Improv for Democracy

How to Bridge Differences and Develop the Communication and Leadership Skills Our World Needs

By Don Waisanen

Subjects: Performing Arts, Education, Leadership Studies, Democracy, Political Communication
Series: SUNY series in New Political Science
Paperback : 9781438481166, 280 pages, January 2021
Hardcover : 9781438481159, 280 pages, October 2020

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Table of contents


Introduction: The Upward Call

1. A New Curriculum for Training Engaged, Innovative, and Flexible Citizens

2. How to Prepare for and Practice Improv for Democracy

3. Using Improv to Develop Communication Excellence

4. Using Improv to Develop Leadership Excellence

5. Using Improv to Develop Civic Excellence

Conclusion: Developing for Our Global Futures


Explores how improv-based teaching and training methods can bridge differences and promote the communication, leadership, and civil skills our world urgently needs.


While much has been written about what democracies should look like, much less has been said about how to actually train citizens in democratic perspectives and skills. Amid the social and political crises of our time, many programs seeking to bridge differences between citizens draw from the surprising field of improvisational theater. Improv trains people to engage with one another in ways that promote empathy and understanding. Don Waisanen demonstrates how improv-based teaching and training methods can forward the communication, leadership, and civic skills our world urgently needs. Waisanen includes specific exercises and thought experiments that can be used by educators; advocates for civic engagement and civil discourse; practitioners and scholars in communication, leadership, and conflict management; training and development specialists; administrators looking to build new curricula or programming; and professionals seeking to embed productive, sustainable, and socially responsible forms of interaction in and across organizations. Ultimately this book offers a new approach for helping people become more creative, heighten awareness, think faster, build confidence, operate flexibly, improve expression and governance skills, and above all, think and act more democratically.

Don Waisanen is Professor of Communication at the Marxe School of Public and International Affairs at Baruch College, City University of New York. He is the author of Political Conversion: Personal Transformation as Strategic Public Communication.


"An excellent introduction to improv theory and techniques that would be useful to a very broad range of practitioners and teachers. " — Martin Carcasson, Colorado State University