The Civic Challenge is a campaign to transform ourselves from a nation of largely passive and increasingly frustrated citizens into a powerful problem solving force that dramatically increases the power of our communities and our country to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
It begins with a pledge. The Civic Pledge is a values proposition that citizens can make and challenge others to take. It is a pledge “to leave our communities better than we found them by pursuing pragmatic solutions” that are: (1) based on evidence of success (2) cost effective and (3) advanced in a no-blame manner.
To give everyone the opportunity to join in the transformation of our citizenry into a pro-active problem-solving force and to make this movement sustainable, the Civic Challenge enlists our fellow citizens to participate in building three key community elements that create a positive political environment for solving problems: Local civic associations called Civic Trusts, Solutions Civics and Solutions Journalism.
Citizens who take the Civic Pledge are equipped to build these foundations with the Civic Challenge’s robust online tool box. They can become (1) a Civic Trustee, committing to at least one year of service in a local Civic Trust working with like-minded citizens in monthly, no-blame, problem-solving sessions; (2) a proponent of civics classes for both high school students and adults which teach local government problem-solving; or (3) a solutions newsgatherer to introduce evidence-based solutions into news stories on local government issues.
The problem-solving power of the Civic Challenge comes from three sources. First is the three principles of the Civic Pledge. When solutions are “based on evidence of success,” they are less vulnerable to ideological opposition. When they are “cost effective,” they are not constrained by tight budgets. And when they are advanced with a “no-blame approach,” the distraction of personal conflict is avoided and the focus is kept on the solution’s cost effectiveness and evidence of success.
The second source of power is found in technology and two major recent expansions of citizens’ legal rights. Technology now enables citizens to “search” for solutions that have proven successful in other communities and to “share” these solutions among multiple communities. The relatively new citizen right to access government information, including current policies and costs, gives them the ability to compare an existing policy to the successful solutions they found. Moreover, the new right of citizens themselves to introduce their solutions during the public input session of local government meetings, means that citizens can become partners with their elected officials and expand their government’s problem solving capacity.
The Civic Challenge’s third source of power is a “dream team” of volunteer experts in government, law, politics, and policy implementation that turns citizen-identified solutions into “ready to adopt” legal format and advises on adoption strategies. With the help of this dream team, New Jersey citizens have already gained adoption of over 300 local laws and several state laws, some with national impact.
The Civic Challenge is already attracting principled citizens to serious public service and providing them with the tools and training to solve problems without waiting for the political establishment. Some of their successes include initiatives that help their communities adapt to climate change; locally recruited auxiliary police who help bridge the community/police relationship gap; and budget stabilizing measures, like city health insurance contracting procedures that are saving millions of dollars.
Civic Trusts have been piloted in the cities of Newark, Trenton and Perth Amboy and are proving to be self-sustaining. When combined with Solutions Civics training, and the public focus on practical solutions generated by Solutions Newsgatherers, they create a political environment in which problem solving is favored and candidates are evaluated on the strength of their solutions instead of the slickness of their soundbites.
Most importantly, all three components of the Civic Challenge are designed to be replicable and scalable for national application. Networked across the country, they will generate a revolutionary change in the architecture of government leadership – moving our country from one where problem solving is largely the province of the political establishment to a dynamic democracy turbocharged by a principled, solutions focused citizenry.