The Foundation concluded operations on December 31, 2020. Learn more.

Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century

In 2018, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences convened a bipartisan Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship. Members of the Commission – an ideologically diverse group drawn from academia, civil society, politics, business, and the arts – worked for nearly two years and hosted 47 listening sessions across the country to identify changes that can strengthen America’s institutions and civic culture.

In the Commission’s final report – Our Common Purpose: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century – members joined in unanimous agreement on a set of recommendations to create:

  1. Equal representation
  2. Empowered voters
  3. Responsive government
  4. Connected communities
  5. Social media for the public good
  6. A culture of commitment to American democracy and one another

The COVID-19 pandemic and widespread protests demanding justice for Black lives have exposed deep cracks in America’s social contract. But the momentous events of 2020 also mark a time of significant opportunity in the nation’s democratic experiment. In the words of Commission co-chair Stephen Heintz, “Our recommendations won’t solve our problems. But we do believe they will build the capacity to work on our problems.”

Through 2026 – the nation’s 250th anniversary – the Commission’s leaders, its members, and the American Academy will work with a coalition of champions to promote the recommendations in Our Common Purpose. More than 20 champions have already committed to advancing one or more priorities to reinvent American democracy to serve all Americans.

The S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation is pleased to fund the work of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Founded in 1780, the Academy convenes leaders across disciplines, professions, and perspectives to address significant challenges. Projects that bolster American citizens’ understanding of and engagement with the institutions of their government are a hallmark of the Academy’s work.

Learn about the Commission and read the full report at

Access coverage of the report on the PBS NewsHour and NPR’s All Things Considered.