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How Kettering Discovered Democracy (Connections 2015)

The four-page article, “How Kettering Discovered Democracy” by David Mathews, was published late Fall of 2015 in Kettering Foundation‘s annual newsletter, Connections 2015 – Our History: Journeys in KF Research. The article gives highlights of what Kettering has learned since the first issue of Connections in 1987 and how KF continues to evolve research practices to improve democracy.

In the article, Mathews shares how Kettering research pulled together many different concepts and ultimately, became unified by the concept of democracy. The alliance between Kettering and National Issues Forums created the opportunity to put KF’s research into practice and in turn, how NIF forums sharpened KF’s research to focus on a citizen-centered view of democracy.  Below is an excerpt from the article. Connections 2015 is available for free PDF download on Kettering’s site here.

KF_Connections 2015From the article…

Seeing democracy as a system in which the people collectively generate the power to shape their future has given the foundation a unifying concept for all of its research. We began to look at everything from the perspective of citizens and the work they need to do in order for democracy to realize its full potential. What we learned by using this perspective has become a distinctive characteristic of the foundation’s research. The litmus tests for Kettering have been (1) whether the research would respond to citizens who feel pushed to the political sidelines and aren’t sure how to make a difference, (2) whether it would be useful to communities that can’t solve their most wicked problems without the work only citizens could do, and (3) whether it would help institutions that are losing the confidence of citizens even as they struggle to reengage them.

This citizen-centered view of democracy pointed the way to a host of new studies and significantly shaped the way the foundation goes about its research, particularly the way the foundation relates to the networks that have developed around major areas of research. In fact, the foundation’s understanding of democracy helped Kettering recognize the value of networks.

For Kettering, the opportunities for collaboration are in networks of organizations that are interested in learning better ways to do their work. We all should learn from others, but no one can learn for someone else. In these networks, no one is dependent on others for answers; the relationships are based on a shared struggle to know more in order to be able to do more. As such, no one is at the center of these networks, like a hub of a wheel with all of the spokes attached. Communications flow in such a way that anybody can reach anybody else as directly as possible; that is, without having to go through someone else.

About Kettering Foundation and Connections
KF_LogoThe Kettering Foundation is a nonprofit operating foundation rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is distinctive because it is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation.

Each issue of this annual newsletter focuses on a particular area of Kettering’s research. The 2015 issue, edited by Kettering program officer Melinda Gilmore and director of communications David Holwerk, focuses on our yearlong review of Kettering’s research over time.

Follow on Twitter: @KetteringFdn.

Resource Link: www.kettering.org/sites/default/files/periodical-article/Mathews_2015.pdf

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