Our History

Since 1995, AmericaSpeaks has worked to provide citizens with a greater voice in the policy making process and to develop new institutions that can strengthen our democracy.  During this time, we brought together more than 170,000 citizens in deliberations to influence critical policy issues.  For a complete review of our citizen engagement projects, visit our timeline.


Beginning in 1995, AmericaSpeaks began convening thought leaders, elected officials, and advocates to discuss the state of our democracy and the kinds of changes that needed to take place across our nation in order to create a stronger, healthier democracy.  Conferences at the Woodrow Wilson House, Airlie Center and the Johnson Foundation’s Wingspread facility helped to shape and define AmericaSpeaks‘ approach to citizen engagement and deliberative democracy.

Americans Discuss Social Security

In 1998 and 1999, AmericaSpeaks facilitated a national discussion on Social Security reform, sponsored by The Pew Charitable Trusts, that engaged more than 45,000 Americans across the nation.  Americans Discuss Social Security (ADSS) was a high-profile public discussion that identified specific reform elements the public would accept, and these were integrated into the primary social security reform packages considered by Congress.

Citizen Budgeting in DC

In 1999, the newly-elected Mayor of the District of Columbia and AmericaSpeaks began to directly integrate citizens’ voices into governance of the city. The collaboration engaged more than 13,000 people through a series of large-scale forums held over six years. The Citizen Summits resulted in direct citizen input into the District’s budgeting process as well as the creation of the Office of Neighborhood Action, responsible for ensuring citizens have a voice in shaping the city’s priorities.

Taking Democracy to Scale

In 2002, AmericaSpeaks convened leaders from across the deliberative democracy community to a conference at the Airlie Center to discuss the steps that should be taken to create new democratic institutions that redefine the nation’s governance process.  Out of the discussions emerged a sense that a nascent movement for deliberative democracy was forming.  Participants formed the Deliberative Democracy Consortium out of the event in order to foster communication and collaboration among leader practitioners, academics and government officials supporting a more deliberative democracy.  Among other things, the conference also led to the publication of The Deliberative Democracy Handbook.

Rebuilding Ground Zero

In 2002, AmericaSpeaks worked with a team of stakeholders to convene 4,300 New Yorkers who, after a day of tough deliberation, told local leaders that the original plans for the redevelopment of the World Trade Center failed to meet the needs of the city. Within a week of Listening to the City, decision-makers announced that the plans would have to be redrawn in accordance with public priorities.

Regional Renewal in Northeast Ohio

In 2005, a massive public deliberation known as Voices & Choices engaged 21,000 people from across Northeast Ohio’s 15-county region and educated hundreds of thousands more around the challenges to growth facing the region. This unprecedented partnership between AmericaSpeaks and a coalition of 80 local foundations and organizations resulted in a shared set of priorities that are driving new solutions to address the region’s challenges.

New Governance Mechanisms and Champions of Participation

In 2006, AmericaSpeaks convened an international group of practitioners and scholars to develop designers for participatory governance mechanisms that would serve at the national level to increase the influence of the public.  The gathering produced five proposals that would institutionalize public voice in the governance process.  Also in 2006, AmericaSpeaks convened federal managers from across the federal government who were champions of public participation to discuss the challenges they faced and the support they needed to provide the public with a greater voice in agency decision making.  Champions of Participation led to the creation of an informal network of federal managers who sought to support greater participation by federal agencies.

Rebuilding New Orleans

In 2006 and 2007, nearly 4,000 New Orleanians developed and reviewed elements of a city-wide plan for recovery by participating in two large-scale public meetings held simultaneously in New Orleans and other American cities with large numbers of Katrina evacuees. Organized and facilitated by AmericaSpeaks and the Unified New Orleans Plan, these Community Congress meetings led to a citizen-driven recovery vision that has been approved by the Louisiana Recovery Authority and has released initial federal funds for rebuilding.

Strengthening Our Nation’s Democracy

Beginning in 2008, AmericaSpeaks formed a partnership with Demos, Everyday Democracy, and Harvard University’s Ash Institute for Democratic Innovation and Governance to bring the greater democracy reform community together.  At a series of meetings, advocates from all aspects of the democracy reform movement came together – electoral reform, public deliberation, transparency, media reform, civil rights, community service, organizing, and others – to develop a common reform agenda.

Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism

In 2009, more than 1,000 people in 16 cities came together to set an agenda for addressing the service needs for adults with autism. The passion and commitment of participants were just as remarkable as the technology’s effectiveness in simultaneously connecting people across the country for a day of deliberation and collaborative problem solving.

Balancing the Budget, Strengthening Our Economy

In 2010, AmericaSpeaks designed and facilitated America Speaks:  Our Budget, Our Economy, a national discussion that gave ordinary people the opportunity to make tough decisions about our nation’s looming deficit and debt crisis.  Over 3,500 people joined the discussion from 19 primary sites, and still more participated in locally organized Community Conversations and online.  The results of the discussion were presented to President Obama’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, leading Members of Congress, and the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Debt Reduction Task Force.

Our Work Today

AmericaSpeaks continues to partner in the implementation of large-scale citizen engagement events around the nation on a range of critical policy issues, convene thought-leaders on issues of democratic renewal, and pursue research and innovation to advance the deliberative democracy field. We are looking ahead to the development of a national infrastructure that would allow citizens to be quickly convened to discuss and influence issues of pressing importance to all Americans.