Government

Making the Case for Government

Each and every day our lives are enriched, supported and protected by the public structures from laws to highways to the myriad public services upon which we rely. These are the manifestations of a government of, by and for the people. Unfortunately, talking about government in American society today is a difficult proposition.

However, we can reclaim government as an effective set of systems and structures for accomplishing together what we cannot do alone by changing the conversation.

We must:

Help Americans recall the unique and fundamental purpose of government, the common good and public purposes government provides.

Provide concrete and vivid images of the public systems and structures that are the foundation of our society.

Invoke citizen-manager thinking by taking ownership of our public structures and using inclusive language.

In all of our efforts, we must avoid reinforcing unproductive default thinking that leads people to see government as just politics, a mindless bureaucracy and a vending machine. These ways of thinking are among the typical mental constructs that lead people to see a limited role in for government in building and maintaining our quality of life.

Downloads

  • Research: How to Use the Public Structures Simplifying Model

    This brief explains why the public structures simplifying model works and gives concrete examples of how to use it.



  • Research: Building Support for Government: A Research Summary

    “Building Support for Government” (April 2012) summarizes core findings from research Public Works commissioned to understand how the American public views the role of government in their lives and ways to engage Americans in support of its essential roles and purposes.



  • Presentations and Webinars: Rewebinar: Reload, Refresh and Restart a Conversation about Government

    Slides from Public Works’ June 2013 Re-Webinar:  To Reload, Refresh, and Restart a Conversation about Government.  These slides and their accompanying notes (which you can find by clicking on the speech bubble in the top left hand corner) give a quick overview of the lessons Public Works teaches about creating a constructive public conversation about the role of the public sector.  This re-webinar also includes special guests, Noah Berger and Allison McIntosh.



  • Presentations and Webinars: Webinar: Running Government Like a Business

    Chances are you’ve heard someone say that “government should be run like a business,” usually as part of a critique or an effort to paint government as inherently inefficient. But, this assertion rests on a set of damaging assumptions that blur public and private interests, treat citizens like consumers and undermine the conversations we need to be having about the unique role of government in a functioning society. Patrick Bresette from Public Works is joined by outside experts–Joe Grady from the Topos Partnership and Donald Cohen, the Executive Director of the In the Public Interest, who share their insights and recommendations.



  • Presentations and Webinars: Communicating Effectively about Taxes

    Too often, taxes are seen as “taken money.”  We need to reset the context and help Americans remember what taxes are for.   In this presentation, you’ll learn more about Americans’ dominant understanding of taxes and get tips for creating a more productive dialogue about how taxes pay for things we all value in our communities and our states.



  • Presentations and Webinars: Making the Case for Government

    In this slide presentation, you can learn more about Americans’ dominant perceptions of government and  strategies for helping to build a case for an effective government.  By focusing on the mission and purpose of government, helping people see government as public structures and systems, and reinforcing civic thinking, you can help ignite a productive conversation about the role that public programs and policies play in your  community or state.



  • Presentations and Webinars: Government: a Tool for Racial Justice Presentation

    In this slide presentation we will unpack two dominant frames surrounding government’s role in promoting racial equity. We offer steps on how to critique our public systems without undermining them and on creating an inclusive narrative that speaks to our shared fate.



  • Presentations and Webinars: Communicating Effectively about Public Budgets Presentation

    Public budgets — local, state and federal — are tools used to allocate resources and are ultimately a statement of our values. They announce what public initiatives we value enough to pay for as well as who should pay for them and how much. In this slide presentation you will learn the dominant ways the American public views budgets and ways to foster a more productive conversation on paying for the things we need.



  • Presentations and Webinars: Making the Case for Government's Role in the Economy Presentation

    The American public is very anxious about the economy. They want action.  In this presentation, we offer suggestions for helping Americans understand how the economy works, the possible roles government can play in shaping the economy, and  how they can influence economic policy.



  • Presentations and Webinars: Public Works Video City Club of Cleveland

    The City Club of Cleveland. June 22, 2011. Patrick Bresette.
    In this speech, Bresette discusses trust in the government, whose problem it is and how we can change it.



  • Research: Government, The Economy and We, The People: Creating Public Will to Shape an Economy that Works for All

    “Government, the Economy, and We, The People” (October 2009) offers an overview of insights and recommendations for creating a new public conversation about the role of government in the economy. Conducted by the Topos Partnership for Public Works, this research offers strategies for those wishing to engage the public in economic policy and build support for approaches that serve all Americans.



  • Research: Paving the Way: Government's Role in Economic Innovation

    “Paving the Way: Government’s Role in Economic Innovation” (November 2009) offers suggestions for discussing the vital role that government plays in making business and technology innovations happen. This report was developed as a part of a larger research effort undertaken by the Topos Partnership and Public Works to understand how Americans perceive government’s role in the economy.



  • Research: Talking about Government: A Summary of Findings

    Talking about Government: A Summary of Findings is the complete summary of the lessons from this research.



  • Research: Talking about Government: A Compilation of Research Reports

    This report is a compendium of the research reports analyzing the findings from the research conducted by the FrameWorks Institute for Public Works to understand how Americans perceive government. Authored by the FrameWorks Institute and members of its research team, these reports explain the findings from each stage of the research project. While the reports in this compilation offer valuable insights, for a more complete understanding of the lessons from this research check out How to Talk about Government: A Summary of Findings at www.publicworks.org.



  • Research: The Era of Better Government

    American attitudes about government are deeply entrenched and enduring. This was the key finding in “The Era of Better Government” ( 2009) which was written by the Topos Partnership for Public Works. Public Works originally commissioned research into Americans’ perceptions of government in 2004-2006. In 2009, the Topos Partnership conducted additional research and found that the primary findings from that 2004-2006 body of research still hold true. Specifically, they found that Americans have an “us vs. them” understanding of government and that their understanding of what government is and does is limited.



  • Research: Leveraging the Idea of Public Structures as Foundations of the Economy

    Leveraging the Idea of Public Structures as Foundations of the Economy describes how to use the public structures concept in communicating ways government systems and structures support our economy. Topos Partnership, commissioned by Public Works: The Demos Center for the Public Sector, Nov. 2009.



  • In the News: Restoring Trust in Government: Not a Communications Problem

    The Nation. March 2012. Dianne Stewart.   In “Restoring Trust in Government:  Not a Communications Problem” (LINK:  ), Dianne Stewart explains that building stronger support for, and a deeper understanding of, what government does requires more than finding the right “words” or frames to change people’s attitudes. While it is tempting to use charged language to get a short-term emotional reaction, creating support for government programs is a long-term project that requires patience and shared commitment. It requires broadening the coalition of people who support the activities that government must undertake for the common good, and together, appealing to the aspirations people have for their communities and states.



  • In the News: Standing up for Government

    The American Prospect. June, 2011. Patrick Bresette.  Patrick Bresette reminds us in “Standing up for Government” that despite the ostensible tidal wave of recent anti-government sentiment, public support for the core functions of government still exist. “Contradictions in public opinion reveal that negative attitudes toward government are not as monolithic as some would want us to believe.” Bresette calls upon us to harness the nascent civic energy to mount a more direct and coherent defense of government: by reconnecting the dots between the things people care about in their communities and the role that an adequately supported government plays in achieving these shared goals.



  • In the News: A Civic Calling

    The Municipal Advocate, Vol 26. No 1. July 2011.  Patrick Bresette.  Patrick Bresette explicates the causes of and solutions to the distrust in government so prevalent in our country in “A Civic Calling”. Negative views of government are indeed dominant, but these views are not as entrenched as many believe. There are concrete ways to engage the public in more pragmatic, civic-minded considerations of the public sector.” Bresette highlights two examples that demonstrate effective public engagement and encourages us to rebuild trust in our shared purposes, as challenging as it might seem. We must be “optimistic and aspirational in our defense of government—to articulate what can be and should be, not only ‘what is not.’”



  • In the News: Public Distrust of Government in an Age of Market Failures

    Democratic Strategist. March, 2011. Patrick Bresette. In his essay, “Public Distrust of Government in an Age of Market Failures” Patrick Bresette reflects on the current anti-government sentiment.  He calls for a need to rebuild trust in government by rebuilding trust in each other: finding shared goals, identifying common purposes and promoting the belief that problems can be addressed together. (This is one of a series of essays on the “Trust in Government” online forum hosted by Demos and the Democratic Strategist.)



  • Publications: Making the Case for Government's Role in Racial Justice: Annotated Partner Examples

    In this Public Works memo, we highlight four examples of our partners making the case for government’s role in racial justice. These examples come from the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, the Center for Social Inclusion, and others.



  • Publications: Race and Government: Reading List

    This is a comprehensive listing of the assorted books, articles, and essays referenced throughout our materials on race and the role of government.



  • Publications: Government: a Tool for Racial Justice

    This memo describes Public Works’ efforts to support our partners in addressing the intersection of race in policy debates, civic engagement, and media outreach.



  • Publications: Getting Ahead of the Curve: Shaping the Post-Election Conversation Together

    “Getting Ahead of the Curve:  Shaping the Post Election Conversation Together” (October 2010) gives advice on how to talk about the November 2010 Election Day.  While that election has come and gone, this piece still offers good advice on how to response to question about elections following a heavily anti-incumbent and anti-government campaign season.



  • Publications: Public Works Critiquing Government without Undermining it

    This Public Works Guide is designed to offer suggestions on how to critique the actions and outcomes of recent state legislative sessions without inadvertently cuing up and reinforcing negative stereotypes about government. It includes recommendations for keeping the impact of state level decisions in the forefront of the public mind to set the stage for future restorations and more positive choices.



  • Publications: Tip Sheet: Communicating Effectively about Public Budgets

    Many advocates and public leaders are steeped in public budgets but struggle to help the average person understand why budget decision-making is so important to how we run our communities and how those decisions are deeply connected to our quality of life. This document (November 2011) is a summary of the key concepts we teach in our training’s about how to communicate effectively about public budgets.



  • Publications: Public Works Taxes Dos and Donts

    This Public Works one-pager (March 2012) is an easy to follow guide on our top do’s and don’ts when talking about taxes.



  • Publications: From Poverty to Prosperity

    “From Poverty to Prosperity” (August 2011) explains how to weave new and effective themes into our communications so that we can create a new narrative in our country about the causes of poverty and the ways we can help build prosperity in our communities. We need a narrative that helps our audiences to see poverty as a systemic problem and to see how government can effectively help to create prosperity in families and in our communities.



  • Publications: Communicators’ Checklist

    When communicating to build public support for your policy goals you must answer three questions quickly and clearly: What is the problem? Why does it matter? What is the action or solution? This quick and dirty Public Works communicators’ checklist addresses key points to cover when communicating about your public policy goals.



  • Publications: Keeping our Message Big Enough: Creating a Message Box

    January 2012 – It is easy to get bogged down in the details of policy debates and to be pulled into defensive positions when trying to articulate your positions or proposals. One of our central challenges is to keep our communications focused on our vision and values—a story big enough for people to see what is possible in their community (or state) and why. There will be plenty of time and opportunities to fill in details and deal with the intricacies. Our communications needs to set the big picture first. Using a message box can help you do that.



  • Publications: Making an Effective Case for Taxing Corporations

    This annotated op-ed (November 2011) makes the case that corporations should pay their fair share of taxes. But, it does not repeat often-used arguments about the need for corporations to pay more because they are profitable. Instead, it helps readers see the connection between taxes and their purpose by arguing that corporations should pay their fair share because their success depends upon a thriving public sector. Making this connection between taxes and their purposes is one of the key findings of Public Works’ research and fieldwork.



  • Publications: Making an Effective Case for Taxing Corporations

    This annotated op-ed (November 2011) makes the case that corporations should pay their fair share of taxes. But, it does not repeat often-used arguments about the need for corporations to pay more because they are profitable. Instead, it helps readers see the connection between taxes and their purpose by arguing that corporations should pay their fair share because their success depends upon a thriving public sector. Making this connection between taxes and their purposes is one of the key findings of Public Works’ research and fieldwork.



  • Publications: Tax Day: Connecting Taxes to their Purposes

    One of the key findings from Public Works’ tax research and field experience is that we need to connect taxes to their purpose. Rather than only talking about the money aspects of taxes (who pays and how much), we need to remind people that taxes pay for important public services that make our quality of life possible. This annotated Tax Day piece (November 2011) is a great example of that lesson in practice.



  • Publications: Tax Day: A Tax Day Thank You

    November 2011 – Public Works annotated this Texans Care for Children blog that attempts to explain what taxes buy in a way that helps the average person see how they benefit. Instead of talking about Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as programs that benefit only certain parts of our population, the blog explains how we could all face circumstances that cause us to rely upon these programs.



  • Publications: Framing Numbers Visually

    November 2011 – This Public Works annotated infographic published by the North Carolina Justice Center uses visuals and personalizes abstract data to make the effects of Medicaid budget cuts comprehensible to the average person. Using numbers or data without context often leads to confusion rather than clarity. Unless your audiences are experts in the field, they may not be able to interpret stand-alone statistics or understand the importance of the data we are conveying.



  • Publications: Leading with Values

    November 2011 – Public Works annotated this policy brief by Washington State Budget & Policy Center as an example of how to frame conversations about budgets in a way that makes the case for why our public structures matter to all of us. As communicators, it is our job to explain public issues in a way that helps our audiences see “why” the issue matters and “how” public systems and structures are important in achieving the changes we seek. By connecting programs and services to common values, such as “prosperity” and “well-being,” this brief helps the audience see why budget-cuts matter to everyone.



  • Publications: Building Support for Government: A Research Summary

    “Building Support for Government” (April 2012) summarizes core findings from research Public Works commissioned to understand how the American public views the role of government in their lives and ways to engage Americans in support of its essential roles and purposes.



  • Publications: Reclaiming Public Discourse about Taxes: Taking Advantage of Tax Day and Tax Freedom Day

    As Tax Day approaches each year, Americans are working to file their taxes while commentators fill the airwaves with negative opinions about taxes, taxation, and above all, the collector of taxes–government. Advocates for public systems and services—and those who appreciate the role that government plays—need to make their perspectives heard. Changing the national conversation about taxes may be daunting but it’s our job to add our voices to the mix. “Reclaiming Public Discourse about Taxes: Taking Advantage of Tax Day and Tax Freedom Day” (March 2011) will help you do just that.



  • Publications: Tip Sheet: Communicating Effectively about Taxes

    Our goal with “Tip Sheet: Communicating Effectively about Taxes” (April 2013) is to articulate the key communications concepts that can help Americans understand that taxes are the way we all support the public structures, systems and services essential to our democracy and our quality of life.



  • Presentations and Webinars: Webinar: Advancing Public Solutions for Children and Families: an exercise in crowdsourced learning

    In this webinar, we share the results of crowdsourced ideas for communicating about programs that improve the well-being of children and families. Gerard Matthews, Communications Director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, joined us and shared his on-the-ground experience in how to put a new narrative into action in support of public solutions.



  • Publications: The Best Defense is (still) a Good Offense

    When we develop our communications strategy it is understandable that we might be asking ourselves and each other whether or not we should throw out our past playbooks as we begin a period of “playing defense.” The answer is “No.” Our best defense is still a good offense. Now more than ever we need to make an affirmative case for the role of public services, systems and structures.”The Best Defense is (still) a Good Offense” (December 2010) walks you through how to build a strong case for government on the front end of your communications.



  • Publications: Tax Season 2013 Communications: Using Visuals

    We often use the tried and true pie chart that shows how much of state (or federal revenue) is spent on specific kinds of programs. However, with a bit more creativity, we can use visuals to help our audiences see that taxes are more than simply money that pays for programs, but rather investments in our the quality of life we enjoy. This publication includes some examples from the 2013 Tax Season that used visuals to get across their message.



  • Publications: Tax Season 2013 Communications: Blogs and Op-Eds

    This collection of Public Works annotated pieces highlights some of the many good examples we observed from our partners and others putting our tax lessons into action.



  • Tools: What is a Master Narrative?

    Making the case for government, the tool we have created to do things collectively, requires that we tell better stories. We need stories about our shared fate, how we must work together to address new challenges, and how we can create a positive future for all.“What is a Master Narrative?” outlines the power of storytelling as an organizing tool for building public will for the common good.



  • Publications: The Future of the California Dream: Observations on Proposition 30

    In 2012, Public Works watched the campaigns for and against California’s Proposition 30 noting with interest how public communications about this tax proposal reflect what we know about the dominant discourse in this country over taxes and government. We also observed how many of the proponents of Proposition 30 have been working hard to engage their fellow Californians in a thoughtful deliberation about this revenue-raising measure. In the weeks leading up to the vote Public Works conducted an analysis of the debate over Proposition 30, examining the insights it offered for broader efforts to engage the public on questions of taxes and the role of government.



  • Tools: Ten Ways to Talk Government

    This Public Works one-pager is an easy to follow guide on our top effective ways to communicate about government.



  • Publications: Assets, Opportunity and the Role of Government

    Public opinion about asset-building programs is affected by the public’s perceptions of how the economy works, the role of government in promoting prosperity, and attitudes about individual responsibility and self-sufficiency. “Assets, Opportunity and the Role of Government” (September 2009) outlines how these perceptual challenges undermine public support for asset-building policies and offers recommendations for communicating about, and advocating for, asset-building in more productive ways.



  • Publications: Talking about Government: A Compilation of Research Summaries

    Talking about Government: A Compilation of Research Reports



  • Tools: The Power of Ripple Effects

    This tool will help you identify the positive ripple effects of public policies and programs, which you then can use to build public awareness and support.



  • Publications: Making a Case for Government

    Dominant public perceptions of government undermine efforts to engage citizens in the day-to-day work of the public sector and the many challenges, decisions and competing priorities that face our public systems. However, it is possible to create a more productive conversation about government if we can reconnect people to its unique mission, purpose and role. To do so, we must understand the default mindsets we face and tap into alternative and more supportive public perspectives.



  • Tools: Reframe Government Values Systems Civic Thinking

    This worksheet that will help you practice three essential elements of making the case for public solutions – values, systems and civic thinking.



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