When we talk about infrastructure we are usually talking about things like roads and water pipes. But communities also need to be concerned about their “civic infrastructure.” A recent article by University of San Diego professor Keith Pezzoli defines civic infrastructure as “formal and informal institutional as well as sociocultural means of connectivity used in knowledge–action collaboration and networking.”
The William Penn Foundation suggests the concept of civic infrastructure links social and cultural capital in communities with built capital, in that public spaces in communities also can be understood to be an integral component of bringing people together and creating the kind of capacity for collective action that is what civic infrastructure is all about. A recent report by the foundation argues that “Civic infrastructure encompasses the physical spaces, buildings, and assets themselves, as well as the habits, traditions, management, and other social, political, and cultural processes that bring them to life—two realms that, together, constitute a whole.”
Building civic infrastructure requires a multi-pronged approach. It involves placing greater emphasis on public or civic spaces. It involves creating meaningful opportunities for civic dialogue and learning to take place. It involves creating opportunities for public work. It involves investing in civic institutions and efforts to build a strong community culture. It certainly involves work across the public, private, and non-for-profit sectors.
The City of Concord has one of the longest-running citizens’ academies in North Carolina, or even the United States, in its Concord 101 program, which has completed 16 sessions and reached over 300 participants. Since inception, the program has largely maintained the original format, yet adapted to expand both the content covered and the number of participants involved each year. Continue Reading
2017 was a big year for civic engagement. At the national level, we saw the inauguration of a new president, several major legislative debates, significant executive and regulatory actions like net neutrality, and protests and other forms of participation taking off across the political spectrum in response. On top of this, there was a seemingly endless presence of political issues in our news media and social media driving the conversation. And yet despite all of this, we now know that Americans are in many ways less civically engaged than ever before.Continue Reading
I was pleased to moderate a panel discussion of four citizens academies coordinators a few weeks ago (February 5) at the North Carolina City & County Management Association’s Winter Seminar held in Durham. The panel consisted of: Mable Scott (Rockingham County Citizens’ Academy), Peter Franzese (Concord 101), Lana Hygh (Cary School of Government), and Deborah Craig-Ray (Durham Neighborhood College). This group represented many years of experience running successful citizens academies and the resulting discussion yielding many great insights that should be useful to others that offer (or plan to offer) a citizens academy in their community.
Local governments are working to find ways to create sustainable civic participation.Some have taken steps to create programs and initiatives that gain the sentiments of their respective citizenry.However, sustainable civic participation is more than gaining the sentiments of citizens, or the perspectives of activist.Obtaining sustainable civic participation comes from inclusive and interactive engagement.Continue Reading
Citizens academies are educational programs conducted by cities and counties aiming to create better informed and engaged citizens. These programs involve ordinary citizens participating in several (usually between six and twelve) sessions taught by local government officials on the wide range of local government services and operations. Programs are usually taught to cohorts of 20-25 residents and end with a graduation. Participants not only learn about their local government, but also learn about how they can be directly involved in it by, for example, serving on citizen advisory boards or committees.Continue Reading