially-just community policing and building diverse and affordable housing. Project details.

Las Vegas, NV – Las Vegas provides residents, stakeholders, staff and elected officials with a collective vision and plans for a future of income equality and economic mobility, building programs and services that remove barriers and address challenges faced by their most vulnerable youth. Project details.

Charlotte, NC – Following reports showing economic inequity in the city, and a police shooting in late 2016, the City of Charlotte engaged thousands of residents in one-on-one conversations and community meetings. This has resulted in partnerships that have built a more skilled workforce, reduced teen crime and invested in infrastructure in neighborhoods in need. Project details.

Kershaw County, SC – Kershaw County embraces the changing faces of its rapidly growing community, balancing its rural past and suburban future, with its business owners, residents and elected officials reflecting that diversity and building programs to ensure equity in healthcare, education and economic growth. Project details.

Mount Pleasant, SC – Mount Pleasant is employing a balance of outreach from city departments and officials and engagement with community members through partnerships, dialogue and forums, resulting in youth participation in the Reading Patrol Program and streamlined navigation through the planning process. Project details.

El Paso, TX – El Paso built upon the City’s 2015Strategic Plan to conduct a year-long community outreach process that reached more than 70,000 people and has led to an Advanced Leadership Training program for graduates of The Neighborhood Leadership Academy, partnerships to increase training and adult education, and creative implementation of the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program to serve more than 4,000 families. Project details.

San Antonio, TX – The Office of Equity, in partnership with the nonprofit, SA2020, applied data from an Equity Impact Assessment to seven high-impact City initiatives, seeing positive results in higher involvement from Latino residents, an increased number of residents enrolled in health insurance programs, reduced incidents of teen pregnancy and progress in adult education initiatives. Project details.

Congratulations to the 2018 All-America City Finalists

Placentia, CA – Finalist because of the encouragement of active engagement across the community in meetings, discussions and task forces that have brought about revitalization, collaborative partnerships, and fiscal sustainability recommendations to guide the city decision makers. Project details.

Battle Creek, MI – Recognizing the power of existing residential groups, Battle Creek is engaging residents through a neighborhood ambassador program, building leadership capacity among its youth, and working with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to address historic and contemporary effects of racism and improve economic conditions. Project details.

Cincinnati, OH – Cincinnati’s formal commitment to civic engagement, seen in city staffing and the organization of community groups, has led to plans to assist vulnerable neighborhoods in going green, platforms for information sharing and engagement training and reduction of crime in targeted neighborhoods. Project details.

Beaverton, OR – Beaverton Organizing and Leadership Development (BOLD) is a unique and dedicated space for immigrants, refugees and other people of color to discover their common goals and struggles, build leadership capacity, gain community organizing and advocacy skills, and strengthen cross-cultural understanding. Project details.

Allentown, PA – Allentown is undertaking several redevelopment efforts and is engaging residents every step of the way. They partnered with outside agencies on developing the national training model on police relations with the LGBTQ community, published a guide in 12 different languages for all newcomers and provided critical job training to all residents in need. Project details.

Columbia, SC – The city government has been assessing and addressing its community needs, developing programs to serve minority and women-owned businesses, connect police officers with community members and revitalize areas affected by flooding and neglect. Project details.

Pasco, WA – Pasco has embraced its diversity by developing inclusionary practices that have changed their election process to enable broader representation, built training and problem solving tools to enhance police community relations and enlisted a resident committee to guide the Economic Strategic Vision. Project details.

Tacoma, WA – Faced with a history of community distrust, anger and grief, Tacoma has chosen to invest in equity both internally and externally. They have established the Office of Equity and Human Rights, developed a Handbook for Recruiting, Hiring & Retention and established programs to ensure on-going community input and engagement. Project details.

“These finalist communities are building local capacity to solve problems and improve their quality of life. The National Civic League is honored to recognize these communities, and views their efforts as critical in addressing the challenge to communities issued by the 1968 Kerner Commission, ‘to make good the promises of American democracy to all citizens – urban and rural, white, black, Spanish surname, American Indians, and every minority group.’” – The National Civic League’s President, Doug Linkhart

About the Award
The All-America City awards are an awards ceremony and networking event unlike any other! Through concrete examples, interactive discussions, and finalist presentations – you will walk away with the knowledge, skills, contacts, and inspiration you need to better strengthen your community.

The award, given to 10 communities each year, celebrates and recognizes neighborhoods, villages, towns, cities, counties, tribes and regions that engage residents in innovative, inclusive and effective efforts to tackle critical challenges.

Promising Practices Webinar
This free monthly webinar series highlights successful projects around the country with speakers from cities implementing creative strategies for civic engagement. By equipping individuals, institutions and local governmental bodies through this series with ideas, models and insights that can be adopted/adapted to individual communities National Civic League hopes to accelerate the pace of change in communities across the country. These webinars are free and open to anyone who is interested in creating stronger communities. Click here to view archives.

Interested in applying?
Communities have found civic strength and growth as a result of winning the award and gain a better understanding of civic excellence through the year-long application process. In applying communities reflect on their strengths, weaknesses, challenges and the progress they have made. Click here to learn how to apply.

You can find the original version of this announcement on the National Civic League’s site at www.nationalcivicleague.org/2018-finalists/.

The Tonic to Heal our Ailing Democracy

It’s incredible how relevant this article still is on how to strengthen our weakened democracy, despite that some time has passed since it was published. Penned by Will Friedman, Executive Director of Public Agenda – an NCDD member org, he states that the tonic to remedy our ailing democracy is “not just more democracy, but better quality democracy”. As many communities around the country are going through their primaries, it is a vital time to practice this; as we all have roles to play in nursing our democracy back to good health. You can read the article below and was re-shared on the Deliberative Democracy Consortium‘s site here.


Fixing What Ails Democracy

What does it mean, this chaotic, disturbing, unpredictable electoral season? We’ll know more after the dust has settled, but we can’t afford to wait to make our best guess. We need a working theory to orient ourselves as we seek to minimize damage and prescribe a path that will move our democracy in a healthier direction.

One thesis has been powerfully articulated in an insightful and beautifully written essay by Andrew Sullivan for New York magazine. I agree with practically everything Sullivan had to say in this fascinating read — with the exception of his central thesis and conclusion!

Sullivan does not bury his lede — it’s all there in the title: “Democracies end when they are too democratic, and right now America is a breeding ground for tyranny.” His argument leads, ultimately, to a call for elites to assert themselves and save the people from themselves.

Yet it is the very non-responsiveness of elites to the needs and problems of great swaths of the public that is profoundly frustrating people in the first place. Asking political and economic elites to control rather than engage the public would only exacerbate that frustration.

In an analysis from the Rand Corporation, the factor best predicting support for Donald Trump was agreement with the statement, “people like me don’t have any say.”

Certainly elites have a role to play in fixing what’s broken in our public life, but if they assert themselves by disempowering people, they risk worsening the problem rather than solving it.

In a recent piece for The New York Times, Michael Lind counters Sullivan’s thesis, arguing for more democracy, not less. He describes the ways in which decisions that affect people’s lives are being made in increasingly distant and unapproachable ways:

Majorities need to be constrained when it comes to essential rights. But removing too many decisions from local to remote governments and from legislators answerable to voters to unelected judges, executive officials and treaty negotiators, is likely to create a democratic deficit that provokes a backlash against the system.

If we want to avert the sense of powerlessness among voters that fuels demagogy, the answer is not less democracy in America, but more.

In defining “more democracy,” Lind focuses squarely on political institutions and legal structures that enable citizens to have more influence on the decisions that affect their lives. Expanding citizen influence is crucially important; it can attenuate the public powerlessness and marginalization that fuel the antagonistic temper of the times. This expansion can emerge not only through traditional political reforms like decentralizing certain decisions and resources to the local level, but also through innovative experiments in community democracy like participatory budgeting.

But Lind’s appraisal is also an incomplete prescription in one important respect. Citizens now operate in an environment that inflames rather than informs public opinion.

We have a political culture and fractured media environment saturated with increasingly sophisticated spin, the cult of celebrity, and the conflation of incivility and authenticity.

We have access to more information than ever before, but that information often serves to reinforce our prejudices and assumptions. It’s never been easier to avoid alternative views and disconfirming data.

We have more ways of expressing ourselves than ever before, but it’s too easy to sound off irresponsibly, even anonymously, and avoid challenge and intellectual accountability.

Rather than a political culture of listening to and engaging people with different views, we have too much of a culture of dismissal, disdain and groupthink. As a result, we end up with a politics full of magic bullets, scapegoats, and focus-group-tested slogans.

To counter these inflammatory forces, we need a democratic culture and set of practices that help people encounter and weigh competing ideas and the choices we need to make as we face the future. Such structures will enable people to transform gut-level opinions and assumptions into what Dan Yankelovich calls “public judgment” — views that people have won, not received, through the hard work of thinking for themselves and talking with others.

What we truly need, then, is not just more democracy, but better quality democracy, with better resources for public conversation and judgment.

If there’s an upside to the current turmoil it’s that, despite the demagogic excess, important questions are swirling to the surface.

Why is the economy working so well for a small number of Americans and so poorly for so many? Is the disappearance of middle class jobs, and along with them the American Dream, inevitable or can we do something about it? If so, what? How can we better address our entrenched issues around race and ethnicity, and best adapt to our rapidly changing demographics? How can we work to make gridlock the exception rather than the norm?

We need more robust democratic conversation on questions like these — not just to “save the people from themselves” but to renew America’s democratic promise and set the nation on a better path.

You can find the original version of this article on the Deliberative Democracy Consortium site at http://deliberative-democracy.net/2017/06/16/fixing-what-ails-democracy/