As a research institution, the Kettering Foundation works primarily through learning exchanges and other collaborative research with civic organizations, communities, and institutions that are experimenting with ways to strengthen democracy. Those involved in these exchanges trade their experiences for insights that Kettering has collected from past exchanges with a wide range of groups from around the world.
KF learns by exchanging ideas and experiences with people and organizations who are trying to do something in their own communities out of their own self-interest. We believe this is crucial to the integrity of the insight, as well as its sustainability and relevance to others.
Kettering learns by offering our insights and arresting questions in exchange for what our partners are observing and learning in public life.
We do this in a variety of ways, but most frequently by convening research exchanges at the foundation, where we bring together our staff and those we’re learning with to trade their experiences for insights that Kettering has collected from past exchanges with a wide range of people and groups from around the world. These meetings are truly learning exchanges and not simply for bringing people together to discuss their work, useful as that might be. Each exchange has a particular research focus.
Learning exchanges, usually day-long sessions, run in week-long cycles throughout the year. Some exchanges can be completed in one meeting; others may require gathering over several years. These include:
- Research Exchange Weeks
- Multinational Symposium & Alumni Exchange
- Deliberative Democracy Exchange
- Doing Democracy around the World (DDW)
Learning exchanges focus on solving particular problems that all participants have a stake in addressing, even if they are not from research institutions (and most aren’t). Preliminary exchanges may test to see if there is, in fact, a shared interest in a problem. Or they may collect information from a number of sources in order to get a more complete account of a troubling issue or an unrealized potential. Other exchanges are based on comparing experiments to solve fundamental problems of, or intrinsic to, democracy. These experiments may or may not be successful; the objective of an exchange isn’t to praise or blame but rather to share what participants struggle with and hope to learn more about. Insights from past exchanges and other Kettering research will be on the table to test against participants’ experiences.