Kennedy School Saguaro Seminar

The thesis of Bowling Alone is that a variety of technological, social, and economic changes over the last three decades have "rendered obsolete" a stock of social capital. Shorthand for saying that things like television, two-career family, generational changes have made fewer of us go on picnics, join the Rotary or hang out at the bar.

Approximately one century ago, Americans faced a similar pattern. Rapid industrialization, immigration, and urbanization brought waves of populations from a farm in Appleton Wisconsin to Chicago or from a shetl to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In the process millions of Americans left friends, families and social institutions behind.

What's amazing about the Progressive Era is that from this civic nadir, Americans were hugely inventive about creating the social institutions to reconnect Americans in their changes circumstances. And the founding dates of most of the civic pillars that endure to this date were founded in a brief several decade period beginning in the late 1800s: from Hasassah to the Boy Scouts to the League of Women Voters to the Rotary to the NAACP. In the process, Americans founded reading groups and playgrounds and kindergardens and settlement houses and so much more.

Chapter 23 of Bowling Alone describes the amazing parallels between the Progressive Era and our current civic predicament and the moving story of civic invention in that period. Putnam focuses on the shortcomings of this period in the hopes that Americans sparking a similar civic resurgence can do so in a way that better fosters a stronger civic America.

Executive Summary
The Saguaro Seminar: Civic Engagement in America is an exciting initiative of Professor Robert D. Putnam at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. The project focuses on expanding what we know about our levels of trust and community engagement and on developing strategies and efforts to increase this engagement. A signature effort has been a multi-year dialogue we have held on how we can increasingly build bonds of civic trust among Americans and their communities.

"Bettertogether" the final report of the Saguaro Seminar is now available at

The Seminar participants were a diverse, exceptional group of 33 thinkers and doers, including articulate leaders from all parts of the country - from coast to coast, from small town and suburb to the inner city - and from all walks of life - from government officials to religious leaders, from labor union activists to high-tech and business executives, from elected officials to street workers. All participants demonstrate a deep commitment to improving the infrastructure of national civic life. These twenty-five practitioners and eight academic thinkers met for two-day sessions through late-1999 to develop a handful of practical strategies with national applicability for increasing Americans' connections with one another.

The Seminar met eight times, see Meetings for a description of some of the issues and ideas considered at each session.

Also, linked from each Meeting page is a resource list for more information on Civic Engagement and Youth, Government, Politics, Faith-Based Efforts, Work, and the Arts. For information on how you can increase social capital in your own community go to

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