Designing for Democracy

In 1997, AmericaSpeaks convened civic innovators from three regions – Snohomish County, WA, the 14-county region around Charlotte, NC, and a state-wide group from Kentucky, along with a national resource team made up of the nation’s leaders in public deliberation and the use of technology for civic engagement. Conference participants at the Johnson Foundation’s Wingspread facility in Racine, WI, sought to develop sustained plans for engaging the public in the regions, while develop a set of national principles for a healthy democracy.

The joint statement produced by conference participants, entitled “Principles of Healthy Democracy: A Call to Action,” stated:

Our times compel us to reaffirm the principles of democracy and take action. We recognize there will always be a gap between the aspirational ideals of democracy and its actual practice. We will use these principles as inspiration to achieve the highest possible expression of democracy as individuals, communities, institutions, and society as a whole.

  • Shared power. Equality of access. Citizens set the agenda. People and communities believe they have – and actually have – power and influence over the decisions that affect their lives.
  • A journey, not a destination. Dynamic, evolving, and active. Constantly being reinvented. Accommodates corrective action. Adaptive, responsive, and builds learning. Concerned with the whole. Integrated into everyday life.
  • Inclusive and compassionate. Champions the rights and voices of all. Recognizes and encourages diversity and interdependence.
  • Shared responsibility. For learning, action, evaluation, and participation. Exercise shared responsibility for being informed. Commitment to the common good.
  • Thoughtful deliberation. Public, safe, and respectful space and time for sharing and deliberation.
  • Public trust. Leaders are stewards. Responsibility and integrity of leadership. Citizens are leaders; leaders are citizens.
  • Freedom of expression. Everyone choosing to be heard is heard and understood.

The conference was sponsored by The Johnson Foundation, the Council for Excellence in Government, the Benton Foundation, American Airlines, the Alliance for Redesigning Government, and the George Gund Foundation.