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An initiative to highlight local examples of democracy reform and citizen engagement and cultivate a network of municipal officials and community leaders from across the country committed to strengthening American democracy.
With politics at the national level increasingly polarized and dysfunctional, it is easy to be cynical about the future of American democracy. Looking at the local level, however, reveals a very different story. From coast to coast, in red states and blue, America’s cities and towns are adopting innovative reforms to increase citizen participation, make government more responsive, and build bridges across cultural and political divides. These changes benefit the communities that make them, but they also serve to normalize democratic reforms, making their implementation at the state and federal level more achievable. One barrier to reform at the local level is that cities and towns often have fewer resources and less consistent access to information about how to make these changes.
With the Our Common Purpose Communities Project, the Academy aims to use its convening power and the expertise of its OCP champion network to overcome these challenges. We are building a network of communities across America that agree this is a pivotal moment in the history of the American experiment. OCP Communities commit to work toward advancing one or more of the recommendations in the Our Common Purpose report. They gain the opportunity to learn from the Academy’s community of experts and to support each other in the vital work of reinventing American democracy for the 21st century.
1. Which of the Our Common Purpose recommendations can be implemented at the local level?
Many of the recommendations have local application, including ranked choice voting, clean elections provisions, accessible public meetings, and civic education. Each of these recommendations are applicable locally and expanded upon in the full report:
Aligning Federal and Local Election Dates
Reduce the number of times that voters are called to the polls and improve voter turnout by aligning local election calendars with federal elections.
Use randomly selected, demographically representative citizen assemblies (also known as lottery-selected panels) to bring new perspectives into government decision-making.
Revitalize civic life and build more resilient communities by investing in local places and programs that encourage residents to interact, find common ground, and solve problems together.
Clean Elections Programs
Implement democracy voucher programs, matching funds, or other clean elections programs to empower ordinary citizens and mitigate the influence of big donors in local elections.
Creating a Cultural Expectation of National Service
Strengthen communities and build a shared sense of purpose by expanding local place-based service year opportunities.
Investing in Civics Education
Increase opportunities for civic learning for all ages to help community members develop the knowledge, skills, and habits that allow them to participate fully in the democratic process.
Making Public Meetings More Accessible
Adopt new formats, processes, and technologies that are designed to encourage widespread participation by residents in local public hearings and meetings.
Empower local residents to decide how to spend a portion of the public budget to increase local civic engagement and bring new voices into the policy-making process.
Move toward proportional representation and multi-member districts for local elected officials to help more voters feel that their preferences are reflected in local government.
Ranked Choice Voting
Implement ranked choice voting in local elections to give voters more choice, improve representation, and reduce incentives for negative campaigning.
Supporting Local Journalism
Invest in civic media platforms and other experimental models to build a civic information architecture that supports common purpose.
Telling our Nation’s Story
Engage the local community in direct, open-ended, and inclusive conversations about the complex and always evolving American story.
Voter Orientation Programs
Help first-time voters learn what to do with a nonpolitical orientation to voter duty modeled on jury duty orientation.
2. What is the time commitment for communities in the network?
The Our Common Purpose Communities project is aimed at helping to make implementation of democratic reforms and citizen engagement initiatives easier for local officials and community members. We do not require a specific time commitment for our communities.
3. How can I learn more about joining the OCP Communities initiative?
Please contact us to discuss the program and to receive more information.
Lexington, Kentucky has long had a close connection to the Our Common Purpose project.
In 2019, the city was the location of one of the listening sessions that led to the Our Common Purpose report, and in October 2022 the Academy returned to Lexington for a full day of events to celebrate contributions made by Kentucky residents to the report and to discuss plans for implementing the report’s recommendations with city leaders.
That relationship deepened in December 2022 when Mayor Linda Gorton announced that her city would become the very first Our Common Purpose Community. Mayor Gorton explained, “Lexington residents are proud of their city and always interested in ways we can improve. This new partnership, hosted by the American Academy, will offer new ways to participate in civic life here in Lexington.”
As an OCP community, Lexington will have the opportunity to connect with Our Common Purpose champions that can assist them with implementing the two recommendations on which they have chosen to work, making public meetings more accessible and investing in civic education.
In December 2022, the Academy launched the Our Common Purpose Communities Project with a three-day virtual symposium, Reinventing Democracy: How Hometowns are Strengthening America. The event featured panels of experts and local leaders sharing practical advice on topics like ranked-choice voting, clean elections, civic education, civic infrastructure, and mechanisms to increase citizen participation, as well as keynote remarks from Eric Liu of Citizen University and Judy Woodruff of PBS News. Attendees joined the event from 43 states, and included mayors, city councilors, and other local government officials along with academics and nonprofit leaders. The recordings of the event provide a terrific overview of the outstanding work being done in communities across the country to revitalize America democracy.