The Deliberative Democracy Consortium

Mar 23rd
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Home Resources Member Posts Designing local civic infrastructure

Designing local civic infrastructure

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Planning for Stronger Local DemocracyA 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.



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.

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Deliberative Democracy Handbook

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Journal of Public Deliberation
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