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July 14, 2009

investing in democracy: the case of CARE

Investing in Democracy is Carmen Sirianni's extremely important book about how governments at all levels can help citizens and communities to collaborate in addressing public problems. Sirianni argues that "collaborative governance" can address problems that elude regulation and government spending or service, but it can't be done on the cheap. It takes investment in the form of meetings, training, evaluation, tools, methods, and experiments. A great example of how this can work is Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE), a program within the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). CARE makes grants to communities that have formed local partnerships to address environmental issues and determined their local needs. CARE also provides training and technical assistance and puts an interdisciplinary EPA team in partnership with each community. The leadership of CARE rotates among the major departments of EPA so that it doesn't become a mere subsidiary of one department. According to Sirianni and the EPA's Hank Topper, CARE has built a culture of collaboration and has obtained very energetic and enthusiastic support from EPA staff.

However, as I understand it, CARE's funding has been cut by the Obama Administration. I don't see any external pressure for this kind of work, which is not "service," nor "deliberation," nor "transparency," nor online "interactivity." It is long-term governmental investment. CARE was supported by the environmental justice movement, but they cannot push for this kind of investment across the federal government--their interest is limited to environmental issues. In the conversations that I follow, this kind of work is largely overlooked because it involves the executive branch of government (specifically the federal government) and its regulatory and administrative functions. There is much more interest in discussions of legislative issues, in civic education, in grassroots community organizing, and in service.

July 14, 2009 12:24 PM | category: none


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