Reframing Democracy: Governance, Civic Agency, and Politics


  • Harry C. Boyte

    1. Senior fellow at the Humphrey Institute and codirector of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship. He is the author of eight books, including The Backyard Revolution, Building America: The Democratic Promise of Public Work (with Nan Kari), and Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life. His writings have appeared in more than 70 publications, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Perspectives on Politics, and Dissent. E-mail:
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Developments in public affairs that stress governance— not simply government—hold possibilities for reframing democracy. Governance intimates a paradigm shift in the meaning of democracy and civic agency—that is, who is to address public problems and promote the general welfare? The shift involves a move from citizens as simply voters, volunteers, and consumers to citizens as problem solvers and cocreators of public goods; from public leaders, such as public affairs professionals and politicians, as providers of services and solutions to partners, educators, and organizers of citizen action; and from democracy as elections to democratic society. Such a shift has the potential to address public problems that cannot be solved without governments, but that governments alone cannot solve, and to cultivate an appreciation for the commonwealth. Effecting this shift requires politicizing governance in nonpartisan, democratizing ways and deepening the civic, horizontal, pluralist, and productive dimensions of politics.