Democratize can describe aspirational goals for sports, schools, media, medicine, technology—lately this word seems to apply to everything.
But making something accessible and making it actually work are two different things.
Matt Leighninger is Vice President of Public Engagement & Director of the Yankelovich Center for Public Judgment at Public Agenda. He has spent the last 20 years thinking about what makes democracy work and will be visiting the San Diego area next week to speak with members of the San Diego Deliberation Network and at two local universities. A community conversation with Matt Leighninger is free and open to the public on Thursday, Feb. 18th at California State University San Marcos in the Kellogg Reading Room from 5:30 - 7:30 pm. Click here for a flyer to this event.
In an op-ed We Need a Yelp for Civic Engagement to Get the 21st Century Democracy We Want Leighninger makes a case that meaningful, productive forms of civic engagement over long periods of time show improvements in quality of life. In Brazilian cities which adopted democratic innovations more than 20 years ago, those communities have higher tax compliance, lower infant mortality, higher economic growth, higher redistribution of wealth, and lower corruption.
He argues that despite the energy and ingenuity evident in newer forms of engagement, democratic innovations are not transforming American politics. This apparent lack of change is partly because most citizens do not think that American politics can be transformed; they are resigned to the idea that our democracy cannot be improved.
This century’s media provides an opportunity, according to Leighninger. As we are constantly being engaged by citizen-centered ways of measuring—and improving—many aspects of our lives, the same thinking and technology could be applied to civic engagement, especially if governments said they wanted feedback. Why shouldn’t Yelp ask us, “How would you rate this school board meeting?”
Leighninger sees potential for a 21st century vision of a comprehensive, holistic, citizen-centered local democracy, which might spur efforts to improve all kinds of engagement. A key value would be the capacity to understand how economic, racial, and other inequalities play out politically.
According to Matt Leighninger, the fundamental benefit of helping people measure democracy is that it reinforces the idea that democracy can, in fact, be improved.
To register to attend the Feb. 18th conversation with Matt Leighninger, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org .