inCommon is the Participatory Governance Blog of the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy. Here you will find information about the latest resources, studies, programs and discussions about Civic Engagement in California, throughout the nation and around the world. We hope that the case studies and technological innovations discussed here will spark new reflection and conversation regarding both what legitimate civic engagement looks like and why it is important for good governance, particularly at the local level.

New to Civic Engagement? Check out our foundational documents »

Stories for Engagement

California’s history, like that of most places, is a mix of triumph and floundering. But, as Californians deal with old and new challenges like persistent drought, revenue shortages, debt, crime, and sluggish economic growth, its worth remembering where we come from. Michael Anton’s terrific, brief history of California’s founding at City Journal helps with this:

The founding of California was an adventure, an epic, a tragicomedy, a conquest, and a window into America’s soul. It was a creation ex nihilo that reveals the roots of society, the establishment of justice, and the very nature of man. “All our brutal passions were here to have full sweep, and all our moral strength, all our courage, our patience, our docility, and our social skill were to contend with these passions,” native son Josiah Royce wrote of his motherland in 1886.

Filled with colorful characters and events, this history is a great read. Today’s challenges and conflicts are different from those Anton records, but the diverse and vibrant history of this boisterous state, from the time of the Spanish Missions to the Gold Rush and statehood in 1850 still influences California today. History is rarely pretty – but it’s certainly fascinating and powerfully shapes the identity of a people. Stories, and especially our own stories, are a powerful tool of engagement.  As the article notes: “The ascent to who we want to be must begin from knowing who we are—and how we got that way.”

You can read more here.


Contributor: Benjamin Peterson, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’15.


Engaging with Memories

An interesting piece in the Ottowa Citizen looks at a controversy sparked by a national memorial to Victims of Communism, and what it says about the relationship between civic memory and civic engagement:

Monuments help us remember and acknowledge historical events. They also seek to communicate a particular set of shared values. In the case of both projects, the Canadian nation is being extolled alongside a specific version of Canadian heritage and identity. . .

and later:

The debate is the memorial. Memory scholar James Young wrote this in the 1990s as a newly reunified German state argued over the parameters of the country’s first central Holocaust memorial. Indeed, public debate over large-scale government projects such as monuments and museums provide valuable opportunities for civil society to make claims and also to challenge a government’s use and potential instrumentalization of history. Memorials are built out of public discussion and debate as much as they are out of concrete and stone.

You can read more here.

Community Engagement: Good for the Brain?

A new article finds that community engagement may help prevent memory loss among seniors. While not specifically relating to engagement around local decision making, the research does confirm that, not only are senior citizens a great potential asset to community, community is a great potential asset to seniors:

Carlson notes that many cognitive intervention studies last one year or less. One strength of this study, she says, is that the participants were followed for two years, which in this case was long enough to see changes that wouldn’t have been detected after just one year.

The researchers were particularly interested in the results, considering that people with less education and who live in poverty are at greater risk for cognitive decline.

Carlson says it’s not entirely clear which elements of Experience Corps account for the improved memory function and increased brain volumes. She says the program increases involvement in so many different kinds of activities that retired people may not have engaged in otherwise. Participants need to get out of bed, walk to the bus, and walk up and down stairs inside the schools. They work in teams. They work with young people. They share their knowledge and know they are doing good in the world. They engage in problem solving and they socialize in ways they wouldn’t have if they stayed at home.

You can read more here.

Pew Study: Local News & Engagement

In this second decade of the 21st century, fewer and fewer of us have newspapers delivered to our home, relying instead on more easily available, internet-based sources for both news and entertainment.  In some respects we have immediate access to more information than ever before.  But as some advocates of local public engagement have noted, a drawback to this new form of consumption may be less access to local news and information vital to vibrant local democracy.  A recent study from the Pew Research Center looks at trends in public information about local issues:

“Taken together, the data illustrate that when it comes to news ecologies, the greater digital orientation and array of providers in Denver widen the local news system somewhat with less reliance on the major legacy providers, especially the local newspaper, and a greater mix of coverage more often driven by enterprising work from journalists,” the report’s authors conclude. “The portion of the population finding that enterprising work, though, remains small.” It is worth bearing in mind that the report provides case studies, not a comprehensive national picture.

You can read more about the study here and access the report here.