Connections 2020: The Work of Democratic Citizenship
The world of 2020 faces multiple large challenges. In all sorts of communities, people are working together to address shared problems and to capitalize on shared opportunities.
The 2020 issue of Connections, edited by KF director of strategic initiatives Melinda Gilmore with KF program officer Brad Rourke, focuses on the ways people come to understand their own role in self-governance—another name for democracy. The articles 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?