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 »

Soul of the Community

In case you missed it, a 2010 study of 26 communities by the Knight Foundation sought to find out what makes people feel connected to and happy with their communities. The results might surprise you:

We found that positive attitudes about community didn’t vary much based on respondents’ perceptions of the presence of jobs or the quality of basic services in their city.  People with the most favorable opinions of their cities also were more likely to have positive assessments of local social offerings…openness…and the area’s aesthetics.

 What social offerings and aesthetic qualities do residents enjoy about your community? Do you think it has a sense of openness? What do people like about your community, and how might this affect your approach to engaging residents?

What is the soul of your community? Food for thought!

Learn more about the findings in this video, and visit here for the full report.

Contributor: Ben Peterson, Pepperdine School of Public Policy MPP ’16.

Reforming Civic Education

Civic Education is key to a healthy democracy – and to healthy democratic debate.  In a recent article, Pete Levine, Associate Dean for Research and Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Tufts University, argues for improved civic education:

Any election demands knowledge, attention and wisdom from the whole electorate. When a campaign season does not seem to be going well, there’s often angst about whether the public has been sufficiently educated.

Anxious eyes turn to our public schools.

Levine quotes Jonathan Zimmerman, professor of education and history at NYU, “Put simply, schools in the United States don’t teach the country’s future citizens how to engage respectfully across their political differences.”

You can read some of Levine’s suggestions for reform here.

Contributor: Brian Stewart, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’17.

Volunteering: “Self-Interest Rightly Understood”

It’s easy to forget just how much volunteers do for cities. Mayor L. Dennis Michael of Rancho Cucamonga gives volunteers a shout-out at Western City:

My city, Rancho Cucamonga (pop. 172,299), benefits from volunteers’ help in numerous ways. Volunteers play key roles in many municipal departments, including community services, library services, public works, police, fire, animal services and community improvement (also known as code enforcement).

There is some evidence that volunteerism has declined in the last few years. Certainly, most residents of the United States do not volunteer. That’s a shame, not only because of how much volunteers can help their community, but also because volunteering apparently benefits volunteers professionally and personally—it’s a great example of “self-interest rightly understood.”

Read Mayor Dennis’s shout-out here, and more about volunteering here.

Contributor: Ben Peterson, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP ’16. 

Youth Voter Engagement

Do you know of a university looking for ways to encourage young voters? Alan Solomont, Dean of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University has some ideas. In a blog post under Huffpost Politics, Solomont shares with readers the importance of caring about young voters, advice on getting youth to participate, information on what’s important for youth, and strategies on how college and universities can help engagement efforts:

At the University of Houston-Downtown, the student government organized a “Walk 2 Vote“ initiative in 2012 and 2014. Creating the “buzz” attracted students and local youth. They are now trying to replicate this on other campuses. . .

The fact is that voting is habit-forming and is often a gateway to other forms of civic engagement. At a time when young people face enormous challenges – crushing student debt, unemployment and mass incarceration – supporting them to vote will help raise a new generation of citizens who actively engage in our democracy.

You can read more here

Contributor: Brian Stewart, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’17