Do-it-Yourself Democracy

The Rise of the Public Engagement Industry

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This book investigates the causes and consequences of the contemporary outsourcing of public engagement processes by local, state, and federal governments and agencies. These quasi-legislative processes are increasingly common elements of decision-making and policymaking, but little is known about the private consultants who facilitate these processes on behalf of public administrators, or the ways in which these professionals mobilize to develop and market their products and services. This is despite extensive attention to the industries and professions behind the expansion of similar quasi-judicial processes like alternative dispute resolution and mediation.

At the heart of such a study is an investigation of the ways in which new efforts to democratize politics affect civic engagement and public trust in institutional sponsors. Building on research on related empowerment reforms and industries, I demonstrate how the public deliberation industry draws on three contemporary trends: expanding opportunities for informal participation in governance, new forms of privatization in the public sphere, and increasing formalization of democratic accountability.

The research for this book is based on Caroline Lee’s five-year ethnographic study of the emerging field of public engagement facilitation, and the first social scientific survey of deliberation practitioners, conducted by Caroline Lee and Francesca Polletta in fall 2009.


Lee, Caroline W. 2015. Do-it-Yourself Democracy: The Rise of the Public Engagement Industry. Oxford University Press.

Related Articles:

Laurence Bherer and Caroline W. Lee. 2019. “Consultants: The Emerging Participation Industry.” In The Handbook of Democratic Innovation and Governance, edited by Stephen Elstub and Oliver Escobar. Cheltenham, UK; Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

Lee, Caroline W. 2017. “Public Participation Professionals in the U.S.: Confronting Challenges of Equity and Empowerment.” Pp. 65-86 in The Professionalization of Public Participation, edited by Laurence Bherer, Mario Gauthier, and Louis Simard. New York: Routledge.

Lee, Caroline W. 2016. “Les 21st Century Town Meetings dans les Annees 1990 et 2000: Assemblees Deliberantes et Marchandisation de L’authenticite Politique dans une Epoque d’Austerite.” Traduction: Laurent Vannini. Participations 14(2): 51-82.

Lee, Caroline W. 2016. “The Arts and Crafts of Participatory Reforms: How Can Socially Engaged Art and Public Deliberation Inform Each Other?Field 3(Spring).

Lee, Caroline W. 2015. “Participatory Practices in Organizations.” Sociology Compass 9: 272-288.

Lee, Caroline W. 2014. “Walking the Talk: The Performance of Authenticity in Public Engagement Work.” The Sociological Quarterly 55: 493-513.

Lee, Caroline W. and Zachary Romano (Lafayette ’10). 2013. “Democracy’s New Discipline: Public Deliberation as Organizational Strategy.” Organization Studies Special Issue on “Social Movements, Civil Societies and Corporations” 34: 733-753.

Lee, Caroline W., Kelly McNulty (Lafayette ‘11) and Sarah Shaffer (Lafayette ‘11). 2013. “‘Hard Times, Hard Choices’: Marketing Retrenchment as Civic Empowerment in an Era of Neoliberal Crisis.” Socio-Economic Review 11: 81-106.

Lee, Caroline W. 2011. “Five Assumptions Academics Make about Public Deliberation, and Why They Deserve Rethinking.” Journal of Public Deliberation 7(1): 1-48.