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Citizens at the Center

Citizens at the Center

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Published by The Case Foundation
This Case Foundation-commissioned paper offers specific recommendations for getting people from all walks of life to discuss what matters most to them, and then giving them the tools and technologies they need to identify problems and develop solutions together. It also warns against top-down solutions that require people to “plug into” existing programs or campaigns.
This Case Foundation-commissioned paper offers specific recommendations for getting people from all walks of life to discuss what matters most to them, and then giving them the tools and technologies they need to identify problems and develop solutions together. It also warns against top-down solutions that require people to “plug into” existing programs or campaigns.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: The Case Foundation on Aug 24, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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07/10/2013

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Citizens
Center
a new approach to civic engagement 
at the
 
 About the Author
This paper was researched and written by Cynthia M. Gibson, Ph.D. Gibson is principalo Cynthesis Consulting, which specializes in public policy research and analysis, programdevelopment, strategic planning, and marketing/ communications or nonproft organizations,including philanthropic institutions. Previously, she served as a program ofcer at CarnegieCorporation o New York in the area o “Strengthening U.S. Democracy,” as well as a seniorsta member and consultant or several national nonproft public policy organizations andoundations. She is the author o numerous publications—including
From Inspiration to 
Participation: Strategies for Youth Civic Engagement 
and (with Peter Levine)
The Civic Mission
of Schools 
—that have become standards or the civic engagement feld. She is also a membero the adjunct aculty at The New School University’s Milano Graduate School o Managementand Urban Policy and a senior ellow at Tuts University.
 About the Case Foundation
The mission o the Case Foundation, ounded in 1997 by Jean and Steve Case, is to achievesustainable solutions to complex social problems by investing in collaboration, leadership,
and entrepreneurship. The foundation is applying these strategies to expand civic engagement
and volunteerism, meet the needs o underserved children and amilies, create thriving andsustainable economic development or communities, bridge cultural and religious divides,and accelerate innovative approaches to health care. The oundation’s work stretches acrossthe United States and around the world.
Copyright 2006 by the Case Foundation. This paper may be duplicated and distributed in its entirety, in print
or electronically, without prior permission. A downloadable pd is available at http://www.caseoundation.org/spotlight/civic_engagement/gibson. When using excerpts, please cite
Citizens at the Center: A New Approach to Civic Engagement,
The Case Foundation, 2006.
 
CITIZENS AT THE CENTER:
a new approach to civic engagement 
I
s the United States undergoing
a civic renewal? Many in theservice and civic engagement
domain say “yes,” pointing to recent
data indicating that volunteerism
is on the rise, especially amongyoung people.
Those outside this domain, however, aren’t so sure,
based on equally compelling research indicatingthat Americans eel more isolated than ever and
powerless to do anything about the problems acing
their communities and the nation. As a result,they are turning away rom civic and public lie toengage in activities—including volunteering and
charitable giving—that may be less an impetus ordeeper civic engagement than attempts to assuagethe inchoate yet palpable sense among increasingnumbers o Americans that things are spiraling out
o control, that there is little connection betweenpeople and their public institutions and leaders,
and that the country has drited away rom its core
democratic values to those emphasizing materialism,
celebrity, and “me” rather than “we.”In the summer o 2006, senior sta members
rom the Case Foundation convened to ask i there
is a way to make service and civic engagement adeeper and more entrenched cultural value andethos—one that reaches a majority o people and
that is reected in their everyday lives, as well as in
the civic lie and health o their communities.
Working with Cynthia Gibson, an independent consultant,
the oundation sought to answer this question byinterviewing scores o leaders in the service/civicengagement feld, as well as those outside this
domain; culling the fndings o scholarly research; andsynthesizing numerous mainstream articles, websites,
and publications. A surprising consensus emergedrather quickly around the perception that servicealready is a deeply embedded value in Americanculture, based on the country’s strong religious andspiritual traditions that encourage “giving back,” its
vibrant nonproft sector, and its consistently high levels
o charitable giving and volunteering in comparisonto other nations.What is not a cultural ethos is civic engagement,invoking important questions as to what can bedone to use Americans’ commitment to service asa springboard or deeper engagement in the civiclie o their communities.
While this issue—moving people rom service to civics—
is hardly new to the service and civic engagementfeld, the discussion has been predicated largely onusing politics, especially voting, as a proxy or civicengagement and, in some cases, has assumed the
latter to be an inherently deeper and more developedorm o civic engagement. Yet many Americans haveturned away rom politics and political institutions or
the same reasons they have turned away rom other
civic institutions—a sense that what they do matters
little when it comes to the civic lie and health o
Citizens at the Center:
 A New Approach to Civic Engagement

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