I’m proud to announce that I’ve joined the board of the Paul J. Aicher Foundation (official release here). That’s an operating foundation that funds one major project: Everyday Democracy. In turn, Everyday Democracy assists communities in holding diverse conversations about issues that matter to them. As explained in this handy history, the late and much loved Paul Aicher revived Study Circles in the United States in the 1980s. (They had a heritage here, and were also common in Scandinavia and South Africa–as I understand.) The organization he created was called the Study Circles Resource Center, but its projects multiplied and shifted, and it finally made sense to rename it.
I’d place Everyday Democracy in two fields, for the sake of introducing its work. First, it’s part of the deliberative democracy movement–indeed, it is a leader in that movement. Citizens’ deliberations vary in many respects: they can be small or large; randomly-selected, demographically representative, or open to volunteers; episodic or continuous; sponsored by governments, consortia, or citizens; focused on local, national, or global issues–and so on. As it evolved in the US, the Study Circles model developed particular characteristics: local, community-wide, self-selected but diverse, and sustained over several months. I am in favor of a rich ecosystem of experimentation, but I admire this model, at least as an important example. It is less about learning what the public as a whole would say if it were informed (which is the purpose of random selection), and more about convening diverse activists–and activists-to-be–for open conversations.
Which brings me to the second field in which Everyday Democracy works: community organizing. Again, there are many forms of community organizing, which vary in respect to whether they draw ideologically diverse or homogeneous citizens; emerge from religious congregations, unions, parties, or civic organizations; emphasize discussion, political advocacy, consumer organizing, or economic activity–and so on. Everyday Democracy is particularly strong on discussion and diversity of participants. It can, by the way, comfortably coexist with other forms of community organizing.