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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Toward “Meaningful Engagement”

Ron Littlefield, writing last month to hail the announcement City Accelerator’s Cohort 2 project, believes civic engagement efforts have taken on a new importance in today’s social climate.

A former mayor of Chattanooga, TN, Littlefield witnessed that city’s “turnaround,” in which he argues civic engagement efforts were critical:

It’s a wonderful story and one that we enjoy telling and retelling, but the hard fact is that the methods used to engage the public back in the 1970s and 80s don’t work as well today. The world is different, and the media environment is certainly different. Public information and public relations tactics that worked well when there were just three channels on a television set and people actually read the local newspaper are no longer effective. Meaningful engagement must be accomplished using new methods and new tools…

So what does all of this mean as we embark on Cohort 2 of City Accelerator? Will all of this really make a difference in the lives of the urban poor, the frustrated and disaffected, the alienated youth, the discouraged, the homeless and the hungry? If you could roll the tape (as we used to say) and see once again with your own eyes what was written on the shirts and placards of those marching and demonstrating — even those throwing rocks and bottles and otherwise engaging in the drastic and dramatic events of recent history — it can all be summed up in three words: “Listen to Us!” As hard as it might be to get beyond the heat and anger and prejudice that brought us to this point, meaningful engagement is really the most important and effective thing that we can do to try to turn things around for the better.

Read the full story at Governing here.

A Community Solution to Street Racing?

In an age of movie franchises, “sports” that look sexy on screen can end up deadly on the street.  The San Fernando Valley has had an ongoing battle with illegal street racing. In February a street race resulted in two deaths and a serious injury witnessed by over sixty onlookers.  Cracking down on racing hasn’t been enough – is there another option?

Thursday night, dozens from the racing community came out to LAPD’s Mission Station to try to figure out what to do about illegal racing.

On solution, offered by minister Aaron Schwartzbart, is to take racing off the streets and onto the track:

KCAL9’s Jennifer Kastner spoke to racing fans and police — looking to find common ground and ways to keep the public safe. . .

Schwartzbart says he is planning to open either a permanent track or host a racing event in the San Fernando Valley. 
He says he has the money but hasn’t locked down a location and can’t commit to a time frame.

This could prove an interesting opportunity for some pretty non-traditional collaboration.  You can read more here.

Around the World: Beyond Transparency

On both this blog and our Gov 2.0 Watch blog, we have often highlighted the importance of moving beyond transparency to visualization and usable data.  A recent piece in the Bangladesh Daily Star looks at how data visualization is being used to bring civic engagement to bear on issues in the Middle East:

A number of organisations, especially non-governmental ones, publish dozens of reports a year. However, these reports and the data they contain are most often ignored. In 2014, the World Bank indicated that more than 31% of these assessments are never downloaded, and approximately 87% are never even cited.

In 2012, the Beirut based organisation, Visualizing Impact (VI), responded to this predicament by giving itself a challenge: to make this data readable, accessible and attractive. The task was motivated by a civic engagement to work on issues regarding the Middle East.

To meet this challenge, VI used the data to developed infographics, a narrative vector that is efficient, succinct and aesthetically pleasing. “We want to propose something different,” says Matthew Stender, content producer for VI. “We combine data with narrative in order to find the most appropriate design to transmit information,” explains the young man from Texas.

You can read more here.


Civic Health and Veterans

We are a bit late to this story, but its well worth looking back a couple months to review. At the end of April, the National Conference on Citizenship, in partnership with the Got Your 6 campaign, released the first ever Veterans Civic Health Index.  The study showed some very positive trends among veterans when it comes to civic engagement:

  • Service – Veteran volunteers serve an average of 160 hours annually – the equivalent of four full workweeks. Non-veteran volunteers serve about 25% fewer hours annually.

  • Civic Involvement – 17.7% of veterans are involved in civic groups (versus 5.8% of non-veterans).

  • Voting – 59.5% of veterans under 50 vote in local elections, versus 48.7% of non-veterans under 50.

  • Community Engagement – Veterans are more likely to fill leadership roles in community organizations, attend community meetings and fix problems in their neighborhoods.

These are important facts at a time when misconceptions about veterans often crowd public dialogue:

“Service to our nation does not end when the uniform comes off,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald. “As proven leaders dedicated to public service, veterans are valuable assets. The Veterans Civic Health study highlights how those who continue to serve in their communities strengthen our nation.”

You can read more here and access the full report here.

2015 Engagement Grant Opportunity

If you have a public engagement project that could use some financial support, now is the time to apply for the eighth annual Davenport Institute Public Engagement Grant Program!  This year we will be awarding up to $50,000 in funded consulting services to California cities, counties, special districts, and civic organizations looking to conduct legitimate public processes on issues ranging from budgets to land use to public safety to water policy.

The Grants are made possible through funding from the James Irvine Foundation’s California Democracy Program. We anticipate awarding 2-4 grants with a minimum individual grant amount of $5,000 and a maximum individual grant amount of $20,000. Prior to beginning their public engagement campaign, grantees will receive training and consultation from the Davenport Institute to build understanding and support for the civic engagement effort amongst administrative and elected officials.

The deadline for the  2015 Public Engagement Grant is  Monday, September 14.

Here are some FAQs:

Q1: Does the proposed public process need to occur immediately?

A: No. Most of our granted projects have taken place within one year of the application date.

Q2: Can we recommend a facilitator or web platform to receive support from the Grant Program?

A: Yes. Again, the purpose of our grants is to fund participatory (as opposed to “PR”) projects. Of course, we’d like to interview your recommended facilitator, but we’ve worked with designated consultants before. This actually helps us build our own “rolodex” of consultants!

Q3: Is the Davenport training an added expense?

A: No. Training for the grant recipient is now an integral part of the Grant Program, and is offered as part of the grant. All expenses – including travel – are assumed by Davenport.

Q4: How many grantees do you anticipate this year?

A: We tend to support between 2-4  grantees each year with the Grant Program.

Q5: Do you support “capacity building” efforts like “block captain”, “neighborhood watch”, “citizen academy”?

A: No. As a practice, the grants are intended to support actual public projects around “live” issues – from budgets to land use. We find with the training added, these grants build “civic capacity” through actual engagement. 

The criteria are straightforward and the online application form is easy.

After reviewed by members of our Advisory Council, our 2015 grantees will be announced by early October.

Please feel free to contact Ashley Trim 310-506-6878 with any questions.