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Our traditional notions about the “public square” are out of date.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/

PBP Announces PBNYC Results and Launches Data Tool

There are some exciting updates from NCDD member org – The Participatory Budgeting Project, who recently completed another successful round of participatory budgeting in NYC (PBNYC) and announced the launch of their new data tool, myPB. Over the last 7 years, the PBNYC process has allowed residents to decide on how to spend $210 million on 706 community projects. As part of a pilot program in NYC, PBP announced their new data tool, myPB, which allows residents to research their districts, find out if PB is in their communities, the status of PB projects, and more. We encourage you to read the post below and find the original version on PBP’s site here.


Participatory Budgeting in NYC: $210 million for 706 community projects

For the 7th straight year, New Yorkers just decided part of the city budget. We’re excited to share the impressive results from 2018 – and a new tool that brings past results of Participatory Budgeting in New York City (PBNYC) to your fingertips!

2018 Vote Results

More than 99,250 residents age 11 and older participated in the largest local civic engagement program in the US, deciding how to spend $36,618,553 across NYC. They developed hundreds of spending proposals and funded 124 community improvement projects for schools, parks, libraries, public housing, streets, and other public spaces.

The impacts of PB are even greater over time. Since 2012, New Yorkers have decided how to spend $210 million on 706 projects. PBNYC has also sparked over $180 million in additional spending on city-wide improvements such as school air conditioning and bathroom repairs.

PB is building the governing power of hundreds of thousands of everyday New Yorkers. As Council Member Carlos Menchaca reflected,“PB isn’t just about choosing winning projects, it is also about creating opportunities for civic participation and building stronger communities. New Yorkers are eager to lead the decision processes on topics that directly affect them.”

For more information on PBNYC Cycle 7 see the full results here and this video of highlights from the results announcement and celebration:

myPB – A New PB Data Tool

We’re thrilled to share not only 2018 vote results, but also a tool – myPB – that we’ve created to keep you updated on the status of projects and the impacts of PB.

Deciding how to spend public dollars through PB can be refreshing and exciting. Implementing the winning projects, however, can be frustratingly slow. Although staff share occasional updates about funded projects on the district level, there is no comprehensive, city-wide view of the status of PB-funded projects.

Now we have an exciting new data tool for tracking PB projects and outcomes: myPB.community. So far it includes all project data through 2017. We’re piloting it in NYC, with plans to include many more cities in the future—maybe yours?

Powered by NYC Open Data, community members can now use their smartphone or computer to:

  • find their district,
  • see if their district has participated—or is participating in—PB,
  • contact their district office,
  • search, sort, and filter PB projects that made it to the ballot
  • share information on PB projects on social media,
  • and see how much money has been allocated to various city agencies and issues.

This award-winning data platform tells lots of stories, revealing city-wide and district-specific priorities.

In June 2018, myPB.community won awards in Mayor’s Civics and Open Data from NYC Open Data, for its use of open data to support civic work, like how policy groups and advocates across the city can use mypb.community to understand community needs.

Sorting projects by category indicates what people prioritize when it comes to improving their city.

Since 2012, the NYC School Construction Authority has implemented an overwhelming majority of PBNYC projects, followed by the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Community groups can get more specific information about needs and priorities in their district, to better advocate for specific neighborhood needs.

For example, of the 982 projects for libraries and schools on NYC ballots since 2012,

  • 236 mention ‘tech’
  • 61 mention ‘library’
  • 56 mention ‘bathroom’
  • 50 mention ‘air conditioning’
  • 41 mention ‘electric’
  • 20 mention ‘security’
  • 13 mention ‘ADA’
  • 11 mention ‘music’
  • 10 mention ‘water’

This breakdown lifts up top priorities for improving schools and libraries across the city.

You can find the original version of this blog post on The Participatory Budgeting Project’s site at www.participatorybudgeting.org/participatory-budgeting-in-nyc/.

Citizen Engagement is Vital Even for Smart Cities

As technology continues to grow and cities shift towards being “smart”, there are some learning opportunities for the ways in which cities go about acquiring data, the ways in which it is used, and the need to still genuinely engage the community. Which is why we wanted to share this piece written by Mary Leong of NCDD member org, PlaceSpeak, about the need for cities to be mindful of the ways in which technology is used when gathering insight on citizens and utilizing the information during city decision-making. She emphasizes the need to use a”citizen-first engagement approach” (as outlined by Meeting of the Minds) and engage the community to get real citizen feedback before implementing these smart city practices. You can find the article below and read the original version on the PlaceSpeak blog here.


No, Your City Can’t be “Smart” Without Citizen Engagement

In a recent piece from our friends at Meeting of the Minds, 4 Strategies to Fix Citizen Engagement, they asked several important questions: “Can a City really be described as ‘Smart’ if it makes changes without consulting with a diverse sample of the citizens affected by these changes before, during, and after projects are implemented? Will citizens adopt Smart Initiatives if they aren’t part of the decision-making process?”

As cities struggle to establish themselves as “smart”, they have rushed to implement IoT (Internet of Things) sensor networks which help to gain insight into the movements and habits of citizens. Sensors are gathering vast amounts of information about how citizens are engaging with their transportation needs, energy use and more – often without their explicit consent. A recent article in the Atlantic asks facetiously, “Why trouble to ask the ‘citizens’ what they want from urban life, when you can accurately surveil the real actions of city’s ‘users’ and decode what they’re actually doing, as opposed to what they vaguely claim they might want to do?”

While it is well-documented that social desirability bias or recall bias can lead respondents to provide inaccurate or false information in surveys or polls, exclusively relying on passive data – as opposed to proactive data collected through robust citizen engagement processes – only tells half the story. The challenge is twofold:

Firstly, it is crucial that smart cities do not become surveillance cities. Out of 52 agencies in the United States which use facial recognition, “only one…expressly prohibits its officers from using face recognition to track individuals engaging in political, religious, or other protected free speech,” found a report from Georgetown Law. Recent revelations from the ACLU also revealed that companies such as Amazon are actively marketing facial recognition technology to governments as an “easy and accurate” way to investigate and monitor “people of interest” – including undocumented immigrants, Black Lives Matter activists, or citizens exercising their right to protest. This unprecedented ability to surveil without accountability should be concerning to anyone with an interest in civic participation.

Secondly, the implementation of smart city technologies should incorporate citizen feedback and concerns. People are justifiably concerned about privacy issues – particularly individuals from groups or communities which may be disproportionately targeted. Furthermore, people are often unable to opt out, which can be a cause for concern for some. Just like with any large-scale initiative or project, it’s a lot harder to deal with the fallout from citizens after the decisions have been made – especially when large amounts of money have already been spent on infrastructure or technologies. In order to truly realize the potential of a “smart city”, decision-makers must include citizens in the decision to implement smart city solutions. By including the public in co-creating (“build with, not for”) and deciding on solutions that are appropriate for each community, they can be tailored to local unique challenges and needs.

The solutions highlighted in Meeting of the Minds call for a “citizen-first engagement approach”, with four factors:

  • Utilize mobile
  • Remove the burden for citizens
  • Consider offering rewards
  • Go beyond survey responses

We agree that these factors are necessary for invigorating smart cities everywhere and inspiring people to participate – while challenging decision-makers to go above and beyond. Instead of one-off online surveys or public meetings, online civic networks notify and keep people engaged on an ongoing basis. In contrast to social networks, where people are empowered to connect with like-minded individuals all across the world, civic networks are tied to place-based communities, such as streets, neighborhoods, schools, stratas/homeowner associations and more. By creating a central “hub” for citizens to engage continually with decision-makers and fellow community members, PlaceSpeak makes online democratic participation easy, convenient and habit-forming.

You can find the original version of this article on PlaceSpeak blog at www.blog.placespeak.com/your-city-cant-be-smart-without-citizen-engagement/.

Join NCDD at Frontiers of Democracy Conference 2018

We are thrilled to announce the upcoming 2018 Frontiers of Democracy conference is happening at Tufts University from Thursday, June 21st until Saturday, June 23rd! The annual Frontiers of Democracy brings together leaders working on deliberative democracy, civic engagement and civic education, to explore how to further advance democracy. NCDD’s Managing Director Courtney Breese will be presenting a session on Friday, June 22rd during on the 2nd session block from 2:30pm-4pm on “Partnering to Strengthen Participatory Democracy: How Might We Connect and Collaborate?”. We encourage you to read the announcement below and find the original on the Tisch College website here.


Frontiers of Democracy Conference

Frontiers of Democracy is an annual conference hosted by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University since 2009. The 2018 conference will take place from June 21 (5:00 p.m.) until June 23 (1:00 p.m.) at Tufts University’s downtown Boston campus in Chinatown.

Partners for the conference in 2018 include the Bridge Alliance, the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, the National Conference on Citizenship, and the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

You can now register and pay to hold a spot. Please note that speakers and session organizers must purchase tickets.

Frontiers of Democracy immediately follows the Summer Institute of Civic Studies, a selective 2-week seminar for scholars, practitioners, and advanced graduate students.

Frontiers 2018 Theme

According to Freedom House, democracy has been in retreat worldwide for 12 years. Many people are pushing back, including activists and organizers who are nonviolently struggling, using tactics like strikes, boycotts, and mass demonstrations against entrenched power. Other individuals and groups take different approaches, some seeking a greater degree of neutrality and emphasizing deliberative dialogue, particularly when they work within institutions such as schools, public agencies, and newspapers. This year, Frontiers will bring people from these communities of scholarship and practice together to ask how they can learn from and complement each another.

You can read the full agenda for the 2018 conference by clicking here.

Looking Back: Frontiers 2017

Thanks to everyone who joined us at an exciting, thought-provoking, and timely Frontiers of Democracy 2017. You can watch the video of this year’s introduction, “short take” speakers, and one of our afternoon plenaries, below. (You can click on each video’s title to watch on YouTube and, in the description, find timestamps that allow you to skip to a specific speaker’s presentation.)

Frontiers 2017 was focused on multiple frameworks for civic and democratic work developed respectively by Caesar McDowell of the Interaction Institute for Social Change and MIT, Archon Fung of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and Tisch College’s Peter Levine. Our short take speakers included Rev. Dr. F. Willis Johnson, the senior minister of Wellspring Church in Ferguson, Missouri; Wendy Willis of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium and the National Policy Consensus Center; and Hardy Merriman, President of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

In addition, the Journal of Public Deliberation, the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, and The Democracy Imperative held a pre-conference symposium on “Deliberative Democracy in an Era of Rising Authoritarianism.”

Check out the preconference symposium’s agenda and readings and the full Frontiers 2017 schedule.

You can find the original version of this announcement on Tisch College’s site at https://tischcollege.tufts.edu/research/civic-studies/frontiers-democracy-conference.

Exciting Models of Democracy in Engaged Cities Awardees

This week, Cities of Service announced the three winners of the Engaged Cities Awards, given to the cities of Santiago de Cali, Bologna, and Tulsa. As NCDD member org Public Agenda noted in their recent piece, each of these cities offer inspiring examples of civic engagement and better models of local democracy. Sometimes democracy in the US can feel in a rut, but these cities give us innovative ways to bring better democratic practices to our own communities and more fully enrich our lives. You can read the article from PA below and find the original version here.


For Better Models of Democracy, Look to the Engaged Cities of Cali and Bologna

Both Santiago de Cali, in Colombia, and Bologna, Italy, demonstrate the power of putting citizens at the center of governance, giving them opportunities to engage that are meaningful, enjoyable, regular, and sustained.

The main problem with American democracy is that we don’t realize it can be improved. We assume that we’re stuck with the system we have, and we ignore the fact that there are other varieties of democracy already out there in the world.

Two of the three winners of the Engaged Cities Award, given by the nonprofit organization Cities of Service, illustrate some of the possibilities. Both Santiago de Cali, in Colombia, and Bologna, Italy, demonstrate the power of putting citizens at the center of governance, giving them opportunities to engage that are meaningful, enjoyable, regular, and sustained.

Not too long ago, Cali was a city plagued by violence spilling over from drug wars and civil wars. It had a homicide rate of 15 per 100,000 inhabitants. Almost a third of the population came from places other than Cali, and there were regular conflicts between people from different places and cultures. Over 60 percent of Cali residents said they didn’t trust their neighbors.

To remedy an interrelated set of problems, Cali created a comprehensive system for local engagement. As part of a strategic planning process, they created a department and council devoted to “civic culture.” They conducted a comprehensive research process, reaching 30,000 people, to take stock of the civic landscape and find out what kinds of changes people supported.

The backbone of the new system is a set of “local councils for civic culture and peace,” with one in each of Cali’s 22 neighborhoods. Unlike most neighborhood councils in the US, these councils are highly participatory and deliberative, and attract large numbers of people to their meetings and events. Each neighborhood develops a set of norms and “agreements of coexistence” to govern how they will work together. There is an explicit focus on engaging people of different “ethnic, cultural, artistic, religious and social groups.”

The councils make decisions on issues ranging from land use to waste management to environmental concerns. Neighborhoods also identify initiatives that they want to take on. The city supports these high-impact volunteering efforts with teams of professionals who help people plan, research and implement their ideas. Over 300 of those initiatives took place in the last year.

Each year, the work culminates with “Civic Culture Week,” a festival that attracts thousands of people.

The city developed a tool to measure progress called the “Diagnosis of Civic Culture.” Cali residents’ trust in their neighbors and perceptions of public safety have risen. Homicides and violent incidents are at their lowest levels in a decade.

In Bologna, a declining voter rate and increasing mistrust of government were signs of local civic decay. Rather than focusing solely on voter registration or electoral reforms, community leaders decided to be proactive about improving the relationship between residents and public institutions. The city adopted a “regulation on public collaboration between citizens and the City for the care and regeneration of urban commons” and created a new office for “civic imagination.”

To give this new vocabulary a real presence in the city, Bologna has a system of six District Labs which provide spaces for residents to develop plans, share information, make new connections and co-design collaborative projects for the improvement of the city’s physical infrastructure. The labs are considered the “antennae” of the neighborhoods, relaying ideas and concerns within the new engagement system.

In the last five years, 508 collaborative proposals have been developed and 357 have been implemented, with over 1,700 citizens participating in district meetings in the last year alone. The spinoff “Incredibol!” initiative, which called for the support of creative industries by allowing the re-use of public spaces to develop entrepreneurial projects, received 621 proposals, nominated 96 winners and assigned sixteen public spaces.

Alongside the district labs, Bologna has launched a citywide participatory budgeting process that also has engaged thousands of people. The city also uses a range of online tools, including direct emails, social media and a “Comunità” website to facilitate information-sharing and networking within and across districts.

A secret to the success of both Cali and Bologna is that, in those cities, engagement is fun. The Cali system capitalizes on the “recovery of streets and parks, murals, photographic exhibitions, soccer tournaments, gastronomic shows and festivals.” Bologna’s application for the Engaged Cities Award featured the roles played by artists, kindergarteners and cyclists.

Beyond the fun factor, local democracy in Cali and Bologna seems more vibrant because engagement in both cities is sustained and systemic, with a wide variety of opportunities for people to participate.

The third winner of the Engaged Cities Award, the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, demonstrates another way to encourage and capitalize on citizen engagement. By creating a team of Urban Data Pioneers, they tapped the tech skills of people inside and outside City Hall. Through a range of new tools and apps, they are identifying and solving problems ranging from traffic incidents to blight.

A great virtue of the Engaged Cities Award, and the role played by Cities of Service in organizing it, is that it provides stories from near and far for spurring our civic imagination. If we are dissatisfied with the state of our democracy, there are inspiring examples to look to elsewhere, and many ways of improving public decision-making, problem-solving and community-building.

You can find the original version of this blog post from Public Agenda at www.publicagenda.org/blogs/for-better-models-of-democracy-look-to-the-engaged-cities-of-cali-and-bologna.

ILG TIERS Learning Lab Training in San Diego, June 5 & 6

For those in the NCDD network working in local government and looking to improve public engagement skills, check out this great training coming up from NCDD member org Institute for Local Government (ILG). ILG is offering their two-day TIERS Learning Lab training on Friday, June 5 and Saturday, June 6 in San Diego, CA. This is a great opportunity for staff and elected officials working in local government to better engage and sustain their public engagement efforts, and early bird registration ends May 15th. You can read the announcement from ILG below or find the original version here.


TIERS Public Engagement Learning Lab – June 5th & 6th, San Diego CA

Upcoming Learning Labs & Registration
San Diego, June 5-6, 2018 (Early Bird Registration ends May 15)
TIERS Public Engagement Learning Lab San Diego 2018

For registration please email publicengagement@ca-ilg.org or call (916) 658-8221.

Learning Lab Overview
The TIERS Learning Lab is a comprehensive training and coaching program from ILG that provides local government teams of 2-5 individuals with hands-on instruction and coaching on the TIERS Framework. By participating in the TIERS Learning Lab, staff and electeds will learn how to utilize, customize and implement the TIERS tools and processes. The TIERS Learning Lab will help you build and manage successful public engagement in order to support local government work, stakeholder input and project success.

TIERS Learning Lab Components
The TIERS Learning Lab consists of training and support over a six month period for an agency team of up to five people. This six-month hands-on coaching opportunity includes:

  • A pretraining consultation with ILG to discuss your goals, plans and challenges; and to select your Learning Lab public engagement case
  • Immersive two-day Learning Lab: hands-on, participatory in-person training with expert coaches and peer learning
  • Post-training customized implementation coaching (up to 6 hours)
  • Monthly ’Open Lab’ for problem solving during the three months post training
  • Training workshop materials and meals
  • Scheduling and coordination of consulting calls for pre and post training

Learning Lab Tuition Options
Option 1: Team Pricing

  • 3-5 Participants
  • Two-day immersive off-site workshop (w/meals)
  • Customized project/region consulting
  • Pre and post training planning and evaluation
  • TIERS materials, templates & online tools
  • 3 months of lab hours for monthly check-ins and coaching

Early Bird Discount Rate* $3,500 per team

Option 2: Individual Pricing

  • 1-2 Participants
  • Two-day immersive off-site workshop (w/meals)
  • Customized project/region consulting
  • Pre and post training planning and evaluation
  • TIERS materials, templates & online tools
  • 3 months of lab hours for monthly check-ins and coaching

Early Bird Discount Rate* $995 per person

*Price increases by 20% after May 15 for TIERS Learning Lab in San Diego on June 5-6.

“The TIERS training was incredibly motivating for our team and we were able to immediately put what we learned about the TIERS process to work on our current projects. We left with best practices and a clear process we can follow”
– Mayor Gurrola, City of Arvin

You can find the original information of this training on ILG’s site at: www.ca-ilg.org/TIERSLearningLab.

Insights on Participatory Democracy via the Jefferson Center

NCDD member org, The Jefferson Center, recently shared their recap of the Innovations in Participatory Democracy conference that happened last month. In their reflections, they discuss the future opportunities for our democracy by better bringing together participatory principles and deliberative approaches. You can read the post below and find the original on Jefferson Center’s site here.


Making Participation More Deliberative, and Deliberation More Participatory

A few weeks ago, we attended the Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. The conference, which we were excited to support as both participants and presenters, brought together community leaders, government officials and staff, practitioners, researchers, funders, youth leaders, and technologists to explore innovations in government participation.

We led a workshop on Citizens Juries, Assemblies, & Sortition, and participated in a panel on the similarities and differences across participatory budgeting, Citizen Juries, and citizen assemblies. While we were there, we saw democracy in action at Central High School, where students are part of a current Participatory Budgeting Project initiative.

At the conference, it was clear the opportunities for participatory democracy are expanding. Participatory democracy is made up of two key parts: participatory principles, which often invite the public to share their thoughts and opinions, and deliberative approaches, which typically convene a smaller group of individuals to learn about an issue and create plans for action or policy recommendations. While these two unique approaches are sometimes thought of as opposing forces, we saw how people around the world are using both to make democracy more impactful and inclusive. There’s no longer one clear set of principles for the “right” way to participate in democracy, and it’s incredible to be part of this movement.

We wanted to share a few exciting outlooks for democracy that we took away from the conference:

1. Collaboration with governments will grow and change

In the United States, Citizens Juries and mini-publics are typically run by nonprofits (like us!), rather than officially sponsored by the national government. This is changing as governments are exploring new ways to engage with their citizens. But, that doesn’t mean the only outcomes of deliberation and participation need to be policy changes: we’ve learned throughout our work that participatory democracy can be used successfully for long-term, community-wide impacts.

At the conference, we shared the example of our Rural Climate Dialogue program in Winona County, where residents created recommendations for their community to adapt to climate change and extreme weather. Since the dialogue, the City of Winona has adopted an energy plan with goals to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. They’ve also invested in community education initiatives on energy efficiency and water savings. Urging policy changes while supporting long-term behavior changes, like we’re doing in Winona County, will help governments, their partners, and citizens sustain the results of engagement efforts.

2. It’s time to focus on the opportunities to combine participatory and deliberative approaches

By merging both participatory principles and deliberative approaches, we can make democracy more accessible and impactful. You might be familiar with the thoughts of Micah Sifry, of Civic Hall, on these two distinct tactics: “Thick engagement doesn’t scale, and thin engagement doesn’t stick”. Deliberation (thick engagement) can be productive, but needs lots of time and resources. Participatory approaches (thin engagement), like asking for input on social media, may be easier and quicker, but require little ongoing involvement or further opportunities for deeper engagement, as Matt Leighninger of Public Agenda explores. But, there’s a solution, and we saw countless examples of this at the conference: we can invite people to submit ideas and proposals online for consideration by participants who are meeting in person. Conversely, we can build on the recommendations and ideas generated at deliberative events to form the base of digital participation efforts.

We’ve been testing out this combined approach in a few different projects. Through Your Vote Ohio and Informed Citizen Akron, we used deliberative events to ask citizens in Ohio what they needed from their local news organizations. Their input set the stage for Your Voice Ohio, a project that explores community engagement approaches to help newsrooms across the state listen and respond to their audiences. With the deliberation recommendations as a guiding force, we host open community events, invite people to share their stories online and through social media, and are rolling out Hearken as a platform where local residents can ask reporters questions about the addiction crisis. By combining these forces we’re making democracy more accessible to everyone.

3. The entry to engagement is different in every community

One of the incredible projects we heard about was the Participatory Budgeting Project’s work with the Phoenix Union High School District, where they invited student input to decide how to spend district-wide funds. This was the first school participatory budgeting process in the U.S. to focus on district-wide funds, which started with five public high schools and has expanded since. While this may seem like a small step, this has begun to shift the relationship between students and administrators.

Administrators are now considering how they can adapt these participatory practices to the everyday culture of these schools, like inviting students to share their thoughts on changes such as scheduling and course offerings. Because the initial opportunity to participate was simple and manageable for both the students and the administration, they’ve laid the foundation for future collaboration and growth. Plus, young people got to use real voting machines in the process, which was a great opportunity to experience how voting and live democracy actually work. We’re excited to see how this can expand to other schools and communities.

4. Success means equipping others

In democracy work, we often focus on “bringing projects to scale”. This is important, but we also don’t want to leave communities behind without equipping them with the tools they need for sustained success. For too long, the dominant theory of change for deliberative democracy looked something like this:

  1. Select a topic
  2. Host a Citizens Jury (or other deliberative event)
  3. Generate a report
  4. Hope someone reads it and utilizes the recommendations.

But, we can do so much more. We can combine thick and thin engagement techniques to give people the resources to continue projects after engagement organizations and professionals leave the community. At the Jefferson Center, we are implementing this approach with our dialogue-to-action model. First, we co-define: we build relationships with stakeholders and community members to gain a deeper understanding of the issue at hand. Next, we co-design: working with project partners, we develop and implement an engagement process to unleash creative ideas which also provides participants with the expertise, tools, and time they need to develop solutions. Finally, we co-create: our partners use the public input to advance local actions, reform practices and processes, and guide policy development and decision-making.

5. We can frame impact differently to support broader results

Deliberation and participation can be misunderstood as having one narrow goal: to influence a policy decision. But instead, we can evaluate the success of Citizen Juries, mini-publics, and other engagement efforts not just by their policy influence, but by the opportunities to impact individuals, communities, networks, organizations, and governments. Unless they are expressly commissioned by a government sponsor, the projects that go beyond one policy objective will likely have the most impact. By taking a more holistic approach to change, we can build sustainable partnerships between individuals, leaders, local institutions, the media, and others, who can carry on the important work in the community.

For instance, Participatory Budgeting Projects don’t just enable people to direct public money to community priorities. Throughout the process, community organizations and networks are strengthened, as groups work together to focus on their shared needs. After the discussion ends, these groups may form new organizations and partnerships and continue positive and constructive engagement. All of the PB award winners at the conference, Cyndi Tercero-Sandoval (Phoenix Union High School District), Sonya Reynolds (Participatory Budgeting NYC), and Cecilia Salinas (Participatory Budgeting Chicago in the 49th Ward) represent this investment in long-term impact.

Looking forward

Participation and deliberation should not be positioned as opposing forces. Instead, it’s time to identify meaningful opportunities to make participatory practices more deliberative, and make deliberative processes more participatory. For those of us committed to democratic reform and innovation, combining these elements effectively, regardless of the issue, method, or context, will support our ambitions to create a stronger, more vibrant democracy for all of us.

You can find the original version of this post on Jefferson Center’s blog at www.jefferson-center.org/making-participation-more-deliberative-and-deliberation-more-participatory/.