Civic Leadership Model

By: Masami Nishishiba, Ph.D. Associate Director, CPS

Dan Vizzini, Senior Fellow, CPS

During the last 14 years, CPS has been providing a leadership training program for the Japanese local government managers. The theme of this training program is “citizen-centered governance.” Using case studies, site visits, and interviews, the program provides opportunities for the participants to explore their role in local governance while making cross-cultural comparison between Oregon and their respective local jurisdiction in Japan.

One of the most frequent comments we hear from the Japanese participants ¾ typically midway through the program ¾ sounds like this: “It appears that there are many civic leaders in Oregon, which we don’t have in Japan. How can I help develop more civic leaders in my city?”

To facilitate the discussion in response to this question on developing civic leaders, we developed a heuristic tool that assists the participants to think about the typology and pathways of civic leaders. Here’s a brief explanation of this tool we call “Civic Leadership Model” (See figure).


In this model, we use two key dimensions to identify different typologies of civic leaders. The two dimensions are: (1) knowledge, skill and experience, represented on the vertical axes, and (2) focus of interest, represented on the horizontal axes.

Knowledge, skill and experience: While some people may have innate propensities to take the leadership role in their civic engagement, they are usually not fully equipped with the necessary knowledge, skill and experience when they first take the role/become the leaders. People acquire knowledge and develop skills to be civic leaders as they gain more experience being in the leadership role. If we were to plot the typical civic leader’s pathway, therefore, they typically start from the lower end of the vertical axes (ill-informed, unskilled, and inexperience), and move upward alongside the vertical axes towards the upper end of the axes (knowledgeable, skilled and experienced) as they mature as the civic leader.

Focus of interest: People engage in public affairs because of their interests. Some people’s interests can be focused around a single issue that matters to them at the personal level. They get motivated to make a difference in some focused issue and start taking actions. The left end of the horizontal axes represents those who are attached to a fixed position on a single issue based on individual interest. For example, a parent whose child is in the K-12 school system may become active in advocating for improving funding for a particular elementary school. In this case, the focus of the interest is specific and singular (i.e. K-12 public school funding), and the motivation to engage originates from the personal interest (i.e. provide better education to the person’s own child). With a very narrow focus on the interest, the approach taken by those represented on this end of the axes can be in competition with others who are focused on another specific issue. For example, when the funding is limited, those who are advocating to increase funding for K-12 public schools may end up competing for the financial resources with those who are advocating for other causes, such as public safety and human services.

Some people take interest in broader public good. The right end of the horizontal axes represents those who are more inclined to compromise in order to resolve multiple issues in a collaborative manner and advance a consensus solution so the larger public can get the benefit. For example, a person may decide to engage in the citizen budget committee to contribute to the deliberation of public service funding in general. As a member of the budget committee, this person needs to be mindful of funding needs for multiple public services (e.g. public school systems, public safety, human services), and take a comprehensive view in allocating funding so different public needs are met.

Typology of civic leaders

As the model in the figure shows, the two dimensions with vertical and horizontal axes create four quadrants which represent different types of civic leadership style, i.e. : (A) advocate, (B) leader, (C) participant/volunteer, and (D) reactionary.

Advocates are knowledgeable, skilled and experienced individuals who advocate for a singular focused issue or a set of aligned interests. Leaders are those who are knowledgeable, skilled and experienced individuals who take actions for the broader public good. Participants/volunteers are not so knowledgeable, skilled nor experienced. They take actions for broader public good or become willing and supportive followers, interested in the betterment of their community. Reactionaries are not so knowledgeable, skilled nor experienced. They generally react to events or policies that impact them personally or run counter to their personal values and political perspectives. Reactionaries may start out with limited knowledge, skills or experience, motivated by a passionate defense of their self interest as it relates to a singular focused issue.

In our Japanese local government managers training program, we ask the participants to use this model to analyze the civic leaders they meet in Portland, and also the civic leaders in Japan. We ask them to plot the civic leaders on the model, and explain why they categorize them as such. We also ask them to think about the pathways the leaders followed to get to where they are at today. This exercise usually stimulates active discussion among the participants, and sometimes provides some hints on how they can work with and help develop/cultivate the civic leaders back in Japan.

This year, we asked PSU undergraduate students who are in the Civic Leadership Minor program to apply this model to analyze the civic leaders they interviewed for the class assignment. Following this blog post: for the next six weeks, we will post the analysis conducted by the students.



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