Online NewsHour The web site of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
By The PeopleBy The PeopleBy The People
MAIN
By the People
By the People JOINING THE CONVERSATION BROADCASTS PARTNERS EVENTS WHAT IS BY THE PEOPLE?
WHAT IS BY THE PEOPLEWhy is Civic Engagement Important?
Group listening to a speaker

A special By the People national broadcast aired on PBS on November 10, 2005, featured snapshots from Deliberation Week citizen dialogues across the country. Read about and listen in on examples of civic engagement in action.

Connect with By the People's partners and begin, or continue, your engagement in civic life. Find out which groups are involved in By the People in your area.

By the People promotes civic engagement by supporting community groups and offering tools to foster dialogues in locations around the country. Learn how you can connect with your fellow-citizens to discuss important issues of the day.

In the past few years, there has been a lot of talk and a lot written about the fact that Americans' participation in civic life—or "civic engagement"— has declined dramatically. According to Harvard Professor Robert Putnam, over the last 25 years, Americans' participation in public meetings is down by 35 percent and participation in clubs and civic organizations has been cut by more than half.

By the People thinks this is bad news for democracy. Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out in his Democracy in America that the key to making American democracy work is our willingness to create and maintain a variety of civic associations.

Against the backdrop of weakened civic engagement, the issues facing our increasingly globalized world are becoming more complex. And the activities that traditionally boost citizens' understanding of these issues—like newspaper readership—are also in decline.

There are a number of organizations focused on rejuvenating civic engagement and the focus on public policy issues. These groups come at the problem from a variety of angles, but BTP's approach is unique because it:

1)  

Focuses on engaging citizens who don't usually participate in conversations on civic and public policy. BTP frequently recruits random samples of citizens and also works through its network of diverse community organization partners to bring citizens to the national conversation.

2)  

Uses television and a variety of old and new mediums—the Internet, videoconferencing, and face-to-face conversations—to bring broad public interest and awareness to the effort.

3)  

Brings balance to the conversation, leveraging the public's trust in MacNeil/Lehrer Productions to offer a variety of perspectives on each issue.

4)  

Offers results from many of the Citizen Deliberations to the public. These views are collected by Deliberative Opinion Polls® and other surveys at Online and face-to-face BTP events. The results are often shared with opinion-leaders and policy-makers.

Some other groups focused on civic engagement are also By the People national partners:

Other groups working to foster civic engagement include: The National Issues Forums; The National Civic League; Pew Partnership for Civic Change; The Study Circles Resource Center; The Saguaro Seminar: Civic Engagement in America, an initiative of Professor Robert D. Putnam at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University; and AmericaSpeaks.