Peter Levine presents a paper on improving civic engagement in communities that’s worth a look. Below are the five strategies from his executive summary.
Strategy 1: Create a Civic Information Corps using the nation’s “service”
infrastructure to generate knowledge. Take advantage of the large and growing infrastructure of national and community service programs by requiring all service participants to learn civic communications skills and by creating a new Civic Information Corps—mainly young people who will use digital media to create
and disseminate knowledge and information and connect people and associations.
Strategy 2: Engage universities as community information hubs. Take advantage of the nation’s vast higher education sector by changing policies and incentives so that colleges and universities create forums for public deliberation and produce information that is relevant, coherent, and accessible to their local communities
Strategy 3: Invest in face-to-face public deliberation. Take advantage of the
growing practice of community-wide deliberative summits to strengthen democracy at the municipal level by offering training, physical spaces, and neutral conveners and by passing local laws that require public officials to pay attention to the
results of these summits.
Strategy 4: Generate public “relational” knowledge. Take advantage of new tools for mapping networks and relationships to make transparent the structures of our communities and to allow everyone to have the kind of relational knowledge traditionally monopolized by professional organizers. Strategy 5: Civic engagement for public information and knowledge. Take
advantage of the diverse organizations concerned with civic communications
to build an advocacy network that debates and defends public information and
The paper goes into more detail. You might be able to detect some political barriers to universal acceptance of these strategies. For instance, just who would be in charge of the “Civic Information Corps?” Yikes. But on a organizational basis the ideas make some sense. At the community college where I work we’ve employed civic responsibility into groups like student senate and some specific courses, following at least a couple of the strategies in Levine’s paper. Fundamentally, many of our nation’s problems can be traced to a disengaged population, or a population that’s engaged with trivial or sensational matters divorced from the function of government or the nation’s true health. We’ve got a long way to go to change this.