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Family Life 1st is based on an explicit model of democratic involvement of families in civic work. Below is an outline of this model, called "The Families and Democracy Model," along with references, examples, and a description of the broader model--the Public Work Model--from which it is derived.


The Families and Democracy Model
(developed by William J. Doherty, Family Social Science Department,
University of Minnesota, based on the Public Work Model of the
Center for Democracy and Citizenship, University of Minnesota)


Strengthening families in our time must be done mostly by families themselves, working democratically in local communities.

The greatest resource for strengthening families is the knowledge, wisdom, and lived experience of families themselves, supplemented by professional knowledge as needed.


Professionals should be partners in this movement, not the drivers of it. The traditional "program" approach to working with families does not adequately engage families as full partners in identifying challenges, mobilizing resources, generating plans, and carrying out initiatives.

A local community of families should work to retrieve its own historical, cultural, and religious traditions about family life--and bring them into the contemporary world of family life.

No one should involved only as a consumer of some service or a spectator at
a meeting; everyone is called to be a producer and contributor as well.

No groups should look only inward; all groups have an external mission as well.

Families and democracy projects should have a bold vision (a BHAG--a big, hairy, audacious goal) while working on focused, specific goals.


Doherty, W. J. (forthcoming July, 2000). Family science and family citizenship: Toward a model of community partnership with families. Family Relations

Doherty, W. J., & Beaton, J. M. (forthcoming August, 2000). Family therapists, community, and civic renewal. Family Process

Boyte, H. C., & Kari, N. N. (1996). Building America: The democratic promise of public work. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. (

Boyte, Harry C., Kari, Nancy. N., Lewis, Jim, Skelton, Nan, & O'Donoghue, Jennifer (2000). Creating the Commonwealth: Public Politics and the Philosophy of Public Work. Dayton, OH: Kettering Foundation.



Family Life 1st

Parents in Wayzata, MN, mobilizing to take back family life from overscheduled hyperactivity and competitive parenting that depletes family time and family connections.

Mission: Family Life 1st is a group of citizens building a community where family life is an honored and celebrated priority. Initial action: a "Family Life 1st Seal of Approval" for organizations that partner with families in creating balance between family life and outside activities.

BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal): to be ground zero for a national movement of democratic parent action to take back family life from the individualistic consumer culture

ECFE Around the Block (ECFE: Early Childhood Family Education)

Adding citizen action to a parent education program that reaches 260,000 families per year.


1) To engage the energy, wisdom, and talents of parents to work together in public ways for the benefit of all children and families in the community.

2) To engage parent educators to make public democracy building a core part of their professional identity and work with parents.

Initial actions: eliciting community concerns in parent education group, spawning specific citizen actions, for example, pesticides, bus safety, violent videos in community center.

BHAG: to transform the traditional practice of parent education into a laboratory for democratic learning and action

Partners in Diabetes

A group of individuals with diabetes, family members, a physician, a diabetic nurse, and other professional staff working democratically to create a diabetes support partner program in Physicians' Clinic in St. Paul's midway neighborhood.

Mission: A community of people working together to promote the well-being of patients and families at Physicians Clinic who are touched by diabetes.

BHAG: to create a democratic model of health care that unleashing the capacities of people in community
to support one anothers' health.

What is Public Work?