Oregon's Kitchen Table, an Innovations in American Government Awards finalist, presented before the National Selection Committee in 2015.
Oregon’s Kitchen Table helps connect communities, public officials, and Oregonians through joint projects at nearly any scale. Right now, Oregon’s Kitchen Table offers opportunities to participate in online public consultations, in-person events, civic crowdfunding, and Oregonian-to-Oregonian micro-lending. The program was founded in 2010 at Portland State University by a group of nonprofit, community leaders, and former elected officials in order to create a permanent civic infrastructure through which Oregonians can access a suite of opportunities for engagement. Each Oregon’s Kitchen Table project — no matter the activity — includes organizing and outreach components to generate participation from hundreds (at a smaller local scale) to thousands of Oregonians.
This approach addresses multiple challenges in public life: (1) the “specialization” of participation driven by interest groups; (2) poor attendance and incivility at traditional forums; (3) non-replication of well-designed and executed public processes; and (4), the dearth of meaningful public work for citizens and residents.
The program was developed in partnership with the Program for Public Consultation from the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, which went on to develop the We the People Program and a concept for a “Citizen Cabinet,” focused on soliciting high quality public input from a representative demographic sample. But, Oregon’s decision-makers wanted more input, ideally from any citizen willing to weigh in on their decisions and policies. As a result, Oregon’s Kitchen Table expanded to encourage any and all Oregonians to participate, while still capturing demographic data to pull a representative sample of the state, region, or particular community.
Oregon’s Kitchen Table has also focused on supporting and including traditionally underrepresented and vulnerable communities. The program aims to go beyond just demographic representation to ensure that those communities and individuals whose voices are not usually heard are included — concentrating not just on developing consultations or putting projects forward for civic crowdfunding, but also on community organizing to ensure access. Staff works with community-based organizations and leaders to reach both broadly and deeply into a community and design engagement activities from culturally specific house parties to volunteers stationed at public libraries to local newspapers publishing paper versions of consultations.