One of the three hypotheses underlying Kettering’s research is that democracy requires institutions with public legitimacy that contribute to strengthening society. Kettering’s research aims to deepen learning about a disconnect separating citizens from government and from other institutions as well as the professionals who staff them. The foundation does not study how institutions accomplish their specific tasks, but rather their impact in a democracy where citizens struggle to have a stronger hand in shaping their future.

While institutions can affect the public’s ability to govern itself, they can also unintentionally weaken self-rule by substituting expert knowledge for public knowledge. Aligning institutional routines with citizens’ work is the central challenge. In this research, the foundation asks, how does the work done in institutions affect the work that citizens must do? The corollary of this question is, what does the work of a deliberative public contribute to the work of institutions like government or higher education or in professions like journalism or philanthropy? In a global, expert-driven world, how do citizens make a significant difference in politics?

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
The Disconnect between Government and the Public

How communities understand their ties to education and the schools remains a critical question as we continue to explore public-engagement efforts and to be aware of the connection between the schools and community.

Public schools aren’t the only institutions affected by troubled relationships with an alienated citizenry. Governments, at all levels, and the political system surrounding them have suffered from a significant loss of public confidence. Furthermore, the distrust can be mutual: officials in government and the political system don’t always have confidence in the ability of citizens to carry out their responsibilities in a democracy. We continue to monitor this relationship, keeping an eye on whether people are regaining confidence in government and what relationship they expect to have with it.

Roles and Impact of Nongovernmental Institutions

The focus of our work in media is on the impact it has on the ability of citizens to do public work. We hope to gain a better understanding of what successful democratic practice looks like from the perspective of citizens and from the perspective of journalists and other media professionals.

Institutions of higher education, like those in the media, have played a significant role in democracy. While these institutions may profess to serve democracy, the term has so many meanings that the effect academic institutions have on the democratic citizenry and its work is less than clear.

Additionally, democracy in the United States has unquestionably been affected by philanthropic and nonprofit institutions. The foundation is aware of the important role that various types of nongovernmental institutions play in democracy. With increased government funding and the rise of professionals within these organizations and associations, it appears that the nongovernmental sector is becoming colonized by the governmental sector.