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:
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 officeto 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.
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 Assembly, filed 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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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 email@example.com if the cost of attending presents a burden; we have some scholarships available. To become a sponsor, contact Cristin Brawner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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/
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:
The @NYCCouncil gathered in chambers with @PB_NYC delegates and supporters from all over the city to celebrate the results of Cycle 7, and to look forward to another successful year of participatory budgeting. pic.twitter.com/L9TTOfcXPR
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.”