Looking back at my first year at the Democracy Fund, I can say working with a group of people truly committed to engaging the whole political spectrum is a remarkable and educational experience—beyond anything I could have imagined.
Since I joined the Democracy Fund, the Governance Program has been working to develop new approaches to understanding our nation’s system of governance as well as the forces of hyperpartisanship that currently render the system unable to function effectively. Nearly one year on, I can say working with a group of people representing all sides of the political spectrum has been challenging but productive.
For me, the chance to combine a quarter century of Hill experience with systems thinking to more deeply understand the system of Congress—and where the greatest opportunities to reduce dysfunction exist—has been unique. The space to build a team within the Governance Program of individuals equally committed to the more effective functioning of government has been rewarding. And the ability to foster collaboration among existing organizations, help new innovative organizations expand, and encourage them all to collaborate to deepen their impact in the space has been truly energizing.
Among the challenges we have faced has been developing a strategy that reflects our knowledge and our values while continuing our grantmaking practice in an effort to impact the urgent challenges we hope to address. Described fondly within Democracy Fund as “building the plane while flying it,” we are grateful to have metaphorically experienced pilots and mechanics on board to help us stay in the air. This infrastructure has enabled the Governance team to support our colleagues by attracting partners that reflect the ideological diversity of the American people, as reflected in their elected officials; develop and support new programs to help build relationships among members of Congress and their staffs; develop technology to enhance congressional constituent engagement systems; identify best practices and train congressional offices to more fully utilize them; and create strategies to advance efforts to “fix Washington” by creating more open and accessible legislative processes, all while developing and refining our strategic plan.
Looking forward to the next year, the Governance Program is working with a range of stakeholders to ask some hard questions. Specifically: How can we build on our existing approach to not only support existing organizations, but incentivize innovation as well? How can we support the institution of Congress by strengthening its operating systems and processes? How can we expand the ability of those who work in Congress to use those systems more effectively? And, how can we incentivize government officials, specifically members of Congress, to behave in ways that increase the functionality of government, support bipartisan working relationships, and reward civility?
We know the answers aren’t easy. But we’ve known that all along. It took us a generation to achieve this state of dysfunction; it will take more than a year and many voices, organizations, and public officials to solve the challenges. After all, the essence of systems thinking is that with so many variables, and so many interrelationships, the system is constantly changing and the work is never really done.
At the Democracy Fund, we are working to walk the walk when it comes to bipartisanship in our organization and in the field we are seeking to build as we work to strengthen our system of government.
All in all, a pretty good year, and even more exciting learning to look forward to.