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Minnesota Brown: It’s time to re-engage Americans in their communities…but how?

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.

This post was written by Aaron J. Brown and originally published on Minnesota Brown. Follow Aaron on Twitter.

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Wayne Moran on 06/22/2011 - 07:59 am.

    I believe the best way to engage the population is the purposefully shrink the size of government. Yes you heard me, shrink the size of government.

    As Dennis Prager says, the bigger the government, the smaller the individual. What this means is that government starts doing the things that we the people should be doing for one another in our communities. There are many examples of this
    Government meals for school children
    The destruction of the African American community by having the government come in and be daddy to all the children of single mothers. This instead should be the community strongly encouraging young men to “keep it in their pants” and when they have children to be fathers to their children.

    This list goes on and on.
    During this time of terrible budget issues it would be a great time to shrink the size of government and remove crazy regulations that do not allow or encourage individuals to work hard, provide for themselves and their families and for families and local communities to plug in and care for one another.

  2. Submitted by Jennifer Rian on 06/22/2011 - 09:20 am.

    Interesting ideas. I’m on board. As for the question who would be in charge of the “Civic Information Corps” what about information professionals (i.e. librarians and/or librarian types)? This actually sounds like what I’ve been hearing about the future of libraries and librarianship via Professor R. David Lankes (Syracuse) and The Atlas for New Librarianship where the following mission is outlined: The MISSION of LIBRARIANS is to IMPROVE SOCIETY through FACILITATING KNOWLEDGE CREATION in their COMMUNITIES.

    Hmmm. . .looks like a great opportunity to build on existing infastructure of public libraries to transform communities. The question is, will we seize it?

  3. Submitted by Bert Perry on 06/22/2011 - 02:46 pm.

    Count me out on this. The simple fact of the matter is that de Toqueville was primarily describing free, private associations unfettered by government, and today, you will see the strongest, most cohesive communities where they are….unfettered by government.

    And having grown up near Chicago and observed the hilarity of then Mayor Byrne moving into Cabrini Green to prove it was safe (with her half dozen 24/7 bodyguards), it’s absurd to me that we would take ANY initiative out of that boondoggle–thankfully destroyed now–and presume to use it as a model for anything but urban decay.

    A great model for civic involvement, for what it’s worth, can be had by driving to Rochester and taking the Mayo Clinic art tour. They’ve got a decent little collection, and they didn’t buy any of it, nor was government involved in any of it. Rather, it’s all from grateful patients. So if you want civic involvement, you need to do the opposite of what this paper proposes.

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