21st Century Town Meeting

21st Century Town Meeting

For More Information: AmericaSpeaks, www.americaspeaks.org

To engage large numbers of citizens in government decision making on public policy issues by supporting deliberation that is well informed, synthesized, and directly connected to real opportunities for action.


  • Playing field leveled between citizens and special interests
  • Decision makers incorporate citizen priorities in public policy development
  • Increased expectations for transparent, accountable governance

When to Use:

  • There is a direct link to the key decision makers and governance processes that can ensure results
  • The nature of the issue requires people to deeply wrestle with strategies and choices
  • Polling data indicate that citizens believe they can reach consensus even if partisan positioning means the politicians cannot

When Not to Use:

  • There is no commitment by decision makers to participate and/or act on the results
  • The issue is in the early stages of development and action opportunities have not crystallized
  • Insufficient availability of infrastructure and resources

Number of Participants:

Types of Participants:

  • Citizens or residents affected by the issue
  • Stakeholders (advocates, community-based organizations, or representatives from affected businesses or industries)
  • Community leaders, decision makers

Typical Duration:

  • Development and Preparation: 6–12 months
  • Meeting: 1 day (or partial day)
  • Follow-up: Generally 3–12 months

Brief Example:
In 2002, the Hamilton County, Ohio, Regional Planning Commission engaged the community in developing a comprehensive plan for issues including employment, housing, transportation, and education. In addition to a 1,300-person 21st Century Town Meeting, the effort included 11 community forums, one youth forum, and a weeklong online forum. Afterward, action teams produced 160 specific strategies for helping the county reach its goals. The county commissioners endorsed the citizens’ vision statement, and in November 2004, the commission began implementing the citizen-driven priority initiatives.

Historical Context:
Created in 1995 by Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer and the AmericaSpeaks staff. Founding tenets of American Democracy: “government of the people, by the people and for the people,” “consent of the governed.”