“There are a great many guardians of the status quo. But there is just no adequate defense for restricting people to a series of bad choices. At this stage, there needs to be more disruption.”
- Michael Lomax (United Negro College Fund)

Could any of us imagine going back to a fast-food restaurant again and again to place our order before we finally got the right hamburger? Of course, such inconvenience would lead us to drive down the street to the next option. In a consumer market we make our expectations and demands known with our dollars. Moms cannot do that in a government monopoly. In social service delivery systems, clients rarely have choice. Even Indiana’s problematic outsourcing to improve families’ self- sufficiency was an effort to make a monopolistic system more efficient. Nevertheless, we found civic entrepreneurs who, by amplifying expectations, needs, and demands, succeeded in breaking through these performance barriers.

…Absent a market, who actuates this demand for better quality? Government funding is by definition part of a political process, while philanthropic funding is often based on relationships and/or established practices. Change comes only when the public—whether as clients, taxpayers, or concerned community members—both expects better results and acts on those expectations. In this chapter we focus on the citizen and his or her voice and participation. We depict citizens, however, not as victims who should be lobbying government for money but as engaged participants in improving themselves and their communities. We see citizens operating inside a network of valuable relationships in their communities, perhaps supported by government services—not as isolated clients receiving a prescriptive set of programs from a designated professional.

During my public career I preached citizen engagement but found achieving it quite difficult. As professionals, whether in government or in the broader social sector, we look for ways to apply our skills in making a difference. Accommodating input or interventions from citizens can easily seem burdensome, noisy, and unnecessary for the most sincere of reasons.

This chapter addresses citizens as engaged neighbors active in problem solving and as concerned individuals demanding political and civic attention to serious issues in need of innovative and effective solutions. We look at mobilizing public demand for better outcomes, not as a definitive approach to organizing but, rather, as it relates to the approaches taken by civic entrepreneurs we interviewed about how they had created the room for innovation. [We view] citizens as “clients” who should be trusted to make more of their own choices in a complex world in which bureaucrats by definition are ill positioned to make decisions for others. [We also look] at how successful civic entrepreneurs engage the citizens they serve at a higher level, expecting and receiving more from them as part of the solution.

 

Excerpted from "The Power of Social Innovation: How Civic Entrepreneurs Ignite Community Networks for Good" by Stephen Goldsmith