Hope for Democracy

Civic reformers are crafting new tools that bring back into politics the wider public and its capacity for reason. This book spotlights one such innovation—the Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR). Each CIR gathers a random sample of twenty voters to study a statewide ballot measure. These citizen panelists interrogate advocates, opponents, and experts and distill what they learn into a one-page analysis for the official Oregon Voters’ Pamphlet. The result is a better informed electorate. This book weaves the CIR into ancient and modern history, contemporary social scientific research, and the personal narratives of people who created the CIR or have first-hand experiences with it that changed their lives.

Hope for Democracy is now available in paperback and e-book through local bookstores, Oxford University Press, and Amazon. The audiobook is available through Audible, read by Victor Bevine, who voiced the Mueller Report for Audible! If you want me to give a talk on this subject, video-chat with your book club, or just hang out, email me.

You can listen to an interview with John and Katie at the Democracy Paradox pocast or with John at Lawrence Lessig’s Equal Citizens podcast. Or watch the Braver Angels discussion and Q&A with John and Katie.
State College, PA folks might enjoy John’s interview on the Schlow Library Podcast.

Early Praise from across the Globe

Hope for Democracy is an historically-informed, detail-rich exploration of how citizens reasoning together can address the challenges facing their communities. This heartening look at participatory decision making is an antidote to the cynicism that pervades our polarized times.”

Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center and author of unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformationney

“Democratic innovations take concerted effort. This is the story of one such effort and we can all learn a lot from the determination, creativity, and resilience required to create a new institution and make it work.”

Director of Stanford University’s Center for Deliberative Democracy and author of Democracy When the People are Thinking

“If you dare to imagine that American politics can get better, read this book. Gastil and Knobloch have helped to create and now study a new way to engage citizens in the democratic process. When I first observed the Citizens’ Initiative Review, I felt inspired. Reading this book will give you that same sense that people are ready to reclaim their proper role in  democracy.”

Professor of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of The Politics of Resentment

“Across the globe, people are seeking to improve representative democracy. One of the most exciting innovations is the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review. This book is the definitive story of how the Review came into being and why it works. Hope for Democracy is a must read for scholars, public officials, and civic campaigners who hope to revitalize democracy.”

Co-convenors of The Irish Citizens’ Assembly

“The Citizens’ Initiative Review is at the cutting edge of innovation to make democracy more responsive, vital, and meaningful. Gastil and Knobloch provide an essential guide to this key development and its deliberative relatives, demonstrating that there is life in and hope for democracy amid its current woes. Read it and be inspired!”

Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow and Centenary Professor at the University of Canberra’s Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance

Hope for Democracy is a refreshing retort to the recent spate of books that declare the end of democracy. Through a compelling combination of personal stories and rigorous analysis, John Gastil and Katie Knobloch offer an important reminder of the democratic capacities and potential of everyday citizens. We have reasons to be hopeful.”

Professor of Politics at the University of Westminster’s Centre for the Study of Democracy

“During a period in which democratic institutions seem to be going through a crisis, democracy insists on reinventing itself through a number of innovations across the globe. One of the most important of these is the Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR), which demonstrates how deliberative practices can be creatively embedded within existing institutions. This book offers a unique perspective on the journey that led to the creation of the CIR in Oregon–and the unsung heroes behind it. Inspiring and analytically sound, the insights in this book transcend geographic boundaries. Beyond scholars and practitioners, it is a must read for anyone interested in mechanisms that leverage the knowledge of citizens to shape decisions that affect their lives.”

Senior Public Sector Specialist at the World Bank’s Governance Global Practice

“Gastil and Knobloch have crafted the definitive statement on the operation, rationale, and value of the Citizens Initiative Review–the most important deliberative democratic innovation in the U.S. in a very long time. Hope for Democracy does this and so much more. Part history, part public philosophy, part political critique, this beautifully written book balances the urgency and optimism we so sorely need today.”

Professor of Political Science at Ohio State University and co-author of Politics with the People: Building a Directly Representative Democracy


Another Way Forward podcast with John Gastil
Dr. Lawrence Lessig and John Gastil talked about cultural bias, partisanship, and deliberative reforms to improve American politics and elections–all themes prominent in Hope for Democracy.

Communication Matters podcast with the authors
The National Communication Association’s Trevor Parry-Giles interviews Katie Knobloch and John Gastil to ask why they can remain hopeful about democracy amidst the present political crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Interview by Mark Gottlieb, Trident Media literary agent
Read an interview with the authors about the process of writing a general audience book together and how to blend the narrative nonfiction style with social scientific research.

DemocracyWorks podcast on the Oregon Citizens’ Initiative Review
Penn State’s Jenna Spinelli interviews John Gastil and Healthy Democracy’s Robin Teater to learn about the democratic reform that’s at the heart of Hope for Democracy.