Democratic professionals are those who see their work as contributing to a larger public good, but they recognize that to do this they must learn how to be responsive to the concerns, the know-how, and the capabilities of ordinary citizens. Also referred to as “civic professionals,” they co-produce knowledge with communities so that professional expertise can be fruitfully combined with local insight and spur collaboration to solve public problems.

Fast Facts:

Democratic professionalism has deep respect for professional knowledge and practice, especially in a society that has become ever more complex, but searches for ways to combine the best of professional expertise with the lay knowledge and capabilities of ordinary citizens and communities, with Indigenous knowledge in tribal lands, as well as reserving for communities a major role in public judgment, problem solving practice, and coproduction.

Cases to Explore:

Architects: Architects committed to “community design,” “public interest design,” and a broad range of creative democratic practices, seek to enfranchise ordinary citizens as participants in the design process to shape healthy and safe neighborhoods, resilient and just communities. Their methods cover a broad gamut, from multi-day design charrettes and public meetings to music events, photo jaunts, cell phone diaries, sketch books, pop-up meetings, shopping tours, and kitchen-table work sessions. Check out our in-depth profile on architects.

Disaster management professionals: Research and practice have come to stress the importance of social capital, community competence, and other community indicators in developing adaptive capacities and “disaster resilience,” so that communities can not only resist disaster but also “bounce back” and indeed “bounce forward” in recovery. A “whole community” approach within the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as its partners among local and national nonprofits, businesses, and public agencies at every level of the federal system, expands the scope for democratic resilience.

Forest professionals: Many urban and community foresters work collaboratively with environmental groups, nonprofits, and volunteer stewards. Cities such as New York have completed successful One Million Trees campaigns in collaboration among city agencies, the USDA Forest Service, and nonprofits that raise money and engage volunteers. Check out our in-depth profile on urban and community forestry.

Planners: The planning profession has had a long and imaginative history of “beautiful cities,” but only with the urban revolts of the 1960s did planner begin to incorporate community participation directly into planning processes. Today, many planners engage communities directly in helping to plan sustainable and environmentally just neighborhoods, share state-of-the-art mapping and GIS toolkits, and design for low-carbon transportation options.

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