Kettering Foundation Dayton Days: October 2017

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In 2017, the Kettering Foundation’s research was focused on what is known about the challenges currently facing democracy.  While the research was broadly based, it was guided in large part by the sense that there is something troubling going on in the polity. The foundation invited three speakers, all distinguished researchers closely connected with its work for many years, to help KF sort out what that “something” is.  

This working paper contains lightly edited versions of all the speakers’ remarks, as well as highlights of the ensuing discussion.  John Doble, Richard Harwood, and Harry Boyte presented three different ways of looking at what’s going on in our polity. And, while trying to get a better handle on what’s wrong, their research also turned up evidence of what Boyte calls a democratic awakening that might be under the surface of the polarization and rancor that we see today.

The key question coming out of Doble’s research, he said, is how deep and how permanent these divisions are. Insights from NIF, along with other research, suggest it’s possible to bridge the deepest divisions, although there are significant challenges for leadership, he said.  Harwood argued that “what we are facing is certainly a political challenge but, more fundamentally, it is a human challenge, which is going to require certain types of responses in order to move forward” He concluded that “this fight is about whether we can restore our sense of belief in ourselves and a can-do spirit.” Picking up on the theme of a “can-do spirit” Boyte described his work with groups of young people engaged in public achievement projects. Boyte spoke of these people, and others similarly engaged, as citizen professionals, who can “reconnect institutions and the lay citizenry” and “rebuild our common community wealth.” 

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