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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Santa Monica: Looking Back to Move Forward

Santa Monica is a city known for high levels of engagement, but like many cities that engagement is not always representative – especially when it comes to you.  For a while now the city has been seeking to engage beyond the “usual suspects” and in January, the city released a report about efforts in 2014 and what they hope to do in 2015:

In 2015, City Hall plans on making some technological upgrades to the civic engagement process.

“The ability to submit a chit to speak on a specific Council agenda item electronically will be available in 2015,” city officials said. “Staff is investigating ways for people to track specific issues on a Council agenda and to use technology to participate more easily in the public decision-making process.”

They’re also planning to host events that would bring people together over drinks to talk community and urban life in the 21st century.

You can read more here.

Contra Civic Health

The state-wide Civic Health Indices produced by the National Conference on Citizenship (Davenport Institute serves as a partner on California Civic Health), look at two categories of factors that contribute to a healthy democracy.  On the one hand there are the formal democratic and political actions – voting, petitioning the government, etc.- and on the other are less formal actions undertaken by members of a community apart from the government – exchanging favors with neighbors, belonging to associations, talking about politics etc.  Healthy local democracies should include both aspects of involvement.

Increasingly, many local governments are pursing ways to facilitate neighborhood collaboration and remove roadblocks to the sort of informal associations that have been the building blocks of local democracy since the days of Alexis De Tocqueville.  But sometimes government works against the very things that will lead to greater involvement.

The Atlantic recently highlighted one example of this as some local governments are beginning to crack down, not on Uber or Air BnB, but on the “Little Free Libraries” that have been popping up around the country.  Significant quote:

The power to require permits is the power to prevent something from ever existing. This lovely movement would’ve never begun or spread if everyone who wanted to build a Little Free Library recognized a need to apply and pay for a permit. Instead they did good and asked permission never.

You can find the full story here.


Review: 21st Century Town Meeting

Another in the Building Change Trust survey of available tools/platforms/formats for public engagement, this review looks at the 21st Century Town Meeting process by AmericaSpeaks (we have mentioned their work before).  Last month AmericaSpeaks announced that they would be closing their doors as an organization, but that doesn’t mean their model doesn’t offer some interesting ideas for future endeavors – especially if undertaken at a more local level.

21st Century Town Meetings combine the features of a small scale face-to-face discussion with large scale group decision making, bringing together large groups of people to discuss the issues that matter most to them.

You can read more here.

Partnering to Restore to Community

When an inmate is released after serving prison time, the stigma attached to incarceration can often be tantamount to exile from his or her community.  And this, in turn, can contribute to the cycle of recidivism so rampant across the United States.  It’s a problem that must be addressed by the community itself.  That is exactly what Darlene Lewis of Little Rock, Arkansas discovered after her own son had been incarcerated.  She established Lewis-Burnett Employment Finders, Inc., to provide employment opportunities and labor force preparation to ex-prisoners:

Last year alone, the nonprofit aided 2,000 men and women find full-time jobs, reports say. The organization also helps with housing and advocates for offenders in court.

Yes, it costs a lot of money to help a former felon find gainful employment, but reducing the rate of recidivism ultimately saves the country even more. According to Lewis-Burnett, about $3.6 million in taxpayer money is saved for every 100 ex-offenders who avoid rearrest or living on welfare.

You can read more here.

Contributor: Sarah Mirembe, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’16. 

Review: Citizen Juries

We’ve talked a little bit about citizen juries on this blog before. But for those interested in an overview of different tools available for engagement, this summary from the Building Change Trust blog is a helpful review:

Similar to the larger scale Citizen Assemblies, Citizen Juries are a useful way to find consensus when there is a lot of information which needs to be evaluated first.

Applicable on a local or a national scale, this participatory process can be used to consider issues of concern, with expert witnesses called before a jury hearing.

You can keep reading here.