CivicGreen Policy: Designing for Democracy

We report on important policy and program designs at all levels of the federal system in the U.S. that seek to engage ordinary people in civic work, coproduction, and inclusive and just problem solving for sustainable and resilient communities.

In May 2022, we convened scholars and practitioners from multiple sectors to review innovative models and to explore policy designs that could leverage innovation at scale over the following decades. See our report:

Civic Engagement in American Climate Policy: Collaborative Models (October 2022).

Our report includes an Executive Summary with our core recommendations. The Introduction discusses “Why Civic Innovation in American Climate Policy?” and how civic and social movement approaches differ, but can also provide needed synergy. We review innovation in 12 distinct but overlapping arenas and consider some recommendations suitable to each.

The report’s Conclusion considers how to leverage civic innovation for climate collaboration at scale through “Mission, Strategy, Governance, and Investment” approaches at the highest levels of federal agencies, the White House, Congress, and advisory committees and networks.

The biographies of our core group of 41 participants and 25 other contributors can be found in Appendix A. An extensive list of books, articles, toolkits, strategic plans, case studies, and the like can be found in Appendix B, many with online links.


On our Policy page we also host discussions and debates on these and similar issues.

We link to proposals and programs that might be primarily about regulatory reform or infrastructure investment, but have also signaled a role for community engagement and public participation (with short notations on these).

The National Caucus of Environmental Legislators issued its Inflation Reduction Act Briefing Book (December 2022), which contains several areas where funding for public participation in planning and civic capacity building might be available. These include coastal and insular programs, neighborhood access and equity grants in transportation, environmental and climate justice block grants for tribal nations and indigenous groups, multi-stakeholder negotiations for siting interstate electricity transmission lines and offshore wind. However, funding for public participation and civic capacity building tends to be under-specified in the IRA legislation, putting them at risk of being ignored or underfunded.

Hearing on Capitol Hill, April 15, 2021: “The Clean Future Act and Environmental Justice: Protecting Frontline Communities,” with links to most recent versions of proposed bills.

In their essay, “Policy Tools and Democracy,” Steven Rathgeb Smith and Helen Ingram provide a wide ranging analysis of how policy tools across various policy arenas can enable responsible citizenship, social capital, and democratic deliberation, yet are not without conundrums. There are no certain strategies; the devil is in the details and the fruitful mixes and hybrid forms we might design.

To make suggestions, email our editor: carmensirianni511@gmail.com

Deep Dive into Policy Specifics

Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving (EJCPS) and Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE): Two Models at EPA

These two programs at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emerged as a response to rising claims of environmental justice (EJ) communities for greater voice in local problem solving. Communities wanted to see tangible results that improved the lives of children and families, health and environment, while also creating institutional capacities for tackling further challenges down the line. Both programs have been held up as models to build upon in Green New Deal, Inflation Reduction Act, and other ambitious climate policies before Congress, though typically with little more than a brief mention.

Critics have argued that such grant programs largely demobilize EJ activism and are counterproductive. We thus need to appreciate their designs more fully.

Policy Proposals of Interest: