The Civic Collaboratory
Shifting the current paradigm of individual achievement towards collaboration and shared success.
Our communities are rich in civic assets — innovative problem solvers, passionate organizers, willing volunteers — but a growing feeling of resource scarcity is turning collaborators into competitors. Polarization and distrust is poisoning the relationships that have sustained healthy and strong communities. Other groups and institutions seem to be barriers to making real progress.
That’s why we’ve developed and tested a model of localized network-building that catalyzes deeper relationships. It activates civic imagination and circulates mutual aid to address pressing community challenges: the Civic Collaboratory.
The power of mutual aid
Around the country, organizations are convening Civic Collaboratories to bring together people across sectors and experiences. They’re developing bonds of affection, sparking innovations, and building a sense of collective power. The heart of this model of gathering is what we call the “Rotating Credit Club.” A few participants take turns presenting projects, major initiatives, or challenges they are working on. The group then provides not feedback or critique, but specific and firm commitments of help.
Through repeated gatherings, acts of mutuality and reciprocity create a compounding effect of trust and collaboration. Partnerships blossom, existing work is strengthened, and new projects are born — from cross-partisan initiatives to civic education efforts to artistic endeavors — that have the power to transform communities.
The Civic Collaboratory provides an opportunity to shift the current paradigm of individual achievement towards collaboration and shared success. Our approach is inspired by models of mutual aid that hearken back to communities of enslaved African Americans who sought to build power. To immigrants shunned by the dominant power structure. To small-town farmers lacking access to capital and social capital. And this kind of mutual aid works best when reinforced by the structure, habits, and norms of repeated gathering.
The National Civic Collaboratory
Since 2011, Citizen University has run a successful nationwide Civic Collaboratory, connecting civic innovators across lines of geography, political ideology, race, and domain. The network’s strength stems from its diversity, with representation from the Obama Foundation to the Ronald Reagan Foundation, from veterans’ advocacy to youth civic education organizations, from arts institutions to the corporate sector. This group has circulated resources, time, and ideas to launch hundreds of joint projects and partnerships that are strengthening the civic health of our country.
Our National Civic Collaboratory is distinctively intergenerational. At gatherings, members of our current Youth Collaboratory cohort join as full participants — offering commitments of resources, engaging in deep conversation, and building career-shaping relationships.
The Collaboratory creates a structure of permission for us to cross divides, for us to say, let’s learn together, let’s build together. When we cross those lines, build together, and create a habit of committing to each other, we can create a little microcosm of what’s possible when America works. This gives members the confidence and inspiration to spread this belief through all threads of the fabric of our nation.
Membership in the National Civic Collaboratory is by invite only.
Spreading the model locally
Building on the success of our national-scale model, we are excited to begin working with local leaders to create Civic Collaboratories in cities across the US. Organizations are using this adaptable social technology to establish a practice of mutual aid, circulate resources, and build deep relationships within their communities.
Citizen University provides an immersive, highly supportive training for organizations around the country to gain the skills, practice, confidence, and network of support to bring a Civic Collaboratory to life.