2017: A Year in Review

An End of Year Reflection

It’s the time of year when many of us pause to think about what is truly important and consider how we will attend to those things that matter to us in the coming new year. I’m fairly contemplative by nature, so this annual exercise comes naturally to me. However, I have to admit I have struggled to encapsulate my thoughts about the past year in terms of Healthy Democracy’s work, what’s next for deliberative public processes, what’s next for citizens as stakeholders in their democracy, and what’s next for an organization that began back in 2008 as an audacious experiment in citizen involvement in public policy decision-making.

The signs over the past year haven’t been terribly encouraging. We’re now a year into our country’s newly downgraded democracy, and there is legitimate concern about the resilience and efficacy – and even continued relevance – of some long-embraced American institutions. Meanwhile, the fault lines in our pluralistic society are being revealed in increasingly stark ways.

Where we find ourselves in this newly emerging context has been the subject of many earnest conversations here and, no doubt, among many of our fellow organizations in the field of deliberative democracy. When Healthy Democracy began its work nearly ten years ago, the public square was being increasingly overtaken by a cacophony of narrow interests, fueled by gobs of private money, working to spin and manipulate information in self-serving ways. When applied to the high-stakes world of ballot initiatives, it left citizens wondering what to believe, whom to trust, and why on earth it had to be this way.

Healthy Democracy responded a decade ago by creating the widely acclaimed Citizens’ Initiative Review, where a demographically representative group of ordinary citizens become the eyes and ears of the voting public. They study a complex public policy issue on a ballot measure for several days and draft their collective learnings in the form of a Citizens’ Statement that is shared with their fellow voters.

More recently, in the wake of the 2016 national election, Healthy Democracy launched the Community Oregon program, designed to better understand and help bridge the stark divides reflected in urban and rural voting patterns around the state.

These program responses have broken new ground, where citizens can redefine and rebuild their relationships with one another and reexamine their individual and collective role in their democracy. Encouragingly, the words by the people, for the people do not ring hollow in these settings.

Instead, they are places where trust can be rediscovered, renewed, and reconciled even across significant differences. They are spaces where we can break the cycle of alienation, or what Wendy Willis of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium has called civic loneliness. “People around us are literally dying for lack of connection and purpose,” she wrote, “and the work of democracy is dripping with both connection and purpose.”

So democracy-building is inherently the work of community-building.

With trust in our national government at historic lows, our ability to reweave this essential element into the fabric of democracy in communities where we live – where we work, learn, pray, and play – may in fact be our greatest calling today.

As we look ahead to 2018, it is with hope that new possibilities for democracy may be borne from this work together, based as always on our unceasing faith in the wisdom of our fellow citizens.

— Robin Teater, Executive Director

 

Let us know what you think! Call or email us with your thoughts and ideas about “democracy as community.” Meanwhile, along with several CIRs, Healthy Democracy will be holding a series of “Democracy Talks” events in Oregon in 2018, so be sure to check our social media sites periodically for details. Join us at an event where we will continue the conversation on this vital topic.

 


 

That’s a Wrap, Folks

What Healthy Democracy was up to in 2017.

Program and Event Highlights

March 5 – 7
California CIR Demonstration Project
We brought the CIR to California for first time, in an abbreviated demonstration version of the program at Pepperdine University.

April 20
Our first Democracy Salon, focusing on trust in media.
Democracy Salons are our chance to bring together small groups of diverse thinkers to grapple with issues facing our democracy.

July 13 – 16
Community Oregon, Part I – Retreat in Warm Springs

August 14
US State Department International Visitor Leadership Program Host (focusing on transparency and accountability in government)

August – October
Community Oregon, Part II – Urban/Rural Exchanges

November 4
Community Oregon, Part III – Expo
Healthy Democracy Celebration Dinner

 

Conferences

Association of Oregon Counties – January 9 – Salem, Oregon
HD was an invited speaker.

Future of California Elections – March 8 – Los Angeles

Bridge Alliance – April 21 – 23 – Dallas, Texas
HD was an invited speaker.

Vox Conversations – April 26 – 27 – Washington, D.C.

Elevate Engagement Conference – May 19 – 21 – Portland, Oregon

Frontiers of Democracy – June 23 – 25 – Boston
HD was a workshop session leader.

Conference on Direct Democracy – June 27 – 28 – Barcelona, Spain
HD was an invited speaker.

Northern California Grantmakers Web Conference – October 4 – (virtual)
HD was an invited speaker.

Deliberative Democracy Consortium – October 19 – 21 – Chicago

 

Other Stuff that Mattered

March 10
The Citizens’ Initiative Review was named a Top 10 Program in Harvard’s nationwide 2017 Ash Award for Public Engagement in Government Competition

June 19
HD welcomes Nevins Fellow Andy Puthenpurayil.

July 28
HD says farewell to Program Director Jessie Conover.

August 11
HD says farewell to Nevins Fellow Andy Puthenpurayil.

October 12
Healthy Democracy moves to a new office! Our new address is: 5100 SW Macadam Ave., Ste. 360, Portland, OR, 97239.

Robin Teater
Executive Director of Healthy Democracy