People-Centered Oversight

Helping those with the Most at Stake to Hold our Government Accountable

People-Centered Oversight Research Study: Understanding how States are Involving People in Legislative Oversight

In describing legislative oversight, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1953 said the legislative branch “is meant to be the eyes and voice, and to embody the wisdom and will of its constituents.”[1] To fulfill that duty, legislators must not only gather facts to ensure that agencies faithfully execute the law. They must also seek input from the people to find out whether government programs are meeting people’s needs. People-Centered Oversight (PCO) is about tapping into people’s experience with government programs to improve public services and make government work for all.

With the support of the Democracy Fund, the Levin Center has embarked on a research project aimed at understanding the extent to which state legislatures’ oversight work focuses on how people experience government. This includes examining:

  • Whether legislatures enable citizens to provide input during the oversight process and how that process works.
  • Whether legislatures require state agencies to gather information from the public about their experience with government programs.
  • Other sources of information legislators use to study the implementation of programs.
  • How all this data is considered in the policymaking process.

The study will consist of desk-top research investigating PCO behaviors and processes from all fifty state legislatures, with the goal of gathering at least three examples from each state. The main source of information will be the state legislatures’ official websites , supplemented by other sources, such as the legislature’s social media channels (e.g., YouTube, Facebook & Twitter) and general news sources. Case studies will be selected from the most pertinent examples, with the aim of providing detailed research and information on the best PCO practices occurring around the country.

Our goal is to provide practical recommendations at the institutional and individual legislator level for all states to implement PCO practices. Our hope is that this research will enhance our understanding of PCO practices and inspire lawmakers to focus on incorporating citizen input into their oversight work.

[1] Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP, 140 S.Ct. 2019, 2031 (2020), citing United States v. Rumely, 345 U. S. 41, 43 (1953).

Pilot Project in Flint, MI

The Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy is committed to preventing the recurrence of tragedies like the Flint water crisis and other failures where public officials do not pay attention to the on-the-ground results of policies they created. The water crisis revealed an oversight and accountability gap that exists across the policy landscape in which the concerns and fundamental rights of marginalized communities can easily be ignored, and residents lack the resources and platforms to effectively share how policies affect their lives and make their voices heard. The Levin Center piloted in Flint, Michigan a new approach to oversight and accountability we call People-Centered Oversight (“PCO”) that is designed to close that gap.

Working with residents and community organizations and leaders in Flint, we designed and tested strategies and technologies that empowered people to share their lived experience with government programs and to provide feedback about the real-world impacts of government policies. Our pilot project was led by Chia Morgan and Jasmine McKenney, two experienced community organizers from Flint who brought a wealth of talent, expertise, and passion to empowering their neighbors to communicate their “groundtruths” on vital issues and programs. The Levin Center partnered with local community leaders, faith leaders, and media outlets to capture and amplify the words, pictures, and videos of Flint community members. To learn more about the pilot project, check our list of articles and our slide deck below.

Partnership with Flintside and Flint Beat - Local Solutions Journalism

Logo for Flint beat/FlintSide at the top and logo for the Levin Center at the bottom

We have teamed up with local news outlets Flintside and Flint Beat  for a story series that aims to address the issues most affecting the Flint community. Part of our People-Centered Oversight project, the series of community stories will bring citizens’ voices into the legislative oversight process to elevate people’s stories and concerns and hold government accountable. 

List of Articles

People-Centered Oversight Slide Deck