21st Century Governance

Designing 21st Century Governance Mechanisms

July 19-21, 2006 AmericaSpeaks convened, Designing 21st Century Governance Mechanisms, an interdisciplinary gathering of practitioners and scholars with deep experience in efforts to expand and deepen citizen participation in governance. Participants in this conference about New Governance Mechanisms represented a wide range of institutions and perspectives, from seasoned institutional leaders to theorists at the forefront of their respective fields.

The conference was conceived around three purposes:

  • Design a new national governance mechanism(s) in the U.S.
  • Identify the practical path(s) to institutionalization
  • Explore the transformation of our democratic culture

An international group of leaders participated in a series of conversations over three days that focused on the design of participatory governance mechanisms in the United States that would serve at the national level to increase the influence of diverse groups of citizens in democratic affairs. The intent of the gathering was to develop at least one blueprint for an institution or mechanism that would ensure that citizens have a more direct voice in the decisions they care most about at the national level.

Five New Mechanisms Proposed

By the end of our three days together five unique and concrete proposals were generated, each describing what such a mechanism could look like and how it would function within American democratic life. Each mechanism was grounded in the practical experiences of participatory governance that were shared during discussion, as well as theories of some of the leading thinkers in deliberative theory.

The five mechanisms developed during our time together reflect a range of institutional targets and strategies. The proposals are:

1. Citizen-initiated Legislation
Cartoon of five people standing togetherA response to the crisis of representation in the United States that seeks to make the legislative process more representative, more focused on citizen’s concerns, and less given over to diversionary conflict by establishing, on a biennial basis, a citizens’ assembly to identify one issue Congress must place on its agenda each year, for which they will be held accountable to voters.

2. Policy Review and Analysis Center
Cartoon of three people expressing their opinionsRevive the tradition of citizen participation exemplified by agencies like the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) by creating an entity with a single focus charter, standing as an independent, quasi-governmental body supporting legislative and/or executive branches of government in their citizen participation efforts.

3. Interagency Executive Council/Commission
Cartoon of a building Develop a set of cross-agency indicators for staff and agency performance measurement directly linked to citizen engagement practices. Annual performance reviews would be tied to incentive structures (such as awards) at the agency and staff levels. This proposal is linked to existing tools such as agency scorecards and reporting processes through the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of Management and Budget.

4. Independent Panel for Public Engagement and Accountability
Cartoon of three people presenting to others Establish criteria to assess the performance of public officials in fostering active and effective citizen engagement in governance through an independent, citizen-led initiative that brings together leading non-profit and citizen’s organizations across the political spectrum to assess the citizen engagement performance of public offi cials.

5. Key National Indicators Initiative
Cartoon of a report Provide an opportunity for engaging citizens on the identification of, and monitoring of progress toward, national priorities. Initiated through the Office of the Comptroller General (GAO), the Key National Indicators project will seek to establish a system that enables citizens and public officials to gauge the position and progress of our nation, frame strategic issues, and chart future directions.


Participants in “New Governance Mechanisms” represented a wide range of institutions and perspectives, from of their respective fields. Some of the innovative organizations represented at the meeting were the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (“the Global Fund”), the US Consensus Council (USCC), Oregon Solutions, the Danish Board of Technology (DBT), the European Union (EU), Assembly of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the US Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution (IECR). Institutions of scholarly research represented at the conference included the International Center for Research on Women, Brown University, the Brookings Institution, Harvard University, and the University of Washington.