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Reflections from the 2023 National Conference on Citizenship

IPCE Senior Research Specialist Ana Genkova shares her reflections after attending sessions from the National Conference on Citizenship

This year’s National Conference on Citizenship packed a great deal of in-depth discussion of the present and future civic life and democracy in the country. I attended (virtually) two of the sessions, the Mapping the Healthy Democracy Ecosystem and Can Nonprofit Local News Save Democracy.  The first session included two presenters and three moderators discussing an ambitious, innovative project aimed to “identify, categorize, and quantify existing organizations, networks, and funders who work to promote and protect healthy democracy.”[1] The project will culminate in interactive dashboard visualizing geography, goals, financials, and network connectivity of 10,000+ organizations and searchable database of organizations[2].

Mapping the Healthy Democracy Ecosystem is an initiative spearheaded by the National Civic League and their collaborators. The design process involved strategy sessions and interviews with experts, consultations with multiple organizations and practitioners, and data collection from lists, databases, and public records.  The project aims to connect the often-disparate constellations of organizations working in the civic democracy space. The plenary included a demonstration by Matt Leighninger of the National Civic League, the organization which will house the database and provide technical support and updates.

The capabilities of this dashboard seemed impressive at first glance. The tool will allow users to click on a state or a city to view local organizations, their financial data, type, and stated goals (as expressed in their own language). Users will also be able to visualize networks of organization color-coded to represent 1, 2, 3, or 4+ memberships. On a larger scale geography, organizational density could be easily assessed. Off the livestream, conference attendees will also have the chance to engage in feedback sessions for the project, which has been in development for over 9 months and is expected to go live mid-year in 2024.

Can Nonprofit Local News Save Democracy? focused on local non-for-profit news media as a player in shaping a healthy democracy. The two panelists at this session were Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, CEO and Co-Founder of the National Trust for Local News and Sewell Chan, Editor in Chief of the Texas Tribute. The moderator was Joe Mathews, Editor of Zocalo Public Square. Key points hit on media trends, public trust, responsibilities of newsrooms, and sustainability of local news organizations. Interestingly, one of the criticisms of the Mapping the Healthy Democracy project was the noticeable absence of local news organizations and their allies from the database, especially given the growing philanthropic support for non-for-profit news outlets. An interesting discussion point was the feasibility (or desirability) of public funding for local news at the federal level. While the norm in some European countries, this model of funding has important caveats in the U.S. political climate.

The topics of NCoC directly connect to IPCE’s work on democratic education and civic leadership development. With respect to research, the Healthy Democracy Ecosystem project will be an invaluable tool for identifying and connecting with organizations that need data infrastructure or evaluation support. This was positively a worthwhile conference that I was pleased to sample virtually and look forward to attending in person in the future. Additional sessions are featured on their live stream, visit: to watch panels on Service and Civic Engagement for the Next Century and Understanding the Online Conversation Around the 2024 US Election. 

[1] 2023 Annual Conference on Citizenship,