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Determined Democracy

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Sarah Sweeney
February 8, 2021

The past four years have taught us many lessons about what it means to be a democracy and American. Certainly the next four years will teach us even more about where to find opportunities for redevelopment and growth for our communities and our people. This past year alone has created the platform by which we can better understand the social issues our communities are experiencing and how to move forward to rebuild, together. Throughout the pandemic it became clear where lines were drawn, where disparities existed and just how desperate the need is to improve social functioning. We need to be better stewards of democracy by creating and enforcing policies that truly impact our communities in a creative and sustainable way.

As we consider our duty as public servants to ensure the development of future administrators, it is important to first identify how we can best support and motivate our employees who are currently doing the work to improve our social programs and our society. We have a lot of rebuilding to do, when it comes to trusting government processes and creating sustainable programs for our future leaders. Generating opportunities to educate and inform our youth through civic engagement practices during formative years will ensure the continuation of a democratic society, one where the people are truly the decisionmakers. Through our work as managers and leaders we have the unique opportunity to build a sense of inclusion for our staff when we show appreciation for the work they do to push forward public priorities.

So how can we motivate our communities to engage in their civic duty and rebuild an informed public? Building trust in government begins with listening to the community and working to ensure that governments deliver services locally, fairly and focus on strengthening lines of communication between the public and their governing bodies. Through this process we can expect to see improved relationships and sense of connection, when the problems our constituents face are presented with realistic solutions. As leaders we must begin at the source and listen to what our communities want. This must be our guiding principle when outlining policy priorities. Harvard Business Review notes that people appreciate leaders who seek out and act upon input of their staff, which leads to improved experiences at work when issues were addressed immediately. When you involve the public in decisionmaking, it builds trust and investment in the process, giving them a voice. By taking the time to better understand the needs of our communities and breaking down barriers between opposing sides can we then begin to heal. It did not take long for the country to dissolve into chaos these past four years because there was a crack in the dam that nearly exploded and drowned us all. But there is hope of rebuilding and moving forward together, if we continue having difficult conversations with each other.

Our country has experienced significant and horrific events recently that have impaired our credibility in the eyes of other nations, let alone our own people, and must be the starting place to rebuild our democracy and public trust. The resiliency of our communities must be recognized, especially during the coming months and years as we embark on a new chapter of our nation’s history. We have an obligation to reimagine together what it means to be American and listen to all voices throughout this process, starting in our local communities and building outward. Pushing our government leaders, which includes our profession, to be accountable to the people and ethical in all dealings will lead to increased transparency with our constituents.

There is much work needing to be done in rebuilding our democracy, and the first step to that is building public trust. We must educate and inform the people we serve and hold ourselves accountable to meeting the demands of equity and equality necessary to break down issues of disparity and discrimination. As public administrators it is our calling to lead our communities toward a better future to fulfill the American Dream that we all desire in our own right. As leaders in our profession it is up to us to help guide the future of our country toward a more open and unrestricted way of life that fulfills the priorities of all people. All voices need to be heard and the call must be answered.


Author: Sarah Sweeney is a professional social worker and public administrator in Washington State. She may be contacted at [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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