The Path to National Public Service

Founded in 1997 by government law and policy expert, Harry Pozycki, who has served as its full-time, volunteer leader ever since, The Citizens Campaign attracted other civic leaders, most notably Derek Bok, president of Harvard University (1971 – 1991). With the credibility provided by President Bok, who served on the board of The Citizens Campaign for several years, Harry assembled a team of experts—former city mayors, school board administrators, municipal attorneys and other government practitioners with a record of getting things done.  This team, called The Citizens Campaign’s Law & Policy Task Force, chaired by Gary Stein, chief of policy for New Jersey Governor Tom Kean (1982 – 1990),works on a volunteer basis to help citizens, trained in No-Blame Problem Solving©, to tailor successful, cost-effective solutions from other communities for adoption in their own towns and cities.

Citizen Empowerment Laws

In its early years, the Task Force worked with Harry to develop citizen empowerment laws, including the Nation’s strongest Pay-to-Play reform laws to reduce the political dominance of big money; the Open Public Records Act, which gave citizens access to the details and costs of current government policies; the Citizen Service Act, which opened the doors for citizens to appointed positions on local government boards and commissions; and the Party Democracy Act, which required political parties to adopt constitutions empowering grass roots party representatives.

It soon became clear that the publicity around the adoption of these laws was not enough to inform citizens of their new powers, so The Citizens Campaign began to hold public forums, which started with gatherings of 50 to 100 people, and soon ballooned to conferences of well over a thousand citizens for a single event.

Citizen Empowerment Education

Realizing that the demand for citizen empowerment could not be met with public forums alone, Harry wrote THE CITIZENS MANUAL,* a text to inform citizens of these new powers, and The Citizens Campaign partnered with the University of Pennsylvania to develop a course, based on THE CITIZENS MANUAL, that could be taught at educational institutions beginning with public high schools.

The course was praised by teachers and leaders in the education community, and successfully piloted in several high schools, but while the impact was much broader given this public education-based approach, it was limited by the fact that the course was offered as an elective that didn’t reach all students.  Undeterred, The Citizens Campaign began working with Political Science teachers to find a way to transform the course into a set of teaching tools that could be embedded in mandatory social studies courses for all students.

The full course was then upgraded for use in colleges and successfully piloted at Rutgers University and Providence College, among others.  To further expand the impact of its citizen empowerment training, The Citizens Campaign developed a curriculum of online video classes for the general public.

The combination of the mandatory high school instruction, the college course, and the online video class curriculum, provided a cost-effective approach to broad citizen empowerment education.  What’s more, citizens who received this leadership training went on to gain adoption of hundreds of local laws that improved their communities.

Citizen Leadership Service

The lessons were learned—broad citizen empowerment education was possible with a proven, cost-effective strategy, and more importantly, empowerment produced “citizen leadership.”  This was an exciting discovery, but it too had a limitation: the majority of the citizens who became successful leaders, gaining adoption of laws to improve their communities, withdrew to their personal lives, satisfied that they had made a contribution.

The challenge now was to find a way that empowered citizens could continue their public service beyond an initial successful experience.  To address this, The Citizens Campaign developed Civic Trusts—non-partisan, community based civic associations comprised of a few dozen “citizen leaders” who come together in monthly Solution Sessions to search for successful policies at work in other communities and propose them for adoption in their own.  These “Civic Trustees” serve for a term of one to three years, after which they are term limited, and make room for new citizen leaders.  Civic Trusts were successfully piloted in several cities and proved sustainable, and especially impactful, in economically challenged cities.

Initially, Civic Trustees relied heavily on the Law & Policy Task Force in the development and presentation of their solutions, but the goal of scaling Trust expansion required more efficiency.  To this end, Harry Pozycki, with support from the Law & Policy Task Force, developed a step-by-step, No-Blame Problem Solving© Guide to facilitate more independent problem solving by Trustees.

The Guide employs a pragmatic approach called “do’in the doable.”  To this end, it calls for solutions that are based on evidence of success in similar cities and are cost effective, i.e., budget neutral or better.  Because Trustees’ service is to “leave their communities better than they found them,” the Guide also requires that solutions “benefit all sides of the community.”  Most importantly, The Citizens Campaign’s signature NO-BLAME approach is infused in all of the Guide’s strategies for problem solving.

This practical, No-Blame Problem Solving© Guide not only gives Trustees the power to tackle their chosen issues with little or no coaching, it creates a NO-BLAME environment that attracts new Civic Trustees.     

A Pipeline of Principled Leaders and Practical Solutions

The Citizens Campaign realized it now had the tools to build a pipeline of principled leaders and practical solutions — cost-effective high school, college and online citizen leadership training, coupled with inviting, community based public service opportunities in Civic Trusts.  Encouraged by this result, and in order to further accelerate countrywide implementation, The Citizens Campaign built a ‘Citizen Power Portal’ to both automate teacher and professor training and to support and facilitate Civic Trusts across the country. 

Then, it all came together. The Campaign’s training and Civic Trustees’ service began to attract the support of national organizations and top experts on civic engagement and American democracy.  Local and national college associations provided platforms for introducing the Campaign’s citizen leadership training and service programs to colleges across the Country. Then the NFL Alumni Association offered a partnership to promote The Citizens Campaign’s work.  Highly regarded national expert, Rogers Smith, president of the American Political Science Association (2018-2019), endorsed the Campaign’s leadership training tools and Trustee service. Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone and recipient of the Presidential Medal of the Humanities, declared the Campaign’s work to be “what we need to rekindle our American values and generate the new leaders and ideas essential to meeting the challenges of the 21st century.”

A New National Public Service

All this laid the groundwork for creating a new national public service – the Citizen Service. The teaching tools for educating all Americans to the fullness of their political power have been successfully piloted.  The Civic Trusts have been tested and are sustainable.  Add to this the cost-effective strategy of institutionally embedding both the training and the Trustee service in colleges around the country, and the necessary pieces are in place to bring this Citizen Service to national scale.

The Result

A national community-based Citizen Service, already in a dozen states and growing, that can produce a nationwide pipeline of principled leaders and practical solutions, and an increased capacity for our country and its people to tackle the problems of the 21st century.

* Note: The Citizens Manual is in its 3rd edition.  Now called CITIZEN POWER, it is published by Rutgers University Press.