on Civic Renewal
a Framework for Democratic Renewal
working paper on governance by AmericaSpeaks
J. Lukensmeyer, et. al.
with permission of the authors, 1997
are demanding reform of government institutions, and we are right
to be frustrated: elected government leaders are becoming less
and less responsive to citizens' most urgently felt concerns.
The rallying cries of the popular political debates are suffused
with "quick fix" solutionsterm limits, third parties, campaign
finance reform, proportional representation and congressional
committee reformsthat are necessary but not sufficient.
A systemic rethinking of the role of citizens and of government
in our democracy is required.
past fifty years, public trust in government has waned, voter
participation has remained near 50 percent, and traditional institutions
which used to tie neighbors together no longer play such a critical
role in American society. Recent data indicates that, at the same
time citizens are feeling anxious and insecure about the direction
in which our nation is headed, this insecurity stems from a "disruption
of connection to others and to a larger sense of mission." 
For a democratic
nation to remain healthy, citizens must invest their time, energy,
and faith in the institutions of government and civil society.
We see less and less of the necessary personal investment today,
even as governmental institutions pour money at a myriad of problems.
good faith has been usurped by distrust, strong energy has been
supplanted by lackluster participation, and good practice displaced
by discontent. One 74-year-old former public school teacher in
Youngstown, Ohio recently observed that, "The political structure
is so screwed upI don't think I've ever been so disillusioned
about anything as I have been about the government in the last
ten years." 
are many explanations for these developments, there is no satisfying
strategy to reverse these trends and to create a strong and effective
democracy for the 21st century. Our notion of self-government
must be accompanied by a new understanding of government as an
enabler of citizen initiative rather than a provider of services
to the citizen.
between the institutions of government and citizens must be redefined.
This shift will restore public trust in the institutions of government,
provide a meaningful arena for citizen participation in their
own governance, and reinvigorate the health of democracy in America.
A renewed commitment to strong leadership and to a new partnership
between the government and citizens is required to move America
in the direction of a revitalized democratic community in the
to the revitalization of American democracy is a four step process
to bring citizens and institutions of government together in governing
partnership. The four steps we propose challenge government officials
to redefine their role as leaders, to become facilitators of a
new kind of democratic dialogue in America.
In a recent
Washington Post interview, one presidential candidate observed
that, "You have to be accessible to people, not let them feel
that once they elect you they never see you again." 
Our proposal moves the concepts of accessible and "interdependency-based"
 leadership a step further
by suggesting specific mechanisms which facilitate/enable effective
interaction between elected officials and citizens. This process
also requires that citizens actively utilize the new structures
and participate in the processes, to ensure that their voices
will have a direct impact on the policy decisions that affect
in submitting this whitepaper is to secure a commitment from government
officials in the legislative and executive bodies of government
to work with citizens within a collaborative framework to ensure
a stronger and more effective democracy in the 21st century.
If we are
to renew American democracy, government leaders need to consider
citizens as visible and equal partners in the exercise of democratic
rule, and citizens must renew their faith that public officials
are working to improve the quality of our lives. To realize the
vision of a healthier democracy, AmericaSpeaks proposes that government
officials work with citizens to design partnerships and processes
that open new avenues for authentic citizen participation in deciding
that we propose will be initiated at the local level. AmericaSpeaks
believes that local governing bodies are more relevant to people's
daily lives, and therefore citizens are more willing and able
to engage in governance locally. A recent Washington Post/Kaiser
Foundation/Harvard University survey found that an overwhelming
majority of Americans trusted local government to "do a better
job running things."  We
anticipate that local"from the ground up"efforts are
required to lay a new foundation for strong and effective 21st
century democracy. As local partnerships and processes among institutions
and citizens are developed community by community across the nation,
we anticipate the healthy growth of new governance relationships
end shared responsibilities. As these networks for democratic
decision-making grow in number and legitimacy, local and state
governments will work synergistically and increasingly reflect
the priorities of larger and larger numbers of citizens. In time,
the structures for revitalization will work their way towards
the regional and national level.
therefore calls upon elected officials at all levels to encourage
local and state partnerships, initiating the process of national
capacity building for positive change. AmericaSpeaks invites national,
state, and local leadership to adopt proactive and collaborative
positions as a response to the widening public disaffection with
and telecommunication technologies have been developed to level
of sophistication at which they are capable of providing interactive
platforms that allow large groups of people to participate in
collaborative problem solving. Such tools include cutting-edge
computer applications (e.g. groupware systems and networked databases),
instantaneous vote counters, real time satellite hook-ups among
several meetings across great distance, expanded interactive television,
deliberative telephone polling, and a growing sophistication in
the design of "electronic town hall" meetings. 
journalists who now have greater audiences than ever before due
to advances in technology focus their attention on issues local
communities must address and involve readers in these issues.
In this civic spirit, journalists educate many different audiences
and thus serve an important role in supporting this framework
At the same
time, specialists in organizational development have demonstrated
techniques and expanded the capacity of face-to-face, large group
process designs so that large numbers of people can deliberate.
find common ground, and make shared decisions in relatively short
spans of time.
believes that these various approaches can be combined in powerful
ways to challenge and revitalize American democracy. We have taken
the first steps toward creating this synergy by integrating the
concepts of face-to-face participation with the strengths of interactive,
computer assisted technologies. Our vision promotes collectively
owned electronic and group process technologies that reach throughout
a community to serve as the groundwork for new governance mechanisms.
Diverse partners will be able to collaborate across disciplines
and utilize the facilitative aspects of these platforms to articulate
shared priorities across special interest lines. Each partner
within such a network of responsibility 
is thereby more accountable for the whole, while simultaneously
benefiting from the participation of all.
structures and processes to work, government officials must adopt
a collaborative leadership style that recognizes the outcomes
of such meetings as legitimate. The resulting web of partnerships
and shared responsibilities form a new "civic infrastructure"
which will complement and invigorate our traditional representative
structures. AmericaSpeaks' proposal provides a four step path
to establish such new partnerships among stakeholders in a communitycitizens,
business interests, government decision makers, civic organizations.
Each step is premised on the following 6 principles of a healthy
democracy, developed by AmericaSpeaks.
occurs in communities.
While the citizen is the fundamental unit of a democracy and
the family is the core of our society, democracy exists and
thrives only within the interactions among citizens. While individual
expression is essential, democracy is not really about solitary
processes such as votingwhether via the internet or within
a curtained voting booth. Citizens in dialogue, articulating
the values they share and understanding their differences, reaching
conclusions which art acted uponthat is the core democratic
image we must nurture.
Each community member must recognize the part he or she plays
in the health of the community's democratic condition. Rather
than becoming involved to fight a "not in my backyard" issue,
participation can be motivated by an understanding that we sink
or swim together. This awareness that our society is the sum
of each of our actions moves the community beyond fractionary
The only way a healthy democracy can be sustained is through
public trust. Trust depends upon inclusive processes overseen
by leaders acting as stewards, who articulate and deliberate
citizen concerns and bring all views to the table. It is such
processesmanaged by leaders serving as stewards, not as
career politicianswhich evoke the public's trust and are
the foundation of the true authority of leaders in a democratic
We believe that creative tensions are imbedded in society's
most contentious issues. These tensions are the heart of democratic
struggle and are the wellspring of a vibrant, vigorous society;
they must be worked out in public, in direct processes that
engage citizens and leaders in open dialogue.
The capacity to find common ground amongst, and incorporation
of, diverse solutions must be restored, sanctioned, and preserved.
The processes that yield to accommodation and integration must
be strengthened and pushed to meet the healthy challenges of
diversity in America.
Supporting the five foregoing principles is the capacity for
thoughtful deliberation. The necessary skills include listening,
inclusion, mediation, dialogue, reflection, and closure, each
of which is recognized as a fundamental tool for strong and
principles are incorporated into community-, city-, or state-wide
governance process, the result is a more invigorated democracy
than that which derives from our nation's contemporary institutional
our leadership has produced policies rooted in the cultural values
of their constituents. However, the multicultural, economically
diverse, and information-rich America in which we live today demands
that public policy making processes reflect and benefit from diversity
in thinking. Therefore, we must transform our institutions and
processes of governance to reflect this rich diversity of needs
and values. We can do that by creating a collaborative framework,
with new partners and a strong civic infrastructure. If we succeed,
America will be well positioned to nurture effective leadership
and citizenship for the 21st century.
for the 21st Century
on which the partnerships can be built represents a ground-breaking
blueprint for a new way to govern in America. By encouraging states
and their residents to assume proactive roles in the development
of governing partnerships, we challenge ourselves and our leaders
to move our nation towards more energetic and participatory democracy.
The new partnerships outlined in this proposal initiate multi-sector
collaboration and represent the genesis of new governance mechanisms:
enduring tools and structures that stakeholderscitizens
and leaderswill utilize on a regular basis to plan action
and attain common goals.
does not offer one model to describe stakeholder functions and
the allocation of resources to achieve specific ends. Community-specific
solutions must be developed by stakeholders within the community.
AmericaSpeaks offers the processes and criteria within which these
partnerships can be formed, strengthening our democratic institutions
by lacing together into a network of shared responsibility those
forces which appear to some to be most fragmentary.
we propose do not isolate groups and interests, consolidate power,
or draw authority from one institution to another. We do not advocate
dismantling the representative institutions that have governed
the United States for over two centuries. Instead, those institutions
and the others that have long stood at the center of our democratic
experience will enjoy enhanced stature when citizens recognize
that the leaders of these institutions have clearly heard their
government leaders a systemic approach to governance which recognizes
the interconnectedness of all people, institutions, and activities
in a community. The partnerships we proposeand the tools
which will make these partnerships effective governing bodies
represent a major breakthrough in linking participation, decentralization,
and decision-making into a framework for renewing strong and effective
Steps to Create a Strong & Effective Democracy
Key officials must commit to this initiative and play a strategic
role in the design of an effective method to develop and respond
to citizen input on issues. Trustworthy, honest facilitation
by those involved in setting up and running the participatory
process is essential. We need elected officials who are willing
to act as conveners, facilitators, and enablers with citizens,
eager to listen to thoughtful input rather than proclaiming
answers from talking points. By signaling readiness to listen
and work from the ground up, leaders take the appropriate proactive
stance towards partnership. A clear statement must be made to
the public that describes the agenda and efforts to engage with
citizens. A broad publicity campaign to widen the visibility
of the initiative and encourage citizen support/participation
should be considered as a vital step in legitimizing the effort
to develop authentic, participatory processes.
Convene face-to-face hearings throughout the community which
promote informed reflection by a legitimate group of stakeholders.
Government officials must have a clear voice in these hearings,
but one that listens as a partner to citizen concerns. Among
the most tested methods for convening such meetings are:
should be long enough to allow citizens to articulate their
positions, listen to one another, and reach a shared understanding
about each others' positions and about the advantages and disadvantages
of each option. In the cases of volatile and contentious issues,
a variety of methods should be sought to bring a group at loggerheads
to closurerather than consensusin a timely and constructive
Citizens Jury¨ process [a]
Future Search Conference [b]
held by such groups as the League of Women Voters and local
Conferences of the Danish Board of Technology [c]
dialogue networks such as Study Circles, USA [d]
The outcomes and recommendations from the face-to-face meetings
must engage the community as a whole. The shared understanding,
courses of action, and decisions to be made must be shared with
a larger, representative group of the community. For maximum
effectiveness, these larger town meetings should take place
several times throughout the process, rather than just at the
end. This round of dialogue is more dependent on technological
tools to enable citizens to provide substantive input. Officials
should work with partners to choose a method of effective outreach
to, and feedback from, representative groups of the community.
Among the most tested methods for outreach and citizen evaluation
of an initiative are:
TeleVote process developed by Ted Becker and Christa Slaton
depth telephone interview processes as developed by Dr.
Alan F. Kay and the Americans Talk Issues Foundation [f]
polling process developed by Dr. Jim Fishkin, most recently
demonstrated at the National Issues Convention in Austin,
TX, January 1996;
Town Meetings [g] (ETM's)
as designed and developed by Choosing Our Future, the pioneering
work of Duane Elgin and Ann Niehaus * Large group meetings
such as the Kettering Foundation's National Issues Forums
for Communities of the Future [i]
three phase consensus-building process.
Elected officials should commit in advance to a follow-up process
through which they will make decisions on the recommendations
and choices posed by citizens, clearly indicating how citizen
input and direction was taken into account in reaching their
decision. Although there is no requirement that the elected
officials follow the recommendations of the citizens, our hope
is that elected officials will listen and respond to citizens'
recommendations in a clear and respectful way. As public officials
move towards decision making, they should demonstrate their
willingness to reach out to the public in new ways to show that
they want to get away from the game of politics where insider
influence carries the day. These decisionsand the explanations
for how those decisions were reached by the elected leadershipshould
be widely disseminated. AmericaSpeaks will help lay the foundation
for the effective and timely transmission of the outcomes in
a timely and effective way, through the following outlets:
Internet/World Wide Web
journalism efforts around the country
media outlets such as talk radio, local news and cable programs
networks of local, state, and national civic organizations.
feel less connected to their leaders and institutions than ever
before. Across the nation and at all levels of society, the public
is losing interest in American governance. Citizens lack an authoritative
voice in too many communities, have a deepening sense of insecurity
in the face of the monumental changes afoot, and have disengaged
from the political process at all levels.
of citizen participation is occurring in part because ordinary
citizens perceive that they are no longer wanted or needed in
the political process, that they cannot have a significant impact
on America's institutions. Responding to questions about why he
voted for Ross Perot in 1992, one Las Vegas resident said that
he felt "emasculated by the system - impotent." 
This growing gap between individuals and institutionsbetween
citizens and leadersis anathema to a healthy future for
there is a surge of citizen activism developing across the country.
This energy must be directed into effective processes, before
the people who care enough about the issues their communities
face give up again. The pool of participants must be expanded
to include the minority, poor, socially powerless and unorganized
citizens who too often remain outside the problem-solving process.
All citizens need the opportunity to engage in public debate and
to make their voice heard over time in their communities. More
than ever, the national political arena needs a mechanism that
can authentically represent citizens voices.
as communities, and as a nation, we must increase our understanding
of and appreciation for social capital and civil society. At the
same time, a new civic infrastructureadaptable, sustainable,
and enduring governance mechanisms which form the nexus of civil
societyis needed to encourage, nurture, and support citizens
and elected leaders in deliberative, collaborative and consensus-building
processes. In other words, "If American politics is to recover
its civic voice, we must find a way to debate questions we have
forgotten how to ask. These
processes in which authority is shared, visions created, and public
priorities set, will determine shared action for community and
outline for democratic renewal is premised upon partnership. We
intend to help create networks of shared responsibility and collaborative
decision-making among elected officials, business interests, non-profit
leaders, and citizens to strengthen the civic infrastructure of
communities across America. We encourage leaders in government
to begin the search for new processes and enduring structures
that engage citizens in the healthy, rewarding exercise of self-governance.
"Diagnosing Voter Discontent." Center for National Policy/Strategic
Frameworking, Inc., 1996. p. 7.
Starobin, Paul, "An Angry Beast." National Journal, April
6, 1996. p. 758.
Broder, David S., "Cure for Nation's Cynicism Eludes Its Leaders."
Washington Post, February 4, 1996. p. A1.
Defined as, "an interactive style of leadershp involving a mutually
recognized interdependence between the role of the citizen and
the role of the representative leader." Center for National Policy,
Edsall, Thomas B., "Public Grows More Receptive to Anti-Government
Message." Washington Post, January 31, 1996. p. A1.
For an in-depth study of the experiments and potential for "electronic
town meetings," see the ground breaking work of Christa Slaton
and Ted Becker, most notably, Space Age Democracy and Electronic
Town Meetings, forthcoming.
This term is borrowed from John Gardner, who first wrote of "responsibility
networks" in the eighties (see his address to the Common Cause
10th Anniversary Panel, September 5, 1980).
Starobin, p. 756.
Sandel, Michael J., "America's Search for a New Public Philosophy."
Atlantic Monthly, March 1996. p. 58.
Citizens' Juries were developed by the Jefferson Center in Minneapolis
as an alternative democratic process through which citizens can
deliberate and recommend public policy options. The process is
designed to serve the public interest in formulating evaluations
of policy alternatives in a courtroom-styled process.
A Future Search Conference, developed by Dr. Sandra Janoff and
Marvin Weisbord, is a large goup meeting of diverse stakeholders
who plan and act together on a common future. The meeting is based
on the simple notion that if we want dramatic new action, we need
to use structures and processes congruent with our aspirations.
In a Future Search, everybody is invited to share leadership and
participate as peers. Through a series of open dialogues, participants
generate new visions for the future and see in motion new kinds
of working relationships and initiatives,
The Danish Board of Tochnology (Teknologiradet) has developed
a "democratic conference," the Consensus Conference, which makes
it possible to involve ordinary citizens with their different
backgrounds in the assessment of technology and public policy
questions. The public meeting processwhich lasts three days
and is open to the public takes place as a dialogue between experts
and citizens. "In Denmark, the consensus conferences have simulated
public debate on new technology, and politicians have been able
to get a bearing on people's attitutes towards new technology"
(from an undated pamphlet describing the Consensus Conferences
of Teknologiradet). AmericaSpeaks is convinced that the process
can be adapted to deliberate many kinds of issues.
Study Circles USA has developed a nation-wide network of volunteer
coordinators who facilitate meetings of ten to fifteen people
who meet on a regular and on-going basis to address crirical public
issues. The Study Circles
Resource Center both promotes the use of study circles
and creates discussion materials free of cherge to the study circle
organizers. Thus, the outcomes of community-wide discussions can
be made widely available, but, importantly, the study circles
can provide ongoing evaluation of the public policy decisions.
Building on work in the 1970's, Christa Slaton and Ted Becker
have tested numerous variations of TeleVote, an inexpensive, convenient
technique to "inform citizens about civic issues and quickly get
opinions back from them" (excerpted from, TeleVote: A New Civic
Communication System, by Vincent Campbell and Janet Santos,
published by the Research Applied to National Needs (RANN) Program
of the National Science Foundation, Washington, DC, 1975. P. 1)
The latest applications involve television analysis of issues
and dial-in telephone response sessions to gauge citizen comfort/approval
on specific policy options and public priorities.
The Americans Talk Issues Foundation (ATIF) has developed a telephone
interview process through which large, random samples of citizens
can respond to in-depth queries and express their views on specific
public policy issues. The Foundation drafts frequent and substantive
reports which are made available to legislators and public policy
Electronic Town Meetings (ETMs) are essentially "electonically
assisted citizen dialogues." Experimentation during the last decade
has resulted in numerous formats to connect citizens to broad,
issue oriented dialogues and draw feedback useful to elected officials
for policy planning (drawn from, Electronic Town Meetings:
A Working Report for the Development of Pilot ETM's, by Duane
Elgin and Ann Niehaus, 1987).
Issues Forums (NIF) are locally initiated
discussions about pressing public policy issues and range in size
from groups of four or five, to community-wide forums. The Kettering
Foundation prepares non-partisan educational materials about the
issues, trains facilitators, and often publishes the results of
such dialogues. The objective of these forums is to create an
educated public which can then express its opinions in polls,
at the voting booth, and in broader conversation.
The Center for Communities
of the Future in Gastonia,
NC, has developed a three phase process for citizen involvement
in developing a consensus shared vision. The process involves
both face-to-face dialogues of citizen groups in a community,
as well as electronic "hook-up" techniques. The process can take
up to a month, achieving a state-wide level of discussion that
results in a consensus around at least two action plans.