Has our democracy adapted to the complex realities of today’s modern, largely urbanized America? In this episode, MIT Professor Ceasar McDowell shares how he’s helping students design better, more equitable public conversations.



The classic New England town meeting, with voters gathered in a large hall to decide issues directly, is often cited as the purest form of American democracy. But historically, those town meetings gave a voice only to certain classes of people. In this episode, we meet Ceasar McDowell, Professor of the Practice of Community Development at MIT and newly appointed associate director of MIT’s Center for Constructive Communication. Prof. McDowell has devoted his career to nurturing a more vibrant, inclusive democracy, one adapted to the complex reality of a modern, largely urbanized America.

In his course 11.312 Engaging Community (recently published on OpenCourseWare), he helps his students use the tools of civic design to craft forms of community engagement and decision-making that will bring everyone into the conversation, even those on the margins of our society. In keeping with his commitment to a collaborative effort, Prof. McDowell encourages his students to propose specific real-life problems they’re interested in, and to decide collectively which ones to address in the class. “We have to learn to talk to each other,” he says. “Yes, this is hard work, and yes, you can do it.”

Relevant Resources:

MIT OpenCourseWare

The OCW Educator Portal

Professor McDowell’s faculty page

MIT’s Center for Constructive Communication

We Who Engage (blog)

We Who Engage (podcast episodes)

We Who Engage (Instagram)

America’s Path Forward

Civic Design Framework

Music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions

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