Books on Building Local Democracy
The Rebirth of Urban Democracy
Jeff Berry, Kent Portney, Ken Thomson; Brookings, Washington, DC, 1993
Critics of participatory democracy will have a hard time dismissing this detailed study of five U.S. cities - Birmingham, Dayton, Portland, St. Paul, and San Antonio. The five were chosen because they actively involve citizens (as members of neighbourhood associations) in local policy and decision-making. The authors see the ability of citizens to affect local affairs as a way of strengthening the weak democracies of both Canada and the U.S., where the voice of citizens is limited to voting. In strong democracies citizens take part in civic affairs between elections.
The Rebirth of Urban Democracy
is partly textbook, partly academic study, with numerous tables that look like Greek to those who have forgotten the meaning of chi square. Still, the authors' conclusions are clear. Formalizing regular citizen involvement in the city works for everybody. It builds community as well as democracy, improves liveability, reduces conflict between competing interest groups in the neighbourhood, and improves citizens' opinions of city hall. Fears that local opposition would block developments beneficial to the whole city did not materialize in any of the cities studied. The authors include a section on the reasons for the failures of citizen involvement programs of the seventies. They also identify what it takes to nudge a city government into partnerships with neighbourhood associations. To avoid lengthy delays order The Rebirth of Urban Democracy
directly from Brookings Books, 202-797-6258.
The Spirit Level, Why Equality is Better for Everyone
The Quickening of America
Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, 2010
The Spirit Level is a good book for a dark age. It summarizes hundreds of research projects on the impact of income inequality from different countries, and different states in the US. It shows almost everything is affected not by how wealthy a society is, but how equal it is. The bigger the better the gap between the rich and the poor the worse things are. This is particularly relevant in an age characterized by a clear trend in the wrong direction, toward increasing income inequality. The authors say in the preface they considered calling their book Evidence-Based Politics. Not too catchy, but the title would have highlighted the book as a guide to public policy in everyone’s interest, and a welcome alternative to ideologically-driven free-market theory that serves a plutocracy that steadily rapidly richer. Using simple graphs to summarize the evidence, the authors show that health problems, delinquency, imprisonment rates, infant mortality, hours of work, teen pregnancies, school dropout rate obesity mental illness, illegal drug use are all higher in less equal societies. Child well-being, the status of women, waste recycling, levels of innovation, life expectancy, trust (and social capital), math and literacy scores, foreign aid spending are all higher in more equal societies. Japan and Scandinavian countries get mostly good scores while the United States gets mostly poor scores.
Frances Moore Lappe and Paul Martin DuBois, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1994.
This up-beat book for anyone interested in empowering citizens is flawed only by a tendency to refer to people as Americans. The authors, who run the Centre for a Living Democracy, believe that democracy is developing from something we have, into something we do, with excitement and satisfaction. Section headings include: Claiming Our Self Interest (It's not Selfishness), Discovering Power (Its not a Dirty Word), Making the Media Our Voice, Governing "By the People", and Mastering the Arts of Democracy: One-on-One and Group Skills.
The collapse and revival of American community
Robert Putnam, Simon & Schuster, NY, 2000.
This is the classic text on the decline of social capital in North America. Charts and graphs show not only the decline of social capital, but how much better off everyone is with high levels of social capital. Although Putnam offers suggestions for reversing the decline, this is not a "how-to" book. For Putnam's original article check out the full text articles section of this website.
David Osborne & Ted Gaebler, Penguin Paperbacks, 1993.
Reinventing Government changed the way politicians and bureaucrats look at government. The authors provide many inspiring examples that contrast with the expensive and clumsy efforts we've come to expect of public institutions. They recommend government shift toward:
- Empowering rather than serving citizens
- Steering (deciding on policy) rather than rowing (providing services)
- Injecting competition into service delivery
- Funding outputs rather than inputs
- Becoming mission-oriented rather than rule-driven
- Turning hierarchies into cross-disciplinary teams
Osborne and Gaebler make it clear that citizen empowerment is an attractive alternative for both the right and the left of the political spectrum. A super-short, city-oriented version of the book can be had in the article, "Ten Ways to Turn DC Around", by David Osborne, reprinted in the book Internal Markets by William Halal. DC refers to the City of Washington, DC.
Busting Bureaucracy: How to Conquer Your Organization's Worst Enemy
Kenneth Johnston, Business One Irwin, 1993.
Johnston puts the experience of twenty years of fixing organizations into this book. He shows how most organizations suffer from the immobilizing symptoms of bureaucratic form devised to promote control, consistency and accountability during the early part of this century. Today it has become the chief cause of demoralized employees and poor corporate performance.
Bureaucracy is despaired by everyone, including senior management. It remains, nevertheless, entrenched in many organizations, the residue of old assumptions about human nature and ways of doing work. Everyone will recognize the common traits of bureaucratic form: a hierarchial structure; management by rules or policies; and an emphasis on consistency. Others include an "in-focus" (concentrating on the needs of the organization) or an "up-focus" (concentrating on a board) rather than a focus on the needs of customers; a tendency to grow in staff "above the line" regardless of the amount of work to be done; and the compartmentalization of work according to special knowledge. Johnston shows how to bust bureaucracy by creating front line teams, systems that ensure continuous feedback, and a shadow organization to guide the change to a mission-driven organization capable of continuous improvement.
The Citizen's Library / Part 3-1
The Citizen's Handbook / Charles Dobson / www.vcn.bc.ca/citizens-handbook