Urban Programs Resource Network

About Extension

Public Issues and Citizen Politics

Public policy education concerns public issues, the policymaking processes, and opportunities for effective, widespread participation. The issues facing indiviuals, families, local officials, and communities concern how to divide scare resources among competing needs and address those issues in a public way. In a time of rapid change, national well-being may rest more than ever on the public's ability to make informed, inventive choices about public issues.

In a time when no single sector - government, corporate, nonprofit, or citizen volunteer - can resolve these issues alone, forums that bring these sectors together for meaningful dialogue and nonthreatening discussion are necessary. Rather than polarizing and dividing opinions among social and economic groups, University of Illinois Extension is prepared to help individuals explore alternatives within a framework of the public good.

A 1991 study by Richard Harwood, commissioned by the Kettering Foundation of Dayton, indicated that Americans are not apathetic but they do feel impotent when it comes to politics. Citizens engage in the specific areas of public life in which they believe that they can make a difference. Reconnecting citizens and politics will take more than legislative changes that attempt to make the system more accountable. Citizens want a way to understand and participate in politics for themselves.

Citizen politics is what Extension is prepared to enable: increasing the role that each of us can play in solving society's problems , building political skills and developing the capacity to assume public leadership. Extension, in consultation with local advisory groups and community leaders, will help identify public problems that deserve involvement, that include issues such as affordable health care, teenage pregnancy, domestic violence, pesticide application, and child care.

Extension educators, in their capacity to deliver public issues education, may approach topics through:

  • issue analysis
  • public policy education
  • leadership development
  • organization development
  • community development
  • coalition-building
  • community problem-solving
  • mediation and conflict resolution
  • citizen politics