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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.

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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.

Simple Winning Idea

When we think of civic engagement and civic innovation, it is easy to look at the latest tech tools, or creative meeting formats, but sometimes great ideas for engagement are far less flashy.  Charlotte, NC has received one of the recent Knight Cities awards for the simple – but potentially revolutionary – project of intentional conversations:

Taking 10 minutes to talk to someone is seemingly a simple idea. But naturally, it’s not that simple.

For Dodd, there’s a lot of leg work to be done in the coming months, including recruiting 150 Charlotte municipal employees to do a 10-minute one-on-one interview once a week over the course of nine months. In the end, that should result in roughly 5,500 conversations.

Before those happen, it will take a few months to figure out what type of information to capture and the framework for data collection and analysis. And that’s where the $74,000 in challenge funding will come in handy.

You can read more about the idea and about how the challenge funds will be used here.