This Kettering Foundation report examines a burgeoning network of organizations that is inventing new forms of community renewal and citizenship education. Their names vary—some call themselves public policy institutes, others centers for civic life—yet they share a common methodology, one aimed at tackling tough public issues, strengthening communities, and nurturing people’s capacities to participate and make common cause.
Today, there are more than 50 of these centers operating in almost every state in the union, most of them affiliated with institutions of higher learning. Except for a handful that are freestanding, the centers combine the best of what colleges and universities provide—civics courses, leadership development, service-learning programs, community-based research—with the kinds of hands-on, collaborative problem solving traditionally done by nongovernmental organizations. Because they operate at the intersection of the campus and the community, their impact extends to both: they nurture and sustain public life while at the same time enriching higher education.
Doing Democracy surveys the state of the network today, how it has evolved over the years, and what it has achieved. It also looks at how the centers carry out their activities, the varying orientations and essential practices that define their work, and some of the challenges they face in coming years as they continue to deepen and expand their efforts.
Scott London is a California-based journalist and consultant. The report includes a preface by David Mathews, president of the Kettering Foundation.