The Promise and Opportunity of Neighborhood Democracy: Lessons from the Intersection of Government and Community

A report on the “Governance at the Neighborhood Level” meeting organized by Grassroots Grantmakers and  the Deliberative Democracy Consortium,with assistance from the National League of Cities and NeighborWorks America.

by Matt Leighninger

The Promise and Challenge of Neighborhood Democracy: Lessons from the Intersection of Government and Community grew out of a meeting that Grassroots Grantmakers and the Deliberative Democracy Consortium organized in Orlando in the fall of 2008 with help from the National League of Cities and NeighborWorks America.

Democratic Governance at the Local Level was the topic, with discussion focusing on what Portland, Minneapolis,Los Angeles and other cities that have experimented with creative ways to engage citizens in public decision-making and problem solving are learning.

This report is intended to continue expand the discussion that began in Orlando.  Matt Leighninger, Executive Director of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium and primary author of this report used the questions and ideas from the meeting as a springboard for future discussion.

Grassroots Grantmakers is interested in how city governments are thinking about local democracy and intrigued by the possibilities associated with a wider discussion of the themes that are highlighted in this report for the following reasons:

  • Grassroots Grantmakers is a network of place-based funders that invest in active citizenship, build civic capacity and increase community resiliency. Our roots are in philanthropy,but our vision includes local governments as important place-based funders that are currently under-represented in our community of practice. We are interested in learning about the opportunities and challenges that local governments face as investors in active citizenship.
  • Many of the issues that surfaced in Orlando are the same issues that regularly surface within our network. If we’re dealing with the same issues but from different perspectives, imagine the opportunities that could unfold if local government funders and place-based philanthropies could work on these issues together!
  • In some places, it’s not that easy to be involved,while in other places it’s easier, with many “onramps” for active citizenship. We would love to see local governments and local philanthropies think together about how accessible active citizenship is in their community, and join together to build more on-ramps and dismantle roadblocks.

We invite you to read and share this report, and hope that it sparks useful conversations about what you can do to strengthen and deepen your work, and build productive bridges between local government and local philanthropies as place-based funders that share an interest in promoting local democracy and active citizenship.


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