Strengthening Democracy by Design: Challenges and Opportunities
Nancy L. Thomas,
Tufts University, US
About Nancy L.
Nancy L. Thomas directs the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. IDHE is an applied research center that studies and supports college student political learning and participation in democracy. Her work and scholarship center on college student political learning and participation, deliberative democracy, inclusion, free speech and academic freedom. She is an associate editor of the Journal of Public Deliberation. She holds a doctorate from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a law degree from Case Western Research University’s School of Law.
J. Kyle Upchurch is an Associate Researcher at the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education (IDHE) at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. His research interests include electoral reform, democratization, and civic learning. He holds a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School at Tufts University with concentrations in Political Systems & Theories and Human Security.
In 2014, the Journal of Public Deliberation published an essay, “Democracy by Design,” a framework for a more aspirational, stronger democracy and approach to civic learning. Here, the authors update and reissue Democracy by Design along with a report on the status of the four foundational attributes of a strong democracy, one that is participatory, free and equal, educated and informed, and accountable and justly governed. The authors argue that American democracy faces multiple challenges reflecting declines in democratic norms and practices, for example, growing inequality, weak and unequal civic education, widening polarization, and the rise of undemocratic forces in some segments of American society that are seemingly unchecked by political leaders. Stopping democracy’s decline calls for efforts - some deliberative and some more activist - by both public officials and everyday citizens. Citizen-driven efforts will prevail only if contextualized in broader knowledge and understanding of democracy’s design and health.