Civic Enterprise

american dreamYES!!! A fresh, extraordinarily promising approach to closing the gap between the world of technocracy and the places where American democracy actually happens.  Anne-Marie Slaughter’s landmark new contribution offers a vision for transforming think tanks into civic enterprises. The piece is long; the extracts below highlight its main points. The full article is very much worth reading. (Here is a link).

“We need a new process of public problem solving that can reconnect government to citizens by getting outside the Beltway, engaging with the problems of communities in those communities, and working to develop ideas together and turn them into action.

“We propose a new model of civic enterprise. ‘Civic’ because it engages citizens as change makers—conscious members of a self-governing polity that expects government to be at least part of the solution to problems that individuals cannot solve on their own. And ‘enterprise’ because of the energy and innovation involved in actually making change on the ground….. The Progressive Era model of think tanks as extensions of technocratic governance is no longer sufficient to make meaningful, large-scale progress in resolving public policy problems….

“We find that in today’s America, a great deal of the most meaningful change is happening far outside Washington, in cities and towns across the country. It is happening in places that are tackling the deeper problem of democratic distrust and disaffection by re-forging the links between citizen demand and government response. It is this spirit that animates the new forms of public work and institution building that we characterize as civic enterprise…..

“Civic enterprise does not replace independent policy research—on the contrary, it is an incubator to engage community stakeholders to refine the ideas and turn them into action….. Three hallmarks will distinguish the work:

  • The first is the engagement and amplification of new voices….. The problem is evident across the Washington policy ecosystem: the people most engaged in thinking, regulating, and legislating do not actually represent the citizenry……Connecting government to citizens requires filling the political stage with a more inclusive cast: ethnically, racially, geographically, and economically…..
  • The second is the collaborative development of ideas….. We must create opportunities for participation, knowledge exchange, and learning that find citizens thorugh a decentralized network….the civic enterprise policy development process will be intentionally iterative….
  • The third is dedication to broad public debate and education…. In our traditional model, we public specialized reports aimed at decisionmakers. For a civic enterprise, content is a tool to help people move from being informed to being active….to expand beyond the language of politics and policy.“

It is an ambitious project—nothing short of rethinking the relationship between the people who make public policy and the people for whom they make it. At our most optimistic, we can see a bipartisan civic movement emerging with the same reach and impact the Progressive Movement once had. We cannot see all the ways that civic enterprise will evolve. But we are certain that thinking alone is not enough.” (And here is another link to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece.)