A Proposal For Building Better “Civic Muscles”


As digital technologies continue to reduce barriers to entry for civic participation there are numerous opportunities for more inclusive governance in democracies. However, understanding the opportunities for engaging citizens also requires understanding a multi-sector approach to governance across public institutions, civil society, and everyday people. In a new policy paper, part of the Data-Smart City Solutions series from the Ash Center at Harvard Kennedy School, I outline a schema for multi-stakeholder governance and provide several examples—from engaging citizens as co-producers of public goods through civic crowdfunding to providing direct feedback to inform municipal policy—of ways we can build “civic muscles.”

More Inclusive Governance in the Digital Age

Working toward inclusive governance takes a multi-stakeholder model. Government cannot—and should not—do it alone. It is not as simple as providing the opportunities for citizens to engage in collaborative decision-making. Rather, citizens have become accustomed to a weak model of engagement—democratic elections every four years that hardly express the accurate will of the people. And these are the democracies.

Digital tools offer the promise of a re-engaged civic sphere. However, they have failed to live up to their potential. The reality, shaped by people, power, and institutions, is much more nuanced. However, there are opportunities for using digital tools to create more inclusive and collaborative structures for governance.

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