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Civic Agency

Page history last edited by ADP/AASCU 10 years, 2 months ago




Civic Agency is an initiative of the American Democracy Project and the

Center for Democracy and Citizenship.



Civic Agency Defined

Civic agency involves the capacities of citizens to work collaboratively across differences like partisan ideology, faith traditions, income, geography and ethnicity to address common challenges, solve problems, and create common ground. Civic agency can be seen from a cultural vantage as the practices, habits, norms, symbols, and ways of life that enhance or diminish capacities for collective action. This emerging body of knowledge and set of collective practices provide models for a major higher education initiative that will transform previous sources of civic decline into wellsprings of civic renewal and regeneration.


Table of Contents 

Overarching Goals of the Civic Agency Initiative

The Civic Agency Initiative is a partnership with the Center for Democracy and Citizenship (CDC). The goal of this initiative is to produce a series of national models for developing civic agency among undergraduates and to disseminate those models broadly throughout American higher education. The project combines the strategic and leadership position of AASCU schools in civic engagement – with more than 50% of the nation’s public four year college students, a strong record of educating local and regional leaders, and a flourishing network of schools in the American Democracy Project – with the pioneering theoretical and practical work of the CDC.


Making "We the People" a Reality

In a time when Americans widely believe that the nation may be in decline (the Rasmussen Poll of November 19 found that 47% think the nation’s “best days are in the past” while 37 percent feel they “are in the future” – down from 48 % two years ago), “We the People” is a strategy for state colleges and universities and allied groups to step up to the challenges of transformational leadership.[i] It involves a two year campaign of citizenship work to strengthen state colleges as “stewards of place” in ways that also build broad alliances for a democratic Renaissance, what Thomas Friedman calls Nation-Building at Home.[ii]


We the People (WtheP) grows from the Civic Agency Initiative of ADP and the CDC. The Civic Agency Initiative develops methods, programs, strategies and concepts for students, as well as faculty, staff, administrators and community stakeholders, to become empowered, effective community builders – “agents and architects of democracy” who are truly Stewards of Place. It is based on recovery of the idea of government which informs the Constitution’s Preamble, neither savior nor enemy but rather “us,” a meeting ground and instrument created by the people for the work of building flourishing communities and a healthy democracy. The “We the People” approach requires other institutions beyond government to become agents and architects of a flourishing democratic society, infused with the spirit of civic revitalization.

Watch Harry Boyte talk about "We the People" here.


Map of Participants

View American Democracy Project Civic Agency in a larger map


List of Participants


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In November 2008, the first Civic Agency Institute was held to launch the Civic Agency initiative. Since then, the first 16 colleges and universities involved in the initiative have undertaken community organizing, one-to-one informational interviews, and curricular programming to explore the concept of civic agency. In November 2009 and 2010, the Civic Agency Institute invited a new cadre of AASCU campuses to join the work of the Civic Agency initiative. At the 2010 Institute, we launched the "We the People" phase of our work.


Civic Agency and "We the People" Resources and Background Materials

Resources from Institutes

Minneapolis Meeting 2008 Reading Materials

Minneapolis Meeting 2009

Washington, DC Meeting 2010 (Launch of We the People)


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General Resources

The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker

More Poetry, Please OpEd piece by Thomas Friedman

Newsweek: Why College Should Take Only 3 Years

Seeking Clearer Waters

Obituary for Iving Kristol

The Difference Scott Page

Partnerships for Public Service: Impacts on Students and Communities

Democracy and Knowledge: Innovation and Learning in Classical Athens

I’ve Got the Light of Freedom

The Democracy Imperative Beyond the Timid University

Democratic Professionalism

Training Manual: Training and Developing Public Achievement Coaches

Center for Media and Democracy

The Young and the Digital: What the Migration to Social Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future

Civic Agency and the Cult of the Expert 

Advancing a Civic Engagement Agenda: A Guide to Marketing, Management and Money

Public Achievement

ADP Blog

Stepping Forward as Stewards of Place

Yes we can, not yes we should

Agents and Architects of Democracy Webcast

Yasmin Karimian, a leader in the Civic Agency initiative, writes a call to action for student leaders across the nation. Read it here.

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction

The Benjamin Button Election: Rage, powerlessness, magical thinking—why is how we think about politics increasingly mirroring the mind-set of a small child?

Constructive Politics as Public Work: Reconstructing Participatory Democracy Speech by Harry Boyte

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We the People Background Materials


Suggested We the People Activities



Examples of We the People

Public Achievement (Througha Public Achievement, people of all ages work with others to meet challenges and solve problems. They learn from each other the meaning of citizenship and democracy. Ordinary people do extraordinary things.)


Killip Elementary Public Achievement Blog 


IdealMedicalPractice.org (Ordinary citizens solve a local problem and create a Ideal Medical Practice.)


Multnomah Youth Commission (A Portland, Or. youth-led governance organization)


MindLab is a Danish public sector innovation laboratory which was founded nine years ago by the the Ministry of Economic and Business Affairs, the Ministry of Taxation and the Ministry of Employment.


We the People at Western Kentucky University "The “We the People” approach requires other institutions beyond government to become agents and architects of a flourishing democratic society, infused with the spirit of civic revitalization. We The People WKU is part of a national movement across college campuses to awaken the

potential of students to make a difference in their community and in the world."


Our American Voice 


Our American Voice connects middle school students to the democratic process through active community problem-solving in an after-school program that is engaging, interactive and grounded in real life. The 22-week program emphasizes critical thinking skills as students learn the fundamentals of American democracy and work to create positive change in their communities. Students engage in team activities, discussions and research, and partner with community agencies and elected officials to find solutions to issues in their own backyards.


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Schools Using the Public Achievement Model

Georgia College and State University created a Public Agenda eGuide. Check it out here.

Western Kentucky University

Northern Arizona University

Central Connecticut State University

Lincoln University of Missouri



[i] Marshall Ganz has recently argued that the desire for “transformational leadership” among Americas animated Obama’s winning presidential campaign in 2008 (“How Obama Lost His Voice and How He Can Get It Back,” Los AngelesTimes, November 3, 2010 ). Our view is that a democratic renaissance depends upon transformational leadership in many places, and state colleges and universities can be a crucial example.

[ii] Thomas Friedman, “Got to Get This Right,” New York Times November  28, 2010

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