During the holiday season, you might find some more time to grab a book and learn about the possibilities to innovate our democracies in the digital age and how you can help build better politics. Not sure where to start? Our curated list of favorite books, listed in no particular order, has you covered. Let’s dive in!

1. Solving Public Problems: A Practical Guide to Fix Our Government and Change Our World – Beth Noveck

The challenges societies face today, from inequality to climate change to systemic racism, cannot be solved with yesterday’s toolkit. Solving Public Problems shows how (local) governments can take advantage of digital technology, data, and the collective wisdom of their communities to design and deliver powerful solutions to contemporary problems.

Offering a radical rethinking of the role of the public servant and the skills of the public workforce, this book is building a bridge between public institutions and the huge number of public entrepreneurs doing extraordinary things.

Drawing on lessons learned from decades of advising global leaders and from original interviews and surveys of thousands of public problem solvers, Beth Simone Noveck provides a practical guide for public servants to become more effective, equitable, and inclusive leaders.

2. Open Democracy – Helene Landemore

To the ancient Greeks, democracy meant gathering in public and debating laws set by a randomly selected assembly of several hundred people. To the Icelandic Vikings, democracy meant meeting every summer in a field to discuss issues until consensus was reached.

Our contemporary representative democracies are very different. Modern parliaments are gated and guarded, and it seems as if only certain people―with the right suit, accent, wealth, and connections―are welcome. Diagnosing what is wrong with representative government and aiming to recover some of the lost openness of ancient democracies, Open Democracy presents a new paradigm of democracy in which power is genuinely accessible to ordinary citizens.

Open Democracy demonstrates that placing ordinary people, rather than elites, at the heart of democratic power is not only the true meaning of a government of, by, and for the people, but also feasible and, today more than ever, urgently needed.

3. Power to the Public: The Promise of Public Interest Technology – Tara McGuinness and Hana Schank

As the speed and complexity of the world increases, governments need new ways to effectively tackle the critical challenges of our time―from pandemics and global warming to social media warfare.

In Power to the Public, Tara Dawson McGuinness and Hana Schank describe a revolutionary new approach―public interest technology―that has the potential to transform the way governments around the world solve problems. Through inspiring stories about successful projects ranging from a texting service for teenagers in crisis to a streamlined foster care system, the authors show how public interest technology can make the delivery of services to the public more effective and efficient.

4. Citizens: Why the Key to Fixing Everything is All of Us – Jon Alexander with Ariane Conrad

Citizens opens up a new way of understanding ourselves and shows us what we must do to survive and thrive.

Jon Alexander’s consultancy, the New Citizenship Project, has helped revitalize some of Britain’s biggest organisations such as the Co-op, The Guardian and the National Trust. Here, with the New York Times bestselling writer Ariane Conrad, he shows how human history has moved from the Subject Story of kings and empires to the current Consumer Story. Now, he argues compellingly, it is time to enter the Citizen Story.

Because when our institutions treat people as citizens rather than consumers, everything changes. Unleashing the power of everyone equips us to face the challenges of economic insecurity, climate crisis, public health threats, and polarization.

5. Conflicted: Why Arguments Are Tearing Us Apart and How They Can Bring Us Together – Ian Leslie

Insight and empathy spring from the clash of different perspectives. In a world where it’s easier than ever for people to share their opinions, we should be reaping the benefits of diverse views. Instead, we too often find ourselves mired in hostility or – worse – avoiding disagreement altogether. Ian Leslie argues that this is because most of us never learn how to air our differences in a way that leads to progress.

Conflicted draws essential lessons on how to disagree well from world-class experts: interrogators, hostage negotiators, divorce mediators, diplomats, and addiction counselors. Discover inspiring stories of productive disagreements and learn how local governments can leverage differences to build a collaborative community.

6. We the Possibility: Harnessing Public Entrepreneurship to Solve Our Most Urgent Problems – Mitchell Weiss

During his years as a public official, Mitchell Weiss was told that government can’t do new things or solve tough challenges – it’s too big and slow and bureaucratic. Sadly, this is what so many have come to believe.

In this inspiring and instructive book, Weiss argues that we must shift from a mindset of “Probability Government” – overly focused on performance management and on mimicking “best” practices – to “Possibility Government”. This means a leap to public leadership and management that embraces more imagination and riskier projects.

Weiss shares the basic tenets of this new way of governing in the book’s three sections: “Government That Can Imagine”, “Government That Can Try New Things”, and “Government That Can Scale”.

7. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion – Jonathan Haidt

Drawing on his twenty-five years of groundbreaking research on moral psychology, Jonathan Haidt shows how moral judgments arise not from reason but from gut feelings. He shows why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have such different intuitions about right and wrong, and he shows why each side is actually right about many of its central concerns.

In this subtle yet accessible book, Haidt gives you the key to understanding the miracle of human cooperation, as well as the curse of our eternal divisions and conflicts.

8. Another World is Possible: How to Reignite Social and Political Imagination – Geoff Mulgan

As the world confronts both the catastrophe of Covid and the climate change crisis, we also face a third, less visible emergency: a crisis of imagination. Millions of us can picture the world going awry, yet our confident visions of the future are largely dominated by technology and hardware. Most people struggle to envisage how we could live better – improve our democracy, welfare, neighborhoods or education – fueling a pervasive, pessimistic resignation.

This book argues that, although the threats are real, our fatalism has overshot. Achieving a better future depends on creative imagination: the ability to see where we might want to go, and how we might want to get there. Political veteran Geoff Mulgan offers the lessons we can learn from the past and the methods we can use now to open up our thinking about the future.

9. Erasing Institutional Bias: How to Create Systemic Change for Organizational Inclusion – Tiffany Jana and Ashley Diaz Mejias

All humans have bias, and as a result, so do the institutions we build. Internationally sought-after diversity consultant Tiffany Jana empowers listeners to work against institutional bias no matter what their position is in an organization.    

In a world divided, Erasing Institutional Bias is designed to raise awareness about imbalances and help us hold ourselves accountable for creating a world that works for everyone. Each of us can evaluate our own current role in perpetuating systemic bias and define our new role in breaking it down. Jana and Mejias inspire and equip us so that we can all affect organizational change, together.

10. Poles Apart – Alison Goldsworthy, Laura Osborne and Alexandra Chesterfield

A groundbreaking work on why people become so divided – and how they can brought back together

We humans are social animals, naturally driven to form close-knit groups. All too often, though, these groups become partisan, in worst case mutually hostile. Why does this happen? And what can be done to counter the tendency?

In Poles Apart, an expert on polarization, a behavioral scientist and a professional communicator explain why we are so prone to be drawn into rival, often deeply antagonistic factions. By meticulously showing how and why polarization affects every part of our lives they show what practical and effective steps we can all take to narrow divisions, build respect for others, and create a greater degree of common understanding.

Enjoy your reading time with these books! Do you have any other book tips for us to include in this list? Let us know by tweeting us @citizenlabco!