inCommon is the Participatory Governance Blog of the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy. Here you will find information about the latest resources, studies, programs and discussions about Civic Engagement in California, throughout the nation and around the world. We hope that the case studies and technological innovations discussed here will spark new reflection and conversation regarding both what legitimate civic engagement looks like and why it is important for good governance, particularly at the local level.

New to Civic Engagement? Check out our foundational documents »

Piggybacking to Improve Local Election Turnout?

In its last round of local elections, Los Angeles had one of the worst participation in voting in the last century. Some Los Angeles lawmakers see an opportunity to help address this problem by asking citizens to move elections to even numbered years. That means city elections would be held during presidential or governor races. Therefore increased attention would be giving to voting for more high profile elections and it would help boost voter participation for local elections. The proposed bill will go to the entire city council next before it is proposed to the city for a vote:

Proponents say the change will bring more Angelenos to the polls, especially black and Latino voters. Less than a quarter of L.A.’s registered voters cast ballots in the mayoral race between Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel last year — the lowest in any two-candidate runoff in a century.

“Our turnout is embarrassing. It is dismal. We are in crisis. And something actually needs to be done,” City Council President Herb Wesson said Friday.

You can read more here.

Contributor: Elliott Parisi, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’15. 

Support Available for Public Engagement in Eastern Canada

The Davenport Institute’s public engagement grant application period may have passed, but if you happen to be an Atlantic Canadian City, there may still be time to pursue another grant opportunity. The Atlantic Council for International Cooperation (ACIC) is offering a number of small grants to support public engagement in Canadian communities in the Atlantic region:

Have an idea for a small public engagement project? Want to establish a relationship with a new partner in the Atlantic region? Wish to try a new idea or test a new approach to engaging Canadians? Why not consider ACIC’s Members’ Public Engagement Fund?

ACIC’s Members Public Engagement Fund provides funding of up to $1,500 to ACIC members and partners for small public engagement projects. The fund is intended to support good practice and innovative methods of engaging Atlantic Canadians in global development issues.

You can read more here.

Encouraging “Citizen”-ship

The cities of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are working with legal residents to help them become US citizens. Becoming a citizen is an arduous process, difficult to figure out on your own. Cities for Citizenship, with funding from Citi Bank, will provide free legal council, citizen workshops, micro-loans and more to aspiring citizens. This program looks to alleviate poverty for legal permanent residents by helping them take the important step to become full citizens:

Last week, the mayors of New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago announced an initiative that aims to lift legal permanent residents out of poverty by helping them to secure citizenship.

On the same day as the Cities for Citizenship program was announced, the University of Southern California and the nonprofits The Center for Popular Democracy and the National Partnership for New Americans released a study that suggests why these cities believe it is important to push for immigrants to apply for citizenship (beyond the political benefits, that is). According to it, making the move from legal permanent residence to citizenship results in an 8 to 11 percent increase in income. Meaning that if just half of those eligible to apply for citizenship in these three cities do so, it will lead to a gain of $10 billion over 10 years. Lifting these people out of poverty would ease the strain on social services, bringing more money to local economies.

You can read more here.

Contributor: Elliott Parisi, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’15.

Local Engagement in A Global Age

We live in an increasingly global age, and the scale of global challenges can be overwhelming . But sometimes tackling global challenges begins at home. Active civic engagement can amass ideas towards positive global change. Take for example, The CityLab, a three days project designed for “constructive dialogue” and the creation of “scalable solutions for city leaders to share with their constituencies across the world.”  That’s happening right now in Los Angeles:

This Monday and Tuesday in downtown Los Angeles, The Atlantic, the Aspen Institute, and Bloomberg Philanthropies are bringing together an incredible group of more than 300 global mayors, urban experts, city planners, writers, technologists, economists, and designers for the second annual “CityLab: Urban Solutions to Global Challenges.” The CityLab is, “Hosted by The Atlantic in partnership with The Aspen Institute and Bloomberg Philanthropies, CityLab is one of our most innovative programs of the year, bringing together 300+ of the world’s top mayors, urban experts, city planners, writers, technologists, economists, and designers.

You can read more here.

Contributor: Sarah Mirembe, Pepperdine School of Public Policy, MPP Candidate ’16. 


When You Build It and They Don’t Come

Is there anything worse than a public engagement effort that devolves into a shouting match?  If there is, it might just be a public engagement effort with no public in attendance at all.  A recent public engagement event in the UK focused on crime and police response and drew exactly one attendant:

Only one person turned up to a public engagement event held by Devon and Cornwall’s police and crime commissioner. Tony Hogg and senior officers had organised the meeting in Exeter, billing it as a way of holding those at the top to account.

The only person there was Gail Hickman from Bideford, who wanted to complain about anti-social behaviour. . .

While this outcome may be exactly what many public officials fear for their own engagement efforts, it highlights the importance of preparing for engagement before hand.  Do you know who the stakeholders in your community are who can help frame questions and drive attendance?  Do you have relationships with local media (traditional and new) to help promote efforts?  Are you ready to engage – is there sufficient public trust?  Are there ways of taking the conversation out to the people rather than asking them to come to City Hall?

It is never enough just to assume that if you plan it, they will come.

You can read more here.  And a piece on how a lack of trust may be at the core of the problem in this particular instance here.