Connections 2019: Exploring the Relationship between the Public and the Government
The Kettering Foundation’s 2019 review of research focuses on the relationship of the public, or citizenry, to governments at every level. The relationship between the public and government has been a troubled one for many years as citizens have lost confidence in institutions and institutional actors have questioned the public’s ability to productively address the difficult problems we face. The 2019 issue of Connections, edited by KF director of strategic initiatives Melinda Gilmore with KF program officer Phillip Lurie and KF director of exploratory research Valerie Lemmie, takes up these challenges by looking at the relationship in a variety of ways. The volume highlights the work of both elected officials and public administrators and considers ways to align their professional routines with the ways citizens in communities work together. Some authors explore the role of public deliberation in institutional decision-making. Authors also examine the relationship through a multinational lens, considering the challenges facing democracy around the world and ongoing dialogues to build and strengthen relationships.
Kettering Foundation president David Mathews draws from an idea proposed in his forthcoming book, simply titled With. In this article, he explains that a with strategy hinges on the idea that there is a different way to think about the relationship between the public and governing institutions, one that emphasizes complementary production. Mathews describes a reciprocal relationship in which governments and the citizenry can work effectively together by realigning their efforts so that they are mutually reinforcing.
Ron Carlee is visiting assistant professor of public service and director of the Center for Regional Excellence at Old Dominion University. In this article, he shares his thoughts on city managers and the role of civic engagement in their work, based on 30 years of observing this approach in Arlington County, Virginia, where he was Arlington County manager from 2001 until 2009. He describes three initiatives with extensive civic involvement and ownership at their core, related to affordable housing, environmental restoration, and neighborhood conservation.
Cheryl Hilvert is the Midwest regional director at the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) in Montgomery, Ohio; Michael Huggins is principal of Civic Praxis in Eau Claire, Wisconsin; and Doug Linkhart is president of the National Civic League in Denver, Colorado. Hilvert, Huggins, and Linkhart make the case that incorporating core democratic practices, including framing issues and identifying available resources, in the work of community engagement may be an effective way to address the difficult problems that communities face. Their article, which considers the role of local managers, suggests that public engagement efforts with citizen-centric strategies can enhance local efforts to solve public problems and provide effective democratic governance.
Martín Carcasson is a professor of communication studies at Colorado State University and the founder and director of the CSU Center for Public Deliberation. Carcasson argues for the need for cities to build their deliberative capacity, with a particular focus on the role city managers could play to tap into these developing insights and elevate the quality of communication in their communities. He offers three aspects of deliberative systems leadership that are particularly relevant to city managers.
Tony Wharton, a writer in Richmond, Virginia, with 20 years of experience producing National Issues Forums issue guides, captures what happened at A Public Voice 2019, including a focus on deliberation, how the information that emerges from deliberation differs from what can be gleaned from polls and focus groups, and what future issues might be topics for issue guides and deliberative forums. Convenors of deliberative forums from four locations (Jacksonville, Florida; Sedona, Arizona; Mound Bayou, Mississippi; and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia) also discuss their efforts at the local level, particularly around engaging officeholders in this work.
Michael Neblo is professor of political science, philosophy, and public policy at The Ohio State University, where he directs the Institute for Democratic Engagement and Accountability (IDEA). In this article, Neblo describes efforts aimed at bringing the resources of our institutions, our civil society partners, and our networks to build a bridge from the deliberative democracy network into institutional decision-making. One goal of this approach is to forge public policy that truly has broad and deep support, thereby improving public faith in Congress and our democratic institutions.
Wendy Willis, executive director of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, reflects on the April 2019 Multinational Research Exchange Week, which brought together almost 70 participants from around the world for an exchange in Dayton, Ohio. The focus of the gathering was to consider how citizens work with governments and other institutions to improve their communities and accomplish public goals and to explore instances of citizens and governments—both local and national—engaging in complementary production to create public goods.
Maura Casey is a senior associate of the Kettering Foundation and a former editorial writer for the New York Times. This article is based on interviews she conducted with Ottón Solís, an economist and political thinker who lost by only a few votes in the 2006 Costa Rican presidential race. Solís participated in Kettering’s 2019 Multinational Research Exchange Week and shared perspectives from Costa Rica, where he represents his country as a director of the Central American Bank for Economic Integration.
Over the past 33 years, the Kettering Foundation and the Institute of American Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences have collaborated on an ongoing set of dialogues about the United States and China. Maxine Thomas, vice president, secretary, and general counsel at the Kettering Foundation, reflects on this ongoing work.
Richard Harwood is the president and founder of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. This article draws from his new book, Stepping Forward: A Positive, Practical Path to Transform Our Communities and Our Lives. Using work in Winchester, Kentucky, as an example, Harwood argues that we must take a “shared-responsibility approach” to address the deepest challenges communities face, bringing people together in more effective ways that take advantage of all the resources and talents of a community.