New Report From Elena Fagotto and Archon Fung: Sustaining Public Engagement

When sufficiently agitated, Americans can, and often do, mobilize—at least on a one-time basis—to find solutions for critical community problems. A new research report, issued this week by Everyday Democracy and the Kettering Foundation, provides insights into how public engagement initiatives can grow into a regular practice, used to address a variety of community issues. “Sustaining Public Engagement: Embedded Deliberation in Local Communities,was written by Harvard University researchers Archon Fung and Elena Fagotto.  It features concrete examples of sustained community-led dialogue and problem-solving efforts, and should be of interest to researchers and community organizers. “People hungry for a deeper understanding of how deliberative democracy can become a routine practice in communities will want to read this report cover to cover,” says Martha L. McCoy, executive director for Everyday Democracy. The report notes that the most successful civic engagement efforts not only address particular public issues such as school redistricting, domestic violence, or racism, but also improve the quality of local democratic governance. “Those who build institutions and practices of public engagement often work at two levels,” according to the authors. “Not only do they address urgently felt needs in their communities, but, although they may not have intended it, they also improve the machinery of democratic self-government.” The insights found in Sustaining Public Engagement are grounded in case studies of initiatives in Kuna, Idaho; Portsmouth, N.H.; Kansas City, Kan.; Montgomery County, Md.; and communities in Connecticut, West Virginia, South Dakota, and Hawaii. The case studies draw on different approaches to public deliberation, including National Issues Forums, communitywide study circles, and several other locally designed initiatives.