This political season, citizens will be determining who will represent them in the government. This, of course, includes deciding who will be the next president, but also who will serve in thousands of less prominent positions.
But is voting the only job of a citizen? And if there are others, what are they? Who decides who will do the other jobs – and how they should be done?
The concept of “civic intelligence” tries to address such questions.
I’ve been researching and teaching the concept of “civic intelligence” for over 15 years. Civic intelligence can help us understand how decisions in democratic societies are made now and, more importantly, how they could be made in the future.
For example, my students and I used civic intelligence as the focus for comparing colleges and universities. We wanted to see how well schools helped educate their students for civic engagement and social innovation and how well the schools themselves supported this work within the broader community.
Untold numbers of people have been thinking and practicing civic intelligence without using the term. …There are more contemporary approaches as well. These include:
- Sociologist Xavier de Souza Briggs’ research on how people from around the world have integrated the efforts of civil society, grassroots organizations and government to create sustainable communities.
- With a slightly different lens, researcher Jason Corburn has examined how “ordinary” people in economically underprivileged neighborhoods have used “Street Science” to understand and reduce disease and environmental degradation in their communities.
- Elinor Ostrom, recently awarded the Nobel Prize in economics, has studied how groups of people from various times and places managed resources such as fishing grounds, woodlots and pastures by working together collectively to preserve the livelihoods’ sources for future generations.
Making use of civic intelligence
Civic intelligence is generally an attribute of groups. It’s a collective capability to think and work together.
Advocates and practitioners of civic intelligence (as well as many others) note that the risks of the 21st century, which include climate change, environmental destruction and overpopulation, are quantitatively and qualitatively unlike the risks of prior times. They hypothesize that these risks are unlikely to be addressed satisfactorily by government and other leaders without substantial citizen engagement….
At a basic level, “governance” happens when neighborhood groups, nonprofit organizations or a few friends come together to help address a shared concern.
Their work can take many forms, including writing, developing websites, organizing events or demonstrations, petitioning, starting organizations and, even, performing tasks that are usually thought of as “jobs for the government.”
And sometimes “governance” could even mean breaking some rules, possibly leading to far-reaching reforms. For example, without civil disobedience, the U.S. might still be a British colony. And African-Americans might still be forced to ride in the back of the bus.
As a discipline, civic intelligence provides a broad focus that incorporates ideas and findings from many fields of study. It involves people from all walks of life, different cultures and circumstances.