Local Civic Challenge #2: Explore Local Leadership Roles

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


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

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

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

She told the local paper:

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

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

1. See what’s open

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

2. Learn who holds local office

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

3. Listen to your neighbors

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

4. Tune in

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

5. Search

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

1. Locate your city’s charter

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

2. Find out if your mayor is strong or weak

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

3. Give some feedback

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

4. Save the dates

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

5. Follow and like

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

6. Get familiar with the voting system

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

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

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

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

Digital Engagement Census Deadline Extended to Mon. 2/26

Shared with us by NCDD member, Tim Bonnemann on our Main Discussion listserv, the ParticipateDB 2018 Digital Engagement Census deadline has been extended until this coming Monday, February 26th. The survey, hosted by several international partner organizations, seeks to identify the digital engagement tools that people have been using and for folks to provide feedback on their experience using the tools. You can read more about the survey in the post below or find the original on ParticipateDB’s site here.


ParticipateDB 2018 Digital Engagement Census

Today, after extensive prep work since we first floated the idea back in 2016, we are excited to launch the ParticipateDB 2018 Digital Engagement Census, a global practitioner survey aimed at improving our understanding of how technology is shaping community engagement today.

Over the next ten days, we hope to hear from people working in community engagement and public participation in places all around the world to answer two basic questions:

  • Which digital engagement tools or services have you used in your work lately?
  • What were your experiences and lessons learned?

Respondents who leave us their contact information will:

  • be among first to get their hands on the interim report (to be issued later this month),
  • receive an invitation to our exclusive follow-up event, and
  • receive an electronic copy of the final report free of charge (to be issued later in March).

We are exceptionally pleased to be partnering with a group of renowned international organizations and practitioner networks in this field. This project wouldn’t be possible without their support and guidance. Thank you!

Please head to the project page for more details. When you get a chance, please take a few minutes to complete the online survey and share it with your colleagues near and far: ParticipateDB 2018 Digital Engagement Census

You can find the original version of this article at http://blog.participatedb.com/2018/02/09/welcome-to-the-participatedb-2018-digital-engagement-census/.

Learn from Iceland’s Deliberative Constitutional Change

We want to encourage our NCDD network, especially those in California, to consider registering to attend an intriguing event this June 3 at UC Berkeley called A Congress on Iceland’s Democracy. This international gathering aims to explore new approaches to democracy inspired by the deliberative process that Iceland used to create its new constitution through a mock legislative process, and we’re sure many NCDDers would take a great deal of inspiration from participating.
You can learn more about the gathering in the invitation letter below sent to the NCDD network from our friends at Wilma’s Wish Productions, whose Blueberry Soup documentary on Iceland’s constitutional transformation we previously posted about on the blog, or learn more at www.law.berkeley.edu/iceland.


A Congress on Iceland’s Democracy

We are writing to extend an invitation to an event we believe would interest you. On June 3rd, 2017, we are hosting a citizen’s gathering at the University of California, Berkeley.

This event will translate participatory discussion into concrete action proposals by organizing as a mock legislative body to develop, debate, and decide on proposals for moving forward with Iceland’s constitutional change process. The event’s structure takes inspiration from the 2010 Icelandic National Assembly and Robert’s Rules of Order.

This powerful summit will revolve around discussions on how to address the current political and social climate in the United States, using Iceland’s constitutional reform process as an example. Iceland’s new constitution was written in perhaps the most democratic way possible and we want to model this methodology and learn how it can be applied in communities across the United States and the world. Our goal is to create a non-partisan environment that will foster new approaches to democracy and a shared vocabulary.

Many prominent political figures from Iceland will be in attendance as well as many of the authors of the new constitution. Furthermore, academics, activists, startups, and journalists from all over the United States and Europe are also coming to participate in this “Icelandic National Assembly” style event.

This gathering of citizens has piqued the interest of people from all around the globe – a mass exodus of Icelanders and Europeans are flying in just to sit at these tables because they know real change is possible through dialogic methodologies. We hope this historic gathering will shape the way Americans think about democracy with a focus on the impact that dialogue can have on the democratic process on a local as well as global scale.

This conference aims to achieve exactly what many of you have dedicated your life to – reimagining democracy and the way we converse with one another about tough issues. Your passion for dialogue and democracy in addition to your excellent facilitation skills makes me believe you would be a valuable asset to this event and an excellent voice for others to engage with.

We want a broad range of perspectives present at this event, so we invite you to register to attend this citizens gathering and participate in history as it is being made.

You can learn more about the Congress on Iceland’s Democracy at www.law.berkeley.edu/iceland.

2017 Frontiers of Democracy Conference Call for Proposals

We are happy to announce that once again, the Frontiers of Democracy conference organizers at Tufts University are accepting session proposals for their annual gathering. The 2017 conference will take place, as always, at the Tufts University downtown campus in Boston, this time from June 22nd – 24th.

The annual Frontiers of Democracy conference is a key gathering for our field that brings together leading deliberative democracy thinkers, public participation practitioners, and civic educators to explore ideas at the forefront of advancing democracy. NCDD’s leadership attends almost every year, and many of our members are staples of the conference, so mark you calendars to join us!

This year, the Frontiers gathering’s framing statement highlights the global rise in authoritarianism and the challenge it poses for continuing to expand democracy:

In 2017, the frontiers of democracy are threatened around the world. Leaders and movements that have popular support – yet are charged with being undemocratic, xenophobic, and illiberal – are influential or dominant in the Philippines, Russia, Turkey, Hungary, South Africa, France, Britain, and the United States, among other countries. Meanwhile, many peoples continue to face deep and sustained repression. Social movements and networks are confronting this global turn to authoritarianism. Please join us for a discussion of what we must do to defend and expand the frontiers of democracy.

If this theme speaks to work you do or conversations you are eager to have, consider applying to host  workshops or learning exchanges of your own! You can find the form to submit proposals by clicking here.

More details about the 2017 gathering are forthcoming, so make sure to check back frequently to the Frontiers of Democracy conference website at http://activecitizen.tufts.edu/civic-studies/frontiers for news and updates. We look forward to seeing many of you there!

Missed Our “Democracy Machine” Confab Call? Hear it Now!

NCDD hosted another one of our Confab Calls last week, and it was one of our most engaging calls yet! We hosted a conversation with the dynamic duo behind the concept of the “Democracy Machine” and had a very lively discussion with nearly 40 participants about the possibilities and practicalities of building a massive, integrated, deliberative online commons. You really missed out if you weren’t there!

Confab bubble imageOur presenters were John Gastil and Luke Hohmann, who have been working together to outline the technical, organizational, and collaborative process that would be needed to begin to link and integrate the many existing online D&D tools and platforms to create a functioning digital public commons that could facilitate sustained deliberative engagement and send ongoing feedback to both government and citizens to improve how the public interfaces with the public sector. It’s hard to understate the enormity of this undertaking, but the Confab Call presentation and discussion with John and Luke was a great opportunity to wrap our heads around the idea and discuss its pros, cons, and potentials.

If you missed out on the call but still want to see and hear the presentation and conversation, then we encourage you to watch the recording of this Confab Call by clicking here. This Confab Call also had one of the most active discussions we’ve had in the accompanying chat box, and the great back and forth is also worth reading along with the presentation, so you can find discussion from the Confab Call’s chat by clicking here.

NCDD is proud to have supported John and Luke in taking another step in making the Democracy Machine a reality by hosting this first broader conversation on our Confab Call. As you can hear in the call recording, there is still a lot more work to do to make the idea feasible. But the next step that John and Luke have planned is to use their interactive session on building the democracy machine during our NCDD 2016 conference in Boston this October 14th-16th. They’ll be using the session to collect more feedback and ideas from leaders in the field and also to enlist collaborators for the future, so if you’re interested in being involved in their project, be sure to register for the conference today so that you can continue the conversation in person!

Source: Challenges to Democracy blog

If you are looking for a bit more background on the idea of a “democracy machine,” we encourage you to read about the basic concept in John’s recent post on the Challenges to Democracy blog or read his full essay, “Building a Democracy Machine: Toward an Integrated and Empowered Form of Democracy,” by clicking here.

Thanks again to John and Luke for relying on NCDD to help advance their ideas and for collaborating on this Confab Call! To learn more about NCDD’s Tech Tuesday series and hear recordings of past calls, please visit www.ncdd.org/confabs.

Innovations in Am. Government Award Accepting Applicants

We want to make sure that our members are aware of a great opportunity for recognition in public participation from Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation – one of our NCDD member organizations.

Ash logoThe Ash Center operates the Innovations in American Government (IAG) Awards Program and the Bright Ideas Initiative, both of which are aimed at recognizing creative and effective governance models and disseminating ideas about promising government practices or programs. We are positive that many of the programs and initiatives that our NCDD members work on every day would make great candidates for these honors, so we encourage you to nominate a program you know about or apply yourself!

The winners of the IAG Award are eligible for a $100,000 grant, and even the finalists are eligible for a grant of $10,000, so what do you have to lose? The deadline to apply is April 15th, so make sure you get started soon!

Both of these prestigious awards have a long history of recognizing leading innovations in governance. Here’s how the Ash Center describes the Innovations in American Government Award:

Since its inception in 1985, Innovations in American Government Awards has identified and celebrated outstanding examples of creative problem solving at the state, city, town, county, tribal, and territorial government level. In 1995, the Innovations Awards were expanded to incorporate innovations in the federal government. The Awards program accepts applications in all policy areas; from training employees to juvenile justice, recycling to adult education, parks to the management of debt, public health to e-governance, Innovations applicants reflect the full scope of government activity.

And here is how they describe the Bright Ideas Initiative:

…[I]n 2010 the Innovations Program launched a recognition initiative called Bright Ideas that serves to further highlight and promote creative government initiatives and partnerships so that government leaders, public servants, and other individuals can learn about noteworthy ideas and can adopt those initiatives that can work in their own communities.

Beginning with these Bright Ideas, the Innovations Program seeks to create an open collection of innovations in order to create an online community where innovative ideas can be proposed, shared, and disseminated.

For more details on eligibility requirements, selection criteria, or to apply for these awards, visit https://innovationsaward.harvard.edu/IAGAwards.cfm.

Good luck to all the applicants!

Good Engagement Can Be “Preventative Civic Health Care”

Long-time NCDD supporting member Larry Schooler penned a wonderful piece for the Challenges to Democracy blog run by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance & Innovation – an NCDD member organization – and it was too good not to share. In it, he points to the opportunity presented in the President’s recent call for more engagement and aptly compares our work to preventative health care for our democracy. We encourage you to read Larry’s piece below or find the original here.


Is The President’s Call For More Public Participation Within Reach?

Ash logoThis is America. We want to make it easier for people to participate.

Beyond the partisan divides around some of President Obama’s policy proposals lies a compelling thought: regardless of the policy outcome, give ordinary people safer access to the process. That is an achievable goal – as demonstrated by the many governments who have made it so.

For too long, government has made unrealistic demands of citizens when it comes to their participation. Initially, whole segments of the population could not vote or faced significant obstacles to registration – still an issue in some states. Meanwhile, the only choice many citizens had was to speak for no more than three minutes at a podium – often on live television, after hours of waiting, minutes before a vote.

At one city council meeting in Texas, a speaker at a public hearing asked (in a nearly empty chamber at 11 o’clock at night), “Will there be an opportunity to weigh in on this issue? “I believe you’re doing so now,” replied the mayor. “With any power?” she asked, to applause from fellow citizens and befuddlement from her elected officials.

At work, we don’t limit input to those who can make a speech right before we make a decision, and we shouldn’t impose that limit on the American people, either; that helps “the most extreme voices get all the attention,” as the President put it.

What do we expect when we ask citizens to sit as they would in church, court, or a college lecture, listening to elected officials opine from a dais on high? Only the bravest would openly and brazenly challenge a pastor, a judge, or a professor in those settings.

The changes in attitude the President describes may be hard for government to achieve, but that doesn’t prevent changes in process that would help produce rational, constructive debates, enabling us to listen to more than those who agree with us, and to give the average person more of a say. We should strive to ensure, after all, that those affected by a public policy decision can affect that decision. That’s not the case now in much of our country.

A multi-organizational coalition that included the American Bar Association, the National League of Cities, and the International City County Managers Association produced a set of tools to help make the President’s Dream a reality. Called Making Public Participation Legal, it sought to replace archaic regulations that drive governments to host public hearings rather than facilitate dialogue.

In cities across the country, governments have either replaced or complemented hearings with conversations.

Neutral facilitators help smaller groups of citizens with differing points of view talk to each other respectfully, with discussion guidelines that encourage people to respect points of view other than one’s own, focus on understanding rather than persuasion, and suspend judgment. Moderators even manage to get thousands of people into civil dialogue online through forums set up by local governments to discuss policy challenges.

Some communities even empower ordinary citizens to be the change they want to see in our process – by training them to host dialogue. In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, citizen hosts from Portsmouth Listens held small conversations in people’s homes and resolved major political conflicts through constructive and structured dialogue.

Rather than expecting elected officials both to hold a point of view and to stay neutral among competing interests, many cities have empowered teams of citizen volunteers to facilitate policy discussions at cafes, schools, and houses of worship.

Perhaps most importantly, governments where these changes in public participation have taken hold have laid a solid foundation for change through guiding principles and, in many cases, dedicated personnel. Several organizations, including the International Association for Public Participation, have given governments templates for public participation principles, and more and more cities have community engagement coordinators, offices of neighborhood engagement, and the like.

Ultimately, this paradigm shift can yield more than just warmer feelings among Americans. Governments often spend millions dealing with the consequences of poor public participation – holding off-cycle recall elections, defending against lawsuits filed by aggrieved policy opponents, or even policing protestors.

In an age when we are trying to focus on preventive, ongoing health care rather than the much more expensive emergency room, shouldn’t we do the same for our politics?

Perhaps when Americans demand that their elected officials, from Congress to city council, give them chances to converse, rather than contend, we will achieve the President’s vision. Our civic health is ailing; most Americans don’t vote, let alone stay active in public life away from the ballot box, and many young adults are not leaving home with a firm understanding of civics or with the tools needed to engage in meaningful civic dialogue.

The cure will require all of us – and is well within our reach.

You can find the original version of this piece on the Challenges to Democracy blog at www.challengestodemocracy.us/home/is-the-presidents-call-for-more-public-participation-within-reach/#sthash.jWbgAiMZ.dpuf.

Davenport Launches Tool for Evaluating Gov’t Engagement

We were excited to hear the news last week that the team at the Davenport Institute – one of our NCDD member organizations – is launching a powerful new platform for government agencies to evaluate their own public engagement efforts and compare them to other cities or agencies. We commend the Davenport team on creating this needed tool. You can learn more about the tool’s launch in the press release below that we found on Business Wire, or read the original here.


The Davenport Institute Launches New Public Engagement Evaluation Platform

DavenportInst-logoThe Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy is pleased to announce the launch of a new tool to help cities and other local public agencies evaluate their public engagement efforts, the “How are WE Doing? Public Engagement Evaluation Platform.”

In a 2012 survey of California public sector officials regarding their views of public engagement, 85 percent of respondents said their “views on public engagement have changed since their careers began,” and 77 percent were “interested in hearing more about public engagement practices that have worked in other places.”

For almost a decade, The Davenport Institute has been researching, training, and consulting with public officials to improve the ways in which governments involve their residents in making tough policy decisions. This work has taken Institute leadership throughout California and across the country, learning about and teaching the latest techniques in effective participatory governance.

With a growing awareness of what constitutes effective public engagement, we continue to hear from many public leaders seeking a way to take a “30,000 foot view” of their government’s practices in this area. The “How are WE Doing? Public Engagement Evaluation Platform” is the product of these conversations, and of the committed participation of an esteemed group of California leaders.

It is designed to offer governments a lens through which they can evaluate their agencies public processes, and to give them the opportunity to apply for recognition of successful engagement. Cities, counties, special districts, agencies, and departments can apply for recognition at one of three levels of engagement:

  • Silver Engagement – the government is making genuine efforts to improve its engagement with residents and successfully meets at least 12 of the 20 criteria listed.
  • Gold Engagement – the government has successfully institutionalized resident engagement as part of its operational culture, meeting at least 15 of the 20 criteria listed.
  • Platinum Engagement – the government is a leader in the engagement field, earning this designation by meeting at least 17 of the criteria listed.

“How are WE Doing?” also offers a way of gathering data on how governments across the state, and eventually around the country, are doing collectively in their attempts to involve residents, data the Institute will make available to all participants in the platform.

The Davenport Institute would like to thank the following Advisory Council members who devoted their time and expertise to developing this platform:

  • Artie Fields, City Manager, City of Inglewood
  • Rod Gould, City Manager, City of Santa Monica
  • Ken Hampian, City Manager, City of San Luis Obispo
  • Dennis Donohue, former Mayor, City of Salinas.

To learn more about “How are WE Doing? Public Engagement Evaluation Platform” visit the homepage here or view the platform here.

For more information about The Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine University, visit http://publicpolicy.pepperdine.edu/davenport-institute.

You can see the original version of this announcement on Business Wire at www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160215005664/en/Davenport-Institute-Launches-Public-Engagement-Evaluation-Platform.