Kettering Foundation Hosts Mayoral Learning Exchange

Elected Leaders Engaging Citizens in Solving Community Problems

Local governments today often find that there is a disconnect between them and the people they serve. The distance that has grown between citizens, the Kettering Foundation’s term for any resident with a responsibility to serve, and governmental institutions robs those institutions of the support they need from the production of public goods that only citizens can make. In response, many government agencies, including local governments, are working in more democratic and complementary ways with citizens to address wicked community problems.

Recently, a group of 20 elected officials, primarily mayors and city council-members, and university professors with expertise in this topic gathered for a learning exchange. Public officials shared their experiences in how, with citizens, they named and framed community problem(s) they were trying to solve; how they worked with citizens to address the problem(s); and what they learned when they aligned professional practices with the way citizens work.

Guest speakers, Albert Dzur and Matt Leighninger, shared their research and experiences with civic engagement and the ways trust can be restored when citizens and public officials work together to solve community problems. Some of the questions considered by the group included:

  • How do elected officials engage a public that often feels sidelined and reluctant to get involved?
  • What happens when interrelated networks of people engage around the shared challenge of addressing wicked problems?
  • How can citizens and government institutions better align their respective ways of working so that citizens can produce things that government needs in order to be effective and so that citizens will find government more responsive and worthy of their confidence?
  • How can elected officials facilitate the creation of civic spaces where citizens can learn to work in more democratic and complementary ways and where deliberative forums can occur?

To learn more about the Kettering Foundation’s work to understand democratic practices, please visit

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