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Grants Supporting Public Engagement

Annual Public Engagement Grant Program

Made possible through funding from the James Irvine Foundation's California Democracy Fund, the Davenport Institute Public Engagement Grants seek to support communities by offering funded-service grants to offset the cost of consultants and outside facilitators in designing and implementing a vibrant civic engagement process.

From difficult budget decisions to tough land use problems, municipal and civic institutions are recognizing that legitimately engaging their citizens - from discovering their informed opinions to inviting their participation in actual solutions - should be a pragmatic priority. Still, the tight budgets that most require these public discussions can also preclude them when municipalities decide that engaging residents is just "too expensive."

Starting in 2008 (then conducted through Common Sense California), our grants have been used to support communities from Humboldt County to San Diego and from San Francisco to Riverside. After a brief hiatus in 2016, we are back for our 9th year of grantmaking.

This year we will be prioritizing diverse and low-income communities, and focusing on providing additional support throughout the process. For that reason, we will offer fewer grants this year, but with a higher possible award-per grant.  We anticipate awarding 1-3 grants with a minimum grant amount of $10,000 and a maximum grant of $50,000. Prior to beginning their public engagement campaign, grantees will receive training and consultation from the Davenport Institute to build understanding and support for the civic engagement effort among both administrative staff and elected officials.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who May Apply?

The grant is open to municipalities and civic organizations in the State of California interested in involving the public on an issue of significance to their community or district. Past projects have related to budget, land use and public safety, among others. To ensure that resources go where they are most needed, we will be prioritizing low-income and diverse communities. 

Eligible Applicants:
  • Mayors, City Council, City Managers, Assistant City Managers
  • County Supervisors/Senior Staff
  • Special/School District Board Members/ Senior Staff
  • Executive Directors of regional governance associations (COGs)
  • Executive Directors of non-profit organizations

If you have further questions about whether your community or project is eligible, please contact us by email or by phone at 310.506.4494.

What Will the Grant Provide?

Prior to beginning their public engagement campaign, grantees will also receive training and consultation from the Davenport Institute to build understanding and support for the civic engagement effort amongst administrative and elected officials.

The Davenport Institute will fund a professional consultant(s) to work with your municipality/organization on facilitated public forums. Davenport senior staff and consultants will work with grantees to design the sessions and will facilitate deliberations amongst residents, stakeholders and government representatives. Consultants will be chosen through collaboration between the grantee and the Davenport Institute.

What is the Selection Process?

Interested organizations must submit an online application. Applicants will be contacted within two weeks of their submission to confirm receipt. Submissions will be reviewed by members of the Davenport Institute Advisory Council. Top applicants may be asked to participate in an interview (by phone or site visit) and final decisions will be announced early-October. After decisions are finalized, the Davenport Institute will schedule a training and consultation with grantees. This will also provide an opportunity for the grantees & Davenport institute to confer in order to identify a consultant to be funded by the grant.

What are the Selection Criteria?

The Davenport Institute understands that governing and civic institutions define "civic engagement" in a myriad of ways – from informing to involving their publics. The following factors will be considered in the awarding of all Citizen Engagement Grants:

  • While you may be very concerned about the particular issue, can you conduct this process without biasing the outcome?
  • Along with support and advice from your funded consultant and the Davenport Institute are you also willing to commit staff resources towards the engagement project? How?
  • While the Davenport Institute is not looking for guarantees that the results of a project will be fully and completely implemented, what is the commitment of key administrators and elected's to use the work of their citizens in the decision-making process?
  • The Davenport Institute would expect to receive a brief performance review of the engagement process after its completion summarizing lessons learned and successes.
Readiness (of issue and recipient):
  • Have you reached a stage in the decision-making process where your organization is ready to begin involving citizens in the next several months?
  • Briefly describe any civic engagement events (online or in-person) you have previously done.

What are Examples of Past Projects?

Here's a small sampling of the many efforts we have supported:

  • Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District (water policy)
  • City of Brea (budget)
  • Ventura County Civic Association (regional planning)
  • Santa Barbara Noozhawk (online participatory budgets)
  • City of Palmdale (youth services)
  • City of Redwood City (environmental policy)
  • City of Martinez (online participatory planning)
  • Ripon Unified School District (education policy)
  • Threshold 2009/non-profit (county housing policy)
  • Many others...

You can find out more by exploring our past grant project pages.

How do I Apply?

You can apply easily through our online application form.

If you have any further questions about your grant application, please email Davenport Institute assistant director Ashley Trim or call 310.506.4494

What are the Reporting Requirements?

Initial Evaluation

Upon selection, the Davenport Institute will help each grantee walk through the "How Are WE Doing?" Platform to determine areas of strength and weakness in your current public engagement policies and processes (these criteria will be adapted as appropriate for community org or education applicants). This will help identify a baseline for building your engagement efforts. 

During the Process

Representatives of the Davenport Institute may request to come observe workshops, events, or other programs relating to the engagement process.

Grant Conclusion and Case Study 

Our grants do not require much administrative work, but we do hope you will allow us and others to learn from your experience. To that end and in lieu of the typical closeout report, we ask for your help in developing a case study of your project.

This means your project coordinator would commit to an interview of less than an hour with a Davenport Institute member, who would in turn draft a case study. We would ask that your project coordinator provide edits and suggestions on the draft.

We will then complete the case study, put it on our website with others and use if for training and reference purposes. There is no close-out report requirement. It is a low hassle task with a payoff for the field of civic engagement.


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