We’re not a conventional DC think tank.

We don’t have specialized programs or fellows. We’re lean and agile, joining forces and working with allies to provide funders with maximum returns on their investment. Our team will consist of a handful of dedicated and talented generalists. Our affiliation with the Defending Democracy Together Institute gives us ready access to stellar and scalable communications, legal, finance, and administrative support we can draw upon as needed.

Our perspective and focus: We are a solutions-oriented, center-right team in a part of civil society that is prone to righteous, all-or-nothing stances. We are convinced that in our diverse and disputatious democracy, sustainable improvements must reflect the perspectives of a broad cross-section of citizens. We keep a sharp focus on leadership, political parties, and how they can be improved in the here and now, within the existing rules of the game. Amid the ongoing push for democracy reforms, we must also seek to get to a better politics so the rules of the game are respected and can be fine-tuned.

The story behind our name: We draw our inspiration from Abraham Lincoln’s 1838 speech on “The Perpetuation of our Political Institutions” to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln argued it was up to his and each new generation of Americans to defend the timeless principles of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the rule of law. This meant standing up to threats posed by excessive political passions, mob violence, and would-be dictators. Lincoln warned that, “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

How we work: Our approach is experimental and collaborative, as is fitting for a new venture in which we do not presume to have everything figured out ourselves. We will pose big questions, explore the answers with a range of blue-chip 501(c)3 partners in a series of projects, and develop practical solutions to improve our democracy. We will scale up what works and wrap up what does not.

We are weaving a network. Our theory of change is to reimagine political leadership and parties and the contributions they could make to U.S. democracy by rallying a coalition of like-minded charitable organizations dedicated to these goals. The task is too big to tackle on our own. But together with the allies we enlist, we can seed and cultivate powerful ideas and examples of what good looks like for these essential but much-maligned components of our democracy, thereby paving the way for more of it.

Toward this end, we seek to weave a network of political leaders, partisans, advocates, think tankers, scholars, and funders who share these goals. We will be guided in this task by four principles for successful collaboration in networks developed by Jane Wei-Skillern and Nora Silver:

  • “Focus on mission before organization. Effective network leaders build strategies that advance the mission even when it does not result in direct benefits to their organization.”
  • “Build partnerships based on trust, not control. Leaders depend upon shared values and trust rather than top-down controls and accountability systems.”
  • “Promote others rather than yourself. Network leaders exhibit a strong norm of humility above all else, sharing credit and foregoing opportunities for individual advancement and institutional growth and brand building.”
  • “Build constellations rather than lone stars. Leaders who catalyze successful networks acknowledge their weaknesses as readily as their strengths. The goal is to build the larger system that is necessary for delivering on the mission, not to become the ‘market leader.’”

Lyceum Labs is a fiscally sponsored project of the Defending Democracy Together Institute (DDTI), a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC.