Connections 2020: The Work of Democratic Citizenship

As we began planning the 2020 issue of Connections, it seemed that the world was falling apart. By March, many around the world were sheltering in place and trying to sort through what work—and life—would look like in a new normal that has extended beyond weeks to become months. 

It was against this backdrop that we tried to think about an issue of Connections that could make a positive contribution during a time that even now continues to be tumultuous. What approach to take? Should we report on the many struggles that people have been experiencing? Would we find evidence of citizens innovating and trying new things? What would those who read the journal be working on and thinking about? 

With such change all around, it was difficult to project forward to December, and we found ourselves revisiting fundamentals. The world faces large challenges, and it is tempting to focus on the difficulties or on the major institutional actions that might become necessary. But all of these things would surely unfold in the context of what people, starting in communities, are actually doing to address their shared challenges. 

This issue of Connections explores these things. In different ways, the collected articles focus on the ways people come to understand their own role in self-governance—another name for democracy. They explore what citizens can do and are doing to make a difference by joining with other citizens in collective decision-making and action to address the problems they face.


Articles in Connections 2020:

An Experiment Studying Experiments by David Mathews 

Kettering Foundation president David Mathews describes the unique ways that Kettering came to be and how it conducts its research. Kettering is notable not only for what it studies, but also how it has learned to organize itself to pursue that research.

Leaderful Communities: Exploring Citizen-Leaders by Ike Adams and Erin Payseur Oeth 

James (Ike) Adams is a member of the National Issues Forums Institute (NIFI) board of directors, and Erin Payseur Oeth currently serves in the Office of Community Engagement at the University of Mississippi. In this article, they describe the work they have been doing to develop and experiment with a leadership curriculum rooted in some of Kettering’s learning about how communities can best function democratically.

Historic Decisions: Looking Deliberatively at the Past by Joni Doherty

Joni Doherty is a program officer at the Kettering Foundation. In this article, she describes the foundation’s Historic Decisions work, which is a way of looking at history through a deliberative lens. Over the last five years, museums across the country have been creating guides for deliberation about historic issues as a means of seeing current opportunities for deliberative practice as well as to gain new insights from the past.

The Issue Guide as a Pedagogical Tool by Samantha Fried

Samantha Fried is a program manager for science, technology, and society (STS) and civic studies at Tufts University. In this article, she reflects on what resulted from teaching a course in which students designed deliberative issue guides around questions of science that cannot be solved by science alone.

From Opinions to Judgments: Insights from the First 40 Years of the National Issues Forums by Jean Johnson and Keith Melville 

Jean Johnson and Keith Melville are both senior associates of the Kettering Foundation, and Johnson is a vice president of the National Issues Forums Institute. In this article, they give a retrospective view on what has been learned over the decades from public deliberations on a number of issues that NIF has focused on repeatedly over the years: health care, the economy, America’s role in the world, and more.

The Library as Community Hub by Marie Pyko, Lissa Staley, and Debbie Stanton 

Marie Pyko, Lissa Staley, and Debbie Stanton work at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library in Topeka, Kansas. In this article, they explore the ways they have been trying to reimagine how their local library can best play a productive role in being an effective agent of community change.

Faith and Democracy by Elizabeth Gish and Ekaterina Lukianova 

Elizabeth Gish and Ekaterina Lukianova are program officers at the Kettering Foundation. In this article, they describe the efforts of a network of religious leaders to improve the democratic capacities of their local communities.

COVID-19 Community Response and the Appetite for Civic Engagement by Michele Archie 

Michele Archie is principal of The Harbinger Consultancy. Since March, she has been studying locally based responses to the challenges of COVID-19 that have been emerging in a number of communities. This article takes a close look at a number of those efforts and explores where there are similarities and differences. 

In It Together: Opening American Education by Damien Conners 

Damien Conners is a program officer at the Kettering Foundation. In this article, he describes ways that the pandemic may be an opening for different communities to see education of youth as a collective effort and not solely the responsibility of schools—and how this could be an opportunity for new strides toward increased justice.

Deliberation in Everyday Conversation by Wendy Willis 

Wendy Willis is a writer, a lawyer, the executive director of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, and the founder and director of Oregon’s Kitchen Table, a program of the National Policy Consensus Center in the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University. This article, based on a longer report, looks at what Kettering has been learning about where and how deliberation takes place in everyday, informal interactions between citizens.

Deliberative Democracy Institute 2020: An Opportunity to Innovate and to Reinvigorate Networking by Maxine S. Thomas 

Maxine S. Thomas is vice president, secretary, and general counsel at the Kettering Foundation. Thomas describes a unique opportunity brought by the challenges the foundation faced in convening its summer multinational meetings. The distance and necessity of remote technologies allowed the multinational networks to be visible in different ways than usual, and these circumstances may themselves be an opportunity to foster and strengthen new nodes and connections.

With the People: Connecting Campuses and Communities across the Country by Kara Lindaman and Betty Knighton 

Betty Knighton, president of the National Issues Forums Institute, and Kara Lindaman, a professor of political science and public administration at Winona State University, reflect and report on an ongoing effort across a number of higher education campuses and institutions called With the People. This effort seeks to embed and extend deliberative opportunities both within and across campuses.

The Citizen Workers of Democracy by Harry Boyte 

Harry C. Boyte is senior scholar in public work philosophy at Augsburg University and codirector of the Institute of Public Life and Work. In this article, he describes some of the ways that the responses to the pandemic are built on different conceptions of democracy and the role of the citizen. If democracy is work, as Boyte points out, then how can government be viewed as collaboration with citizen workers?