Civic Engagement in American Climate Policy: Collaborative Models


Responding effectively to the climate crisis will take many decades of concerted effort at multiple scales – global, national, and local – and through assorted tools, including market, technological, planning, and civic innovation. In this report, we focus on the kinds of civic innovation in the United States that engage everyday citizens, diverse communities, and multiple professional and institutional stakeholders in collaborative work to enhance climate resilience, environmental justice, and democratic legitimacy. Our focus on civic and collaborative forms of engagement by no means implies that other policy toolkits or movement repertoires are less important or any less urgent. Indeed, we stress the need to align a wide array of policy tools to achieve optimal mixes and we appreciate varied blends of contention and collaboration to empower youth and communities. While many tools are needed, civic and collaborative engagement is a vital and indispensable part of the mix and will increase in significance as the disruptive impacts of climate change on communities intensify over the next several decades. To leverage civic innovation occurring in many community and institutional settings, we draw upon “policy design for democracy” as this has emerged in scholarly studies in recent years, as well as upon collaborative governance practices at all levels of the federal system. Policy design can provide resources, tools, and signals that enable and incentivize engagement by community groups and civic associations to mobilize their own assets and local knowledge and to work in partnership with professional and institutional stakeholders to solve public problems. Policy design can also help institutionalize forms of civic initiative and autonomy that are nonetheless accountable to public officials and network partners, capable of learning and revision, and that generate sufficient democratic legitimacy to sustain constructive work amidst the extraordinary complexity and uncertainty entailed by climate change in the coming years. In our democratic polity, already severely stressed along many fronts including the culture and politics of climate, we cannot afford to ignore or minimize civic work that generates practical collaboration for sustained community resilience. Indeed, we are presented with extraordinary opportunity to engage our diverse citizenry in noble and effective work. We survey 12 areas where civic innovation and policy design have direct relevance to sustainable communities, climate resilience, and environmental justice and where the lineaments of capacity building have become increasingly clear.

Publication Type
Carmen Sirianni, Brandeis University