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Learning from the Past, Committing to the Future: A Practitioner’s View of Our Democracy


Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer is the founder and president of AmericaSpeaks, a national nonprofit organization working to reinvigorate American democracy by engaging citizens in the public decision making that most impacts their lives. She has published broadly in the deliberative democracy field.


American democracy is at a pivotal moment: electoral dysfunction, low levels of participation, divisive politics, and power imbalances dominate governance and impede our ability to resolve critical issues facing the nation. In this environment, the author argues, our ability to be the representative system of government we claim is in question. Using Harold D. Lasswell’s 1942 essay “The Developing Science of Democracy” as a vehicle for reflection, the author reviews progress and challenges in democratic practice today along four dimensions: information delivery and knowledge building; accurate capturing of citizens’ views; conducting democratic conversations; and maintaining balances of power. Among the reforms necessary to address persistent challenges in each of these areas, explored in depth is the institutionalization of citizen voice in governance. Seven elements of an infrastructure to achieve such an institutionalization are reviewed: a mandatory legislative framework; designated physical spaces; specific technological, human, and organizational capacity; a trustworthy media; and a recommitment to civic education.