Shutdown Signals the Need to Ramp Up Our Efforts

Public Works Logo VerticalLike many of you, the Public Works team watched with disappointment and disbelief last month when Congress allowed portions of the federal government to shut down and narrowly avoided defaulting on the nation’s debt. Despite our frustration, the whole thing also made us even more motivated to pursue some of the bold initiatives we started this fall on how we (and you) can change the dysfunctional national conversation about government. Here are three big things we’re working on to make a difference.

Consortium. Plans are underway to launch a national consortium with like-minded national organizations in early 2014.  The consortium will be dedicated to building broad understanding, high expectations, and strong support for the public sector in America. The goal is to create a culture shift in the aspirations and expectations Americans have for a democratic government. By engaging influential people and organizations across the country in a conversation about the importance of public structures and systems for our collective well-being and future, the groups aim to break through the cynicism about government that often undermines efforts to improve it.

The anchor organizations in this effort are among the very few non-profit groups that share the explicit mission of building public support for the role of government—local, state and federal. We each bring distinct skills, knowledge, networks and resources to this joint endeavor. As we grow, we will enlist other organizations – like yours – to ensure the long-term success of this initiative.

Preliminary plans include a leadership institute, new research, a national survey, and a new set of national awards. Earlier this year the consortium received a Catapult! Award from the Public Strategies Group that provides for an innovative Design Lab planning process, which is taking place this month. Stay tuned!

Innovative Field Work. Public Works continues to partner with organizations working on the ground in states and communities to engage citizens around public issues. That work often leads to new insights that can be adopted elsewhere. In Washington state, for example, we’re working with communications experts to develop and test new frames and messages in support of an adequate government. And in Michigan we’re working with several policy and community-engagement groups on developing state-based framing and messaging, as well as a creative effort to document and publicize the local impacts of state policy decisions.

New Website. Our website began as a way to make resources available to the people and organizations that had attended our workshops. It’s now clear that we need, and you deserve, something better. Our new website continues to provide resources for training attendees, but we hope it will also be useful to anyone interested in building support for the role of government. The new site will have more content, including more communications tools and success stories, and it will soon house our new blog, Publicly Speaking.

As much as the federal government shutdown dampened our spirits, it also led us to conclude that now is the time to bring our work “to scale,” so to speak, in hopes that in the not-so-distant future it will be inconceivable for the words “government” and “shutdown” to occur in the same sentence.

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