The Bipartisan Policy Center’s Commission on Political Reform released a new report, “Governing in a Polarized America: A Blueprint to Strengthen our Democracy,” crafted by a bipartisan group of former members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, governors and advocates.

It consists of recommendations to reform the electoral system (e.g., non-partisan state redistricting commissions to eliminate gerrymandering), congressional reform (e.g., synchronized work schedules for the House and Senate mandating full five-day work weeks in Washington during session) and a call to service to engage the public into greater civic participation (e.g., asking Americans ages 18-28 to commit to one full year of service to their communities and the nation).

These reforms are being advanced to combat growing public frustration with Congress. However, there is one missing idea from the blueprint that would further strengthen our democracy: a more direct path for the American people to communicate their thoughts about the policy issues that are being debated in Congress. That conduit is the Citizen Cabinet.

Creating Citizen Cabinets at the national, state and district levels (large standing panels comprised of a representative sample of the citizens in each jurisdiction) would provide members of Congress precise information about what their constituents want accomplished regarding issues like Social Security reform, Medicare or defense spending. The Citizen Cabinets would counter the influence of special interests in Washington and give a voice to minority as well as majority viewpoints.

Using new online interactive tools called ‘policymaking simulations’ citizens consider solutions from both sides of the ideological aisle and make choices to solve problems that face our nation. The information is then shared with the members of Congress, administration, the media and the public, all with the goal of breaking the partisan gridlock that currently plagues our government.

As more reform proposals like this make it to the public stage, Citizen Cabinets can be used to engage the broader public in these discussions about how we fix our democracy.  This could lend legitimacy and support to whatever reform proposals might emerge.

The first of the Citizen Cabinets will be launched soon… we’re looking forward to sharing the initial results.


Photo by Photo Phiend via flickr

As we gear up for the work ahead and the launching of the Citizen Cabinets, Voice Of the People has been bolstering its staff over the last few weeks. The recent additions include Communications Director Rich Robinson and Operations Manager Allison Stettler.

Rich brings more than 20 years of experience to VOP, including DC communications work at the Stimson Center and Advancement Project. Before coming to Washington he was a political media strategist in his home state of Michigan. Prior to that he had a successful career in Hollywood as a journalist, publicist and Emmy-winning television producer, working with many A-list stars including Quincy Jones, Janet Jackson and the Rolling Stones. He studied journalism at Central Michigan University.

Allison has more than 15 years of experience working with non-profit and business-advocacy organizations. Before joining VOP, she served as an information technology, web development, marketing and graphic design consultant for a number of non-profit organizations in the greater Washington region, including the Greater Washington Board of Trade, Chief Executives Organization, The American Conference for the Treatment of HIV, the Association of Meeting Professionals and Junior Achievement of Greater Washington. She is a graduate of Virginia Tech.

VOP is led by President Steven Kull and Executive Director Richard Parsons.


Photo by Alessandro Prada via flickr

internet - by U.S. Mission Geneva via flickrAt this year’s Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) going on this week in New York City, thousands of opinion leaders, technologists, journalists and activists are gathering, in person and online, to discuss how the Internet is a “double-edged sword” when it comes to the movement towards greater democracy around the globe.

The theme for this year’s PDF, “Save the Internet/The Internet Saves,” speaks to the duality of effects we see abroad and here in the United States. On the one hand, the Internet has empowered people to become informed and communicate with each other on issues like never before. On the other, it has created ‘silos’ that make it far too easy for people to spend all their time talking and listening to only those who already think like they do, undermining our ability to recognize a common set of facts (everyone now seems to have their own) or enter into a more deliberative dialogue that incorporates opposing points of view.

In designing our Citizen Cabinets, Voice Of the People is addressing this tension head-on by reaching out to policy experts from both major parties, and across the political spectrum, to design our ‘policymaking simulations.’ We do the leg-work to get all sides to agree on a common set of facts as well as to elicit the key arguments from both sides. We then use the power of the Internet to engage large numbers of citizens on an issue the same way a policymaker does – getting briefed on the issue, weighing competing options and the best arguments for and against each one, and then coming to conclusions.  It’s all done in an inclusive, fully transparent online process.

We think this is one powerful new way to use the Internet to help people get informed AND help them hear points of view they do not normally hear. 

We will soon be launching this new model in several states and congressional districts, and developing new policymaking simulations on issues like the federal budget, Social Security and Medicare reform, and other domestic and foreign policy issues Congress is having real trouble resolving. 

You can find the simulations on our website, here.


Photo by U.S. Mission Geneva via flickr

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