The Deliberative Democracy Consortium

Mar 22nd
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Public Participation for 21st Century Democracy

Public Participation for 21st Century Democracy

Forthcoming from Wiley-Blackwell in June, Public Participation for 21st Century Democracy explores the theory and practice of public participation in decision-making and problem-solving. Authors Matt Leighninger and Tina Nabatchi examine how public participation developed over time to include myriad thick, thin, and conventional opportunities, occurring in both face-to-face meetings and online settings. The book explores the use of participation in various arenas, including education, health, land use, and state and federal government. It offers a practical framework for thinking about how to engage citizens effectively, and clear explanations of participation scenarios, tactics, and designs. Finally, the book provides a sensible approach for reshaping our participation infrastructure to meet the needs of public officials and citizens.

The book is filled with illustrative examples of innovative participatory activities, and numerous sources for more information. This important text puts the spotlight on the need for long-term, cross-sector, participation planning, and provides guidance for leaders, citizens, activists, and others who are determined to improve the ways that participation and democracy function. Public Participation for 21st Century Democracy:

• Helps students and practitioners understand the history, theory, and practice of public participation

• Contains a wealth of case studies that explore the application of public participation in different settings

• Covers vital issues such as education, health, land use, and state and federal government

• Has accompanying instructor resources, such as PowerPoint slides, discussion questions, sample assignments, case studies and research from, and classroom activities.


Deliberation by the Numbers

Deliberation by the Numbers

Who says you can’t quantify public deliberation? It is true that quantitative measurement hasn’t been a strong suit of the field. It is also true that some of the most significant impacts, such as policy changes, are inherently difficult to quantify. But at this point, enough scholarly research and evaluative work has been done that is possible to pull together a concise statistical glimpse of the kinds of things these projects accomplish. The DDC fact sheet "Deliberation by the Numbers" is available on the DDC resource page.

A SeeClickFix for Public Participation?

A SeeClickFix for Public Participation?

Tools like SeeClickFix tap into the capacity of citizens to be ‘intelligent sensors’ of their environment, allowing them to report problems like potholes and graffiti. Can this same thinking, and some of the same technology, allow citizens to gather, track, and analyze data on public participation?In this project, a team of MPA students from the Maxwell School at Syracuse conducted exploratory research on this question, interviewing a variety of participation and evaluation experts, ranging from practitioners to evaluators and technologists. The team was supervised by Dr. Tina Nabatchi of the Maxwell School. In addition to the report, which is on the DDC's Resource page, you can also view the slides used by Mariana Becerril-Chavez, Katharyn Lindemann, Jack Mayernik, and Joe Ralbovsky to describe their findings in a recent webinar.

Designing local civic infrastructure

Designing local civic infrastructure

A new guide from NLC and DDC can help citizens and local leaders decide how to make their communities more engaging, inclusive, participatory, and powerful. Planning for Stronger Local Democracy is built around two lists: the questions to ask about your community in order to take stock of local democracy; and the building blocks you might consider as part of a comprehensive, sustainable strategy for vitalizing civic engagement in your town. It can be downloaded free of charge at

This guide is intended to help communities take their own next steps on the path of democratic innovation.  We have learned a great deal about the strengths – and limitations – of public engagement as it is practiced today. We know how to involve large, diverse numbers of people in face-to-face and online settings that enable them to connect, learn, develop recommendations, and plan for action. These initiatives typically produce a range of significant outcomes, from personal transformation to policy change. But they take considerable amounts of energy and time, and in most cases, they do not seem to shift the long-term relationship between citizens and their public institutions. While they advance equity and distribute power in the context of a particular issue or decision, there may be limits to how equitable, inclusive, and powerful they can be.

With these lessons in mind, many communities are starting to envision more comprehensive, long-term, sustainable forms of public engagement. They are considering how they might create their own recipes for democracy, using civic ingredients such as:
-    Neighborhood associations, school councils, and other citizen spaces that have been made more participatory and inclusive
-    Proven processes for recruitment, issue framing, and the facilitation of small-group discussions and large-group forums
-    Online tools for network-building, idea generation, dissemination of public data, and serious games
-    Youth leadership
-    Buildings that can be physical hubs for engagement
-    Participatory budgeting and other approaches to  making public meetings more efficient, inclusive, and collaborative
-    Action research and other methods that involve citizens in data-gathering, evaluation, and accountability
-    Food, music, the arts, and other social and cultural elements that make engagement more enjoyable and fun

Planning for Stronger Local Democracy is not just a tool for local governments or school systems; in fact, one of the assumptions of the guide is that long-term engagement planning is best done by a cross-sector team of organizations and leaders. An appendix of the guide provides organizing suggestions and sample meeting agendas for these kinds of planning groups.

Bridging the Gap between Public Officials and the Public

Bridging the Gap between Public Officials and the Public

How can legislators and other leaders help create more productive, healthy civil discourse? A new report and slideshow from the DDC, "Bridging the Gap between Public Officials and the Public" – summarizes recent research on legislators’ attitudes, and compares those findings with evaluations of deliberative projects. In these new materials, we ask whether public deliberation projects can create the kind of communication legislators say they want with their constituents. Finally, we provide a set of recommendations for public officials, funders, and the field of public engagement.

Civic Engagement and Recent Immigrant Communities

Civic Engagement and Recent Immigrant Communities

The DDC has worked with the National League of Cities (NLC) to develop a guide for public officials and other local leaders about developing strategies to engage recent immigrants. "Civic Engagement and Recent Immigrant Communities" is a planning guide to help leaders (including leaders who are themselves recent immigrants) set goals, agree on expectations, and decide what kinds of engagement will work best for their community.


Funding Local Democracy

The DDC has worked with PACE (Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement) to develop "Funding and Fostering Local Democracy," a guide designed to help the philanthropic community grapple with the question of how to support innovative and effective forms of democratic governance. The guide is free and can be downloaded here or on the DDC resources page.

The guide provides a detailed description of how local civic engagement has grown and developed over the past decade. The strategies described in the guide—and the stories of how communities have used them to break policy deadlock, reduce tension and galvanize volunteerism—can help funders, public officials and community activists better understand the possibilities, and limitations, of various approaches to working with the public.

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JPD logoThe Journal of Public Deliberation is a collaboration between the DDC, the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2), and the Center for Civic Discourse and Democracy at Kansas State University. An online, refereed journal, JPD is the flagship publication in its field, and an important catalyst for the rapid growth of interest in democracy, citizenship, and participation. Find it at


DDC eBulletin

  • Want training in public participation? Choose the courses you want to see at the IAP2 Skills Symposium in late May – Trainers include Matt Leighninger, Tina Nabatchi, Steve Clift, Anne Carroll, Kyle Bozentko, and Marty Rozelle.
  • If we gave citizens more ways to measure democracy, they would have more ways to improve it – @TechPresident
  • Nonprofits that take advantage of new thick and thin forms of engagement can thrive – @GatesSunlight
  • “If forms of government can be likened to operating systems, current variants of democracy are like early, primitive versions of Windows.” “They are neither optimally functional nor user-friendly – they are buggy, susceptible to malware, and lack desired features.”
  • The “People’s Lobby,” which allows people to generate legislation for City Council consideration, and includes a deliberative phase, starts up in Provo, Utah –
  • “Morris Engaged,” which combines education, deliberation, and citizen-led action on climate change in rural Minnesota, has been named a finalist in the Environmental Initiative awards – @JeffersonCtr
  • The National Civic League has announced the finalists for the 2015 All-America City Award – @allamericacity
  • Can we fix voting, a part of democracy, without strengthening the other aspects of democracy? Probably not. And why would we, when the more participatory aspects of democracy offer so many other benefits? Unfortunately, none of those are mentioned in this piece, which is another example of why conflating “democracy” with voting doesn’t help.
  • “Rather than blame our leaders for the dysfunction, we need to change the game.” This article includes some examples of how engaging citizens in participatory ways – and treating democracy as more than just voting – can tackle problems like climate change that seem politically impossible to address.

DDC on social media

For news, resources, and updates on deliberation, participation, and democratic governance around the world, like DDC on Facebook, follow @mattleighninger on Twitter, or connect with mattleighninger on LinkedIn.

The Next Form of Democracy

Beneath the national radar, the relationship between citizens and government is undergoing a dramatic shift. The stories of civic experiments in "The Next Form of Democracy: How Expert Rule Is Giving Way to Shared Governance -- and Why Politics Will Never Be the Same" by DDC Executive Director Matt Leighninger show us the realpolitik of deliberative democracy, and illustrate how the evolution of democracy is already reshaping politics. Learn more...

Deliberative Democracy Handbook

The Deliberative Democracy Handbook is the first book to bring together the best practices and thinkin on deliberative citizen participation processes. Deliberative democracy is the nationwide movement to make citizen participation meaningful and effective. Learn more...

Deliberative Democracy Handbook Cover

Journal of Public Deliberation
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