Teaching Citizen Leadership and No-Blame Problem Solving

July 7, 2022

Guest blog post from The Citizens Campaign

Do your students know that their powers as citizens extend beyond the ballot and beyond protesting? Do they know that they can take on several powerful roles as unelected Citizen Leaders in their own communities? Do they know how to find successful solutions for adoption in their own cities, or how to navigate local government to advance those solutions?

The teaching tools from The Citizens Campaign offer an easy way for you to incorporate Citizen Leadership Training and an active, practitioner-informed approach to local civic engagement in your existing courses and programs. Even better, our online video course can be made available to student groups and to the broader community beyond your college or university, to engage the whole community in problem-solving. Learners automatically earn a Certificate of Training on completion of the online course, which they can add to their resume.

Harry Pozycki, the founder of The Citizens Campaign, learned about government from a practitioner’s perspective by taking on leadership roles in politics and government at the local, state, and national levels. Especially at the local level, he saw opportunities for everyday people to participate directly in decision-making – opportunities that few people knew about, which made it easy for corrupt power brokers to dominate the political arena in some places. Harry joined forces with former Harvard President Derek Bok to recruit more than 50 expert practitioners in government who have records of getting things done. This impressive Law and Policy Task Force joined with faculty members from the UPenn Graduate School of Education to produce a set of teaching tools in Citizen Leadership.

The core of these tools is a pragmatic No-Blame Problem Solving method, which has empowered citizens to pass over 300 local laws with a success rate over 90%. No-Blame Problem Solving is a strategic 10-step method of finding successful policies, adapting them for application in one’s own community, and advancing them in local government. It can be applied to any public issue, and guides citizen leaders to advance solutions that meet three criteria: the solution should be evidence-based, cost-effective (budget-neutral or better), and beneficial to the community as a whole. These criteria act as guardrails, steering citizen leaders away from extreme partisan ideology, and reducing defensiveness and opposition from local officials. Vice Provost Dr. Tonya Amankwatia, in approving the course for use at North Carolina A&T University, said: “I am glad that the approach is non-partisan or, better yet, post-partisan and inclusive so people can do what’s needed in their communities.”

No-Blame Problem Solving is a methodology rooted in the principle that we as citizens have the power and the responsibility to exit the political blame game. We believe that we can work with our fellow citizens and our public officials in a respectful and pragmatic manner, so that we can leave our communities and our country better than we found them.

The Citizens Campaign has initially partnered with over 25 colleges and universities to establish model Citizen Leadership Training Bases. Verdis Robinson, the inaugural director of Community Colleges for Democracy, and Campus Compact have been advising and supporting The Citizens Campaign in this initiative. Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone and recipient of the 2012 National Humanities Medal, praised these Training Bases as “just what we need to rekindle our American values and generate the new leaders and ideas essential to meeting the challenges of the 21st Century.”

Training in Citizen Leadership “beyond the ballot” complements and builds on existing civic engagement programs. Jennifer Mason, Vice Chancellor for Legislative and Community Affairs at the City Colleges of Chicago, said at the Leadership Base launch event: “We’ve made significant gains in getting people to register to vote and turn out. Through this Leadership Base we can get people to take the next step and identify, adapt, and advance evidence-based solutions designed to address our city and the nation’s biggest challenges.” Leaders of the American Political Science Association have also been enthusiastic about this new advance in civic engagement to last beyond any one election cycle or protest.

Professors are embedding Citizen Leadership Training modules in their existing courses – mostly State and Local Government. Several are using the 10-Step No-Blame Problem Solving method for student projects. Professor Erin Richards of Cascadia College in Washington reflected: “I appreciated that the No-Blame Problem solving approach allowed students a hands-on experience in identifying a problem, and proposing and making a solution, thus empowering students as citizens. This is exactly what we should be doing with civic education.”

The Citizens Campaign is making an effort to provide teaching tools for free to community colleges and Minority-Serving Institutions, with a goal of closing the “civic empowerment gap.” Dr. Rowena Tomaneng, President of San Jose City College, said: “SJCC is officially a dual-designated Minority Serving Institution… This means that it’s our mission to educate and lift up historically underserved students and their communities to reach their full potential. Our new Citizen Leadership Center gives our diverse community members the means to develop agency and realize their full power as citizens in our democracy.”

Sandra LaFleur, Director of Changemaking Education and Social Innovation at Miami Dade College, said: “We are thrilled and excited to soon be training Citizen Leaders right here at MDC. As part of the Citizen Leadership Service, we know these changemakers will soon be using their voice in local media, join local boards, and perhaps even run for elected office someday – once they realize the power they can have when using the No-Blame Problem Solving framework, there’s no limit as to the positive change that they can make for all of us here in our city of Miami.”

To offer training in Leadership and No-Blame Problem Solving at your institution, you can purchase copies of our training manual, Citizen Power (Rutgers University Press), on our website, and check out our free online video course at training.thecitizenscampaign.org.

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