Thursday, July 18, 2019

Invigorate Chicagoland's Public Institutions


The third and final pillar of the Democracy Program’s strategy centers on invigorating public institutions with an emphasis on inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability to Chicagoland residents (see previous posts on youth civic engagement and local journalism).


By inclusive we mean representative and considering the needs and interests of Chicagoland’s diverse communities. Transparency entails a presumption of and deep commitment to full public access to information pertinent to public policy and governance. Accountability relates to institutions’ prioritizing public trust and responsibly using information from the media, watchdog groups, and the public at large to improve performance.


Chicago City Hall


We believe that local institutions will produce policies, governance, and constituent services shaped by, and responsive to the region’s diverse communities by developing high-capacity civic leaders. Also critical to this end is improving the transparency and accountability of public institutions. Finally, we must deepen Chicagoland residents’ participation and representation in democratic processes and ensure inclusion of underrepresented communities through both policy and practice.


We seek to develop civic leaders representative of the communities they serve, who cultivate constituent participation in elections and public policy, and advocate for and implement inclusive policies. Currently, the Democracy Program is evaluating the extent to which existing civic leadership programs meet these goals. Ideally, public institutions will develop leaders internally, prioritizing public accessibility, responsiveness to constituents, and construction of inclusive policies.


In our efforts to ensure accountability, transparency, and effectiveness of public institutions, we partner with organizations that possess deep knowledge of government practice, paired with authentic forms of community engagement, to empower civic action.


Turning to efforts to deepen participation and inclusion in public institutions, we currently have investments in three priority areas: expanding Chicagoland residents’ participation and representation in elections and Census 2020, improving the accessibility of public institutions through inclusive policymaking processes, and providing pathways to citizenship and protected status for local immigrant communities.


We are committed to modernizing and ensuring the integrity of election processes to ensure more representative participation and ballot security. Census 2020 is only nine months away, and we are part of the Illinois 2020 Count Me In Coalition led by Forefront to ensure a complete and accurate count for Illinois. Our grant to Forefront supported sub-grants to nonprofits statewide for outreach to hard-to-count constituencies (HTCs). The Coalition’s efforts were critical to the state’s recent $29 million appropriation for Census outreach.


We opposed inclusion of a citizenship question on the Census form for fear that it would inhibit participation among HTCs. Although it appears that the question will not be placed on Census forms, the damage has already been done in eliciting fear within immigrant communities. Therefore, we endorse expanded engagement with these constituencies to achieve a complete count.


Participation in government beyond elections is critical to a healthy democracy, and several current partners specialize in engaging residents in the policy making process. For example, Participatory Budgeting (PB) Chicago leads residents in city wards and schools through a process where they identify and vote upon infrastructural needs. Already present in nine wards and a growing number of CPS schools, PB Chicago anticipates continued expansion in the aftermath of this spring’s municipal elections. Beyond PB, the Democracy Program is exploring other emerging innovative methods that public institutions can use to better engage Chicagoland residents and underrepresented communities.


The Democracy Program strives to ensure that Chicagoland’s immigrant communities are mobilized to take full advantage of existing opportunities to secure citizenship and protected status. More broadly, we seek partnerships to further engage our state’s immigrant and refugee populations in the democratic process. In the long term, we are supportive of federal comprehensive immigration reform, believing that it is beneficial for both immigrant communities and society at large.


By developing high-capacity civic leaders, ensuring institutional accountability, transparency, and effectiveness, and deepening participation and inclusion in our local democracy, we will ensure that Chicagoland public institutions are inclusive, transparent, and accountable to the communities they serve.