One of the three hypotheses underlying Kettering’s research is that democracy requires a community, or a society of citizens, that can work together. We strive to learn more about what can increase the capacity of communities to act on the problems they face.

We research the way citizens face persistent problems in their communities. These problems, such as poverty, violence, and gaps in educational achievement, require citizens, communities, and institutions to work together to address them. In discussing whether these problems require communities to act and what would cause them to act wisely, deliberative politics comes up in its proper context.

Without strong communities, democracy may be reduced to a set of impersonal institutions and artificial techniques. While some scholars lament the decline of community, our research has found that citizens yearn to shape the future of their communities.

At Kettering, we are learning from what communities are learning as they engage the citizenry and take responsibility for shaping their future. We’ve identified democratic practices that communities of citizens apply when working to solve pervasive problems. When citizens in communities come together to solve their most difficult problems, they

  • name the problems in terms of what is most valuable to them;
  • frame the issues to identify options for action;
  • deliberate publicly to make sound decisions;
  • identify and commit resources;
  • organize to act; and
  • learn together.

These democratic practices are integrated elements in a politics of change.
In our research on community, we’ve recognized that citizens in communities often do not see that collectively they have the power to act on problems that threaten the community and require public action and work to resolve. As one possibility, we are researching ways that democratic practices can be embedded in the ways a community conducts its business.

A related problem is that people seldom see a way to counter economic change through collective action. We would like to learn more about the community as a living arena of civic interactions where people develop insights together about the nature of the challenges they face, the available assets in their community, and things that could be done to put their assets to effective use.