There is a lot of great research out there that helps communities understand “what works” – both in a technical sense, and in the sense of how citizens can come together to work on shared concerns. Not that it is easy or like following a cake recipe, but the question of strengthening democracy on a local level and collectively dealing with local challenges are typically no longer “wicked problems.” (See end of post for more on wicked problems.) There may not be the will, or the finances, or the energy to create change, but if those things are present, it isn’t a mystery how one might take something on and have a reasonably good chance at success. (For instance, see Tupelo: The Evolution of a Community.)
This is not the case on a macro level. The system of elections, interest groups, corporations, disenfranchised/disconnected citizens, politicians, civil servants, and international organizations and NGOs is such a huge huge system that it is hard to imagine how this system could be transformed into a truly responsive democracy. Do you start with money and elections? With the way religion influences politics? With the self-interest of corporations or interest groups? How can you inspire citizens to be more active and engaged when they face well-funded lobbyists? What about internationally? Do you start with the WTO, the IMF, the UN? It is a conundrum and there is no clear place to start or way to proceed.
So the question here is how we begin to move from the micro level to the macro level. How do we de–wickify the challenges faced in bringing about a responsive democracy on the macro level… where the systems and structures in place do not prevent everyday citizens from feeling as though they have some agency related to important issues. Where if a group of citizens come together around a shared problem or concern that reaches beyond the local or regional level – there are resources about “what works” in bringing about change and it would not be unreasonable to think that such change might be possible.
There must be books and articles about taking what we have learned about what works at the local and regional levels and using this to tackle more macro problems. Does anyone know any?
*Wicked problems (from wikipedia) “have incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements; and solutions to them are often difficult to recognize as such because of complex interdependencies. Classic examples of wicked problems include economic, environmental, and political issues. Problems whose solution require large groups of individuals to change their mindsets and behaviors are likely to be a wicked problem.”