One of the three hypotheses underlying Kettering’s research is that democracy requires responsible citizens who can make sound decisions about their future and can act on these decisions.

The ability to make sound decisions is required of all citizens, as is the ability to act on these decisions. But people aren’t always sure they have the power or resources they need to make decisions or to act. They may doubt that they can trust others to work with them. In addition, people often disagree about what should be done. And many people feel completely shut out of the political system.

Through learning exchanges, Kettering studies how citizens might accept their responsibility, make sound decisions about what is in the public’s interest, and join forces to act on those decisions. Many of these sound decisions are made in communities and through institutions.

Questions We're Working On

One problem Kettering pursues in its research is how the collective action of citizens can be informed by sound judgment, which requires collective decision making through public deliberation. We want to know more about the nature of deliberative politics and how it contributes to capacity building in citizens and communities.

Our research also suggests that citizens lack the spaces and opportunities for this work and are often sidelined from democratic practices. We have a series of strategies in place to study this problem of democracy.

Another problem of democracy is that citizens do not pursue an active role. Our research suggests that this may be due in part to a misunderstanding of the role and work of citizens in a democracy.

"The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by its private citizens."
An Historical Example: From Subjects to Citizens
From Subject to Citizen from Kettering Foundation on Vimeo.

Modern science has solved a mystery in an early draft of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson wrote a word and then carefully expunged it, smearing the ink and overwriting it so as to completely obliterate the original word. Using spectral imaging technology in 2010, Library of Congress researchers revealed the word that had been so forcefully erased and replaced in 1776. Jefferson had changed the word "subjects" to "citizens." Though this sentence does not appear in the final version of the Declaration, the word citizens is used elsewhere and subjects is not. This finding reveals an important shift in the Founders’ thinking: the people’s allegiance was to one another, not to a distant king.


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