Rethinking civic infrastructure to engage all sectors

blogimage_PhilanthropyPodcastIn the July episode of the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s What’s the Big Idea?” podcast series, non-profit consultant Jill Blair explores our modern society’s need for a rethought civic infrastructure that engages all sectors, enlists all voices, and exchanges all knowledge and practice. We recommend listening in full to the podcast, hosted by non-profit leader Allison Fine, but here are a few of the insights we gleaned related to cross-sector collaboration.

Civic infrastructure is just as important as our physical infrastructure, argues Blair, who co-authored a new report for the Aspen Institute, “21st Century Civic Infrastructure: Under Construction,” with Malka Kopell, Co-founder of the Civity Initiative. The goal of civic infrastructure is to “build opportunities and platforms to create a shared understanding of the common good.” It can also be understood as “all of the different ways in which we as a society try to engage the public in public life: policies that enable us to participate, practices, programs.”

Blair and Kopell argue that too few of today’s infrastructure systems incorporate three “keystones” that should define a 21st century civic infrastructure: engaging all sectors, enlisting all voices, and exchanging all knowledge and practice. These keystones represent “capacities we believe are necessary…to [address] the challenges we still face as a society.”

On the point of intersector collaboration, Blair said, “We need to be able to engage all sectors in public problem solving, so, to not default to the idea that only the public sector is responsible for addressing public problems…but rather we need every public problem to engage all sectors.” Blair also suggests that a new kind of 21st century backbone organization “should be capable of going beyond a single issue and should actually be a platform for collective effort and collective enterprise across issues, so that we’re not defined by a particular identity or a particular problem.”

You can listen to Blair’s entire conversation here and read the civic infrastructure report here.