Our nation’s founders envisioned a republic in which the people would be the ultimate source of power.

Today’s reality falls far short.

Our country faces a serious problem.

America’s system of elected representation has been compromised by the way political campaigns are conducted today, which encourages elected officials to feel beholden to narrow subsets of the electorate rather than a broad cross-section of citizens.

Meanwhile, the American public is becoming increasingly alienated from the political life of the nation, partly because of the failures of our representational system, but also because a disheartening cultural narrative tells us it’s pointless to get involved. Taken together, America’s compromised representational system and lack of civic and political participation constitute a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle of public powerlessness.

But there is hope for solutions.

We are living in a time of rapid change, with tectonic shifts underway in the technological, demographic, and socioeconomic conditions of our country. These shifts represent potential opportunities — if we can capitalize on the uniquely American capacity to innovate under changing conditions. Disruptive innovation is transforming every sector of our society. It’s time to channel America’s can-do, entrepreneurial spirit toward one critical system that has not yet been disrupted — our politics.

What if we could catalyze innovation to build the political power of the people?

The Process

There are many dedicated and creative efforts to make our republic more responsive to public interests. But this “ecosystem” is not functioning effectively as an engine of innovation that has the power to disrupt our politics and empower our citizenry. To help catalyze and accelerate targeted innovation, the Pluribus Project is convening two parallel collaboratories that bring together domain experts and practitioners (such as campaign consultants, community organizers, journalists, and academic researchers) with successful innovators and investors from other sectors.

 

Representation Collaboratory

Change the Game

Problem: The way modern political campaigns are won encourages elected officials to feel more accountable to narrow subsets of the electorate — special interests, big donors and partisan ideologues.

Hypothesis: Innovations in the practice of Congressional campaigns could enable the development of a viable “people-powered playbook” for winning that incentivizes elected officials to be responsive to a broader cross-section of their electorates.

Narrative Collaboratory

Change the Story

Problem: A pervasive cultural narrative tells Americans it is pointless to get involved in political activity because our voices just don’t matter.

Hypothesis: Innovative strategies for telling real stories of people coming together to effect change could help cultivate a narrative of civic empowerment and inspire greater participation in political life.

  • 1

    Identify opportunities for innovation to achieve systemic impact based on tectonic shifts.

  • 2

    Channel early-stage investments to the most promising ventures.

  • 3

    Test and evaluate pilot projects to determine what works and what doesn’t.

Collaboratively and with a purposeful process, we can help cultivate a more effective ecosystem for innovation that builds the political power of the many.

Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.

—Abraham Lincoln

The Team

Stephen Heintz Founder & Chair of Advisory Board, The Pluribus Project

Stephen Heintz is President of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Before joining the RBF, he held top leadership positions in both the nonprofit and public sectors. Most recently, he was founding president of D?mos, a public policy research and advocacy organization working to enhance the vitality of American democracy and promote more broadly shared prosperity. Prior to founding D?mos, he served as executive vice president and chief operating officer of the EastWest Institute (EWI), where he worked on issues of economic reform, civil society development, and international security. Based in Prague, Czech Republic, from 1990 through 1997, he worked extensively throughout Central and Eastern Europe and the New Independent States. He devoted the first 15 years of his career to politics and government service in the State of Connecticut, where he served as commissioner of economic development and commissioner of social welfare. In 1988, he helped draft and secure passage by Congress of "The Family Support Act," the first major effort to reform the nation's welfare system. He currently serves on the boards of the EastWest Institute, the Rockefeller Archive Center, and The American Prospect. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014 the Nonprofit Times named him one of the 50 most influential leaders of the nonprofit sector. In 2013, President Bronisław Komorowski of Poland granted him the Officer's Cross - Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland for his contributions to building civil society and democratic institutions in Poland.

Eric Liu Executive Director, Aspen Program for Citizenship & American Identity

Eric Liu is the founder of Citizen University, and directs the Aspen Institute's Citizenship & American Identity Program. Liu's books include the national bestsellers The Gardens of Democracy, and The True Patriot, both co-authored with Nick Hanauer. Liu's first book, The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker, was a New York Times Notable Book featured in the PBS documentary "Matters of Race." His other books include Guiding Lights: How to Mentor – and Find Life's Purpose, the official book of National Mentoring Month; and his most recent, A Chinaman's Chance: One Family's Journey and the Chinese American Dream. Liu served as a White House speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and later as the President's deputy domestic policy adviser. A columnist for CNN.com and a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com, Liu serves on numerous civic boards, and can be found on Twitter @ericpliu.

Priscilla Lewis Senior Advisor, The Pluribus Project

Prior to her involvement in the Pluribus Project, Priscilla Lewis co-directed the U.S. in the World Initiative, which drew on communications and cognitive scientific research to help opinion leaders build mainstream public support for principled, pragmatic foreign policy proposals and for a broadly shared vision of responsible U.S. global engagement. She co-founded U.S. in the World during her tenure as program officer for peace and security at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, where she designed and implemented grantmaking strategies to address the need for farsighted U.S. leadership in international efforts to solve global problems, and the need for greater respect and understanding between Muslim and Western societies. Previously, Priscilla served as vice president for publications at the Council for Aid to Education and directed the publishing program at the Russell Sage Foundation, the principle U.S. foundation devoted to social science research.

Heather Smith Senior Advisor, The Pluribus Project

Heather Smith previously served as the President of Rock the Vote for nearly eight years. Under her leadership, Rock the Vote ran the largest nonpartisan voter engagement efforts in the country during the last two presidential elections, launched a national high school civics education initiative, and refined best practices and new technologies for the continued engagement of young voters. Her work on modernizing the voter registration process was recognized as the "best practice" by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration. Prior to Rock the Vote, Heather founded and directed Young Voter Strategies, with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Graduate School of Political Management at The George Washington University, to provide political parties, candidates, and non-profits with data and research on the youth vote. Heather also worked as national field director for the Student PIRG's New Voters Project and as an organizing director for Green Corps' Field School for Environmental Organizing. Heather received a B.A. with honors in Economics and Public Policy from Duke University. She proudly serves on the University's Duke Engage National Advisory Board, as well as on Trojan's Sexual Health Advisory Committee.

Lucas Welch Executive Director, The Pluribus Project

Lucas is the executive director of the Pluribus Project. Previously, Lucas founded and led Soliya – an international nonprofit that pioneered virtual exchange programs among over 100 universities in Western and Muslim-majority countries and led the exchange 2.0 campaign to promote increased availability of virtual exchange opportunities. The campaign played a central role in inspiring the recent establishment of the J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative - a multilateral public-private endeavor designed to achieve the largest-ever increase in people-to-people educational exchanges between the U.S. and the broader Middle East. Prior to founding Soliya, Lucas was a producer working at ABC News with Peter Jennings. He conducted research on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, pursued graduate studies at what is now the Center for the Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan and received a BA from Brown University. Lucas has been named an Echoing Green Fellow, a TED Fellow and a “Global Expert” by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.

Eric Liu Executive Director, Aspen Program for Citizenship & American Identity

Eric Liu is the founder of Citizen University, and directs the Aspen Institute's Citizenship & American Identity Program. Liu's books include the national bestsellers The Gardens of Democracy, and The True Patriot, both co-authored with Nick Hanauer. Liu's first book, The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker, was a New York Times Notable Book featured in the PBS documentary "Matters of Race." His other books include Guiding Lights: How to Mentor – and Find Life's Purpose, the official book of National Mentoring Month; and his most recent, A Chinaman's Chance: One Family's Journey and the Chinese American Dream. Liu served as a White House speechwriter for President Bill Clinton and later as the President's deputy domestic policy adviser. A columnist for CNN.com and a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com, Liu serves on numerous civic boards, and can be found on Twitter @ericpliu.

Stephen Heintz Founder & Chair of Advisory Board, The Pluribus Project

Stephen Heintz is President of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Before joining the RBF, he held top leadership positions in both the nonprofit and public sectors. Most recently, he was founding president of D?mos, a public policy research and advocacy organization working to enhance the vitality of American democracy and promote more broadly shared prosperity. Prior to founding D?mos, he served as executive vice president and chief operating officer of the EastWest Institute (EWI), where he worked on issues of economic reform, civil society development, and international security. Based in Prague, Czech Republic, from 1990 through 1997, he worked extensively throughout Central and Eastern Europe and the New Independent States. He devoted the first 15 years of his career to politics and government service in the State of Connecticut, where he served as commissioner of economic development and commissioner of social welfare. In 1988, he helped draft and secure passage by Congress of "The Family Support Act," the first major effort to reform the nation's welfare system. He currently serves on the boards of the EastWest Institute, the Rockefeller Archive Center, and The American Prospect. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014 the Nonprofit Times named him one of the 50 most influential leaders of the nonprofit sector. In 2013, President Bronisław Komorowski of Poland granted him the Officer's Cross - Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland for his contributions to building civil society and democratic institutions in Poland.

Heather Smith Senior Advisor, The Pluribus Project

Heather Smith previously served as the President of Rock the Vote for nearly eight years. Under her leadership, Rock the Vote ran the largest nonpartisan voter engagement efforts in the country during the last two presidential elections, launched a national high school civics education initiative, and refined best practices and new technologies for the continued engagement of young voters. Her work on modernizing the voter registration process was recognized as the "best practice" by the Presidential Commission on Election Administration. Prior to Rock the Vote, Heather founded and directed Young Voter Strategies, with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Graduate School of Political Management at The George Washington University, to provide political parties, candidates, and non-profits with data and research on the youth vote. Heather also worked as national field director for the Student PIRG's New Voters Project and as an organizing director for Green Corps' Field School for Environmental Organizing. Heather received a B.A. with honors in Economics and Public Policy from Duke University. She proudly serves on the University's Duke Engage National Advisory Board, as well as on Trojan's Sexual Health Advisory Committee.

Lucas Welch Executive Director, The Pluribus Project

Lucas is the executive director of the Pluribus Project. Previously, Lucas founded and led Soliya – an international nonprofit that pioneered virtual exchange programs among over 100 universities in Western and Muslim-majority countries and led the exchange 2.0 campaign to promote increased availability of virtual exchange opportunities. The campaign played a central role in inspiring the recent establishment of the J. Christopher Stevens Virtual Exchange Initiative - a multilateral public-private endeavor designed to achieve the largest-ever increase in people-to-people educational exchanges between the U.S. and the broader Middle East. Prior to founding Soliya, Lucas was a producer working at ABC News with Peter Jennings. He conducted research on Howard Dean's presidential campaign at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, pursued graduate studies at what is now the Center for the Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan and received a BA from Brown University. Lucas has been named an Echoing Green Fellow, a TED Fellow and a "Global Expert" by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.

Priscilla Lewis Senior Advisor, The Pluribus Project

Prior to her involvement in the Pluribus Project, Priscilla Lewis co-directed the U.S. in the World Initiative, which drew on communications and cognitive scientific research to help opinion leaders build mainstream public support for principled, pragmatic foreign policy proposals and for a broadly shared vision of responsible U.S. global engagement. She co-founded U.S. in the World during her tenure as program officer for peace and security at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, where she designed and implemented grantmaking strategies to address the need for farsighted U.S. leadership in international efforts to solve global problems, and the need for greater respect and understanding between Muslim and Western societies. Previously, Priscilla served as vice president for publications at the Council for Aid to Education and directed the publishing program at the Russell Sage Foundation, the principle U.S. foundation devoted to social science research.

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