Citizen-centered approaches have been around a long time, but what haven’t been are attempts to determine whether those approaches are effective in advancing civic engagement in ways that embed it as an ethos more deeply in communities. Several factors have made this difficult, including:the complexity of the concept; its emphasison the process of citizen deliberation as being equally as important as the action those citizens take in implementing their decisions; the organic and iterative nature of these initiatives; and the time it takes to see results. These and other factors associated with citizen-centered efforts are not easily measured, especially as a set of quantitative outputs.
Just because it’s challenging, however, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be attempted, which is why we enthusiastically agreed to help the Case Foundation track more rigorously its attempts to “lift up” the citizen-centered approach through its Make It Your Own (MIYO) grant program. We were also very interested in seeing whether and how a foundation could integrate this approach itself in its grantmaking activities toward a goal of advancing the concept more broadly, not only in the civic engagement field but also across the wider philanthropic community. Does public participation in philanthropy matter and, if so, why?
This report attempts to answer those questions through a longitudinal analysis that includes data collected during 2006 to 2010, representing every step in the process and from a variety of participants, including Foundation staff, consultants, external reviewers, applicants, and grant awardees. The evaluation covers both the process the Foundation used and the grantees’ progress and results (both one and two years after the grants were awarded).
We believe that this is one of the few efforts focused on tracking and analyzing data about a cohort of individuals and organizations engaged in citizen-centered work—all at the same time and with similar baselines and endpoints. When MIYO began, it was also one of the first to assess whether and how philanthropy could or should be “citizen-centered” and its role in supporting this work more broadly. And, it was one of the first to look at the role of technology in citizen-centered work and philanthropic programs aimed at engaging the public in its funding—a practice that appears to be growing.
Since finishing this evaluation, we’ve been pleased to see a marked uptick in the awareness of citizen-centered approaches to civic engagement, as well as more public discussion about and testing of these approaches in philanthropy. What is now needed is a commitment to ensuring that this work not only continues, but that it is also continually and rigorously assessed so that those committed to civic engagement can have the information they need to do so in the most effective way possible.
We look forward to seeing that happen.
Peter Levine, Ph.D.
Cynthia Gibson, Ph.D.