Is Humanity the Most Important Ingredient in Public Dialogue?

thumbnailOn April 22, 2014, Harvard Kennedy School Professor Archon Fung moderated a discussion between Joan Blades, co-founder of MoveOn.org, and Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots. The event was sponsored by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation in collaboration with the John F. Kennedy, Jr. Forum. The conversation between Blades and Meckler, two groundbreaking and imaginative innovators who happen to fall on opposite ends of the political spectrum, was an extension of LivingRoomConversations.org, an effort started by Blades to promote respectful, open, and meaningful political conversations among people and across ideological divisions. The following blog post recounts the evening’s highlights. You can watch the entire conversation by clicking on the YouTube link below. Continue reading

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Are High Levels of Social Media Use by Chinese Government Agencies Increasing Local Participation?

ganli1Below is a first-hand account and reflection on the impact of social media on governance and participation in China from Li Gan, a recent graduate of Harvard Kennedy School and Ford Foundation Mason Fellow with the Ash Center. Prior to attending Harvard, Gan was chief editor of science and information technology for the popular online media platform Sina.com. Gan has also helped local governments in China to leverage social media to interact with local residents. Continue reading

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My Challenges: Raisa Carrasco Velez, Harvard Kennedy School Alumna and Ash Center Fellow

raisa2Asked to diagnose the health of American democracy, Raisa Carrasco Velez highlights the connection between inequality, education, opportunity and engagement in under-represented communities. Continue reading

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Filed under Cities, In the News, Lawrence, Massachusetts, My Challenges, Representation

What Happened When the City of Boston Asked Teenagers for Help With the Budget

HarvardAsh_2This post by Hollie Russon Gilman was originally published by Next City. We have been following the City of Boston’s first-in-the-nation youth participatory budgeting initiative all year. Read earlier posts from Russon Gilman and others here. Continue reading

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Can Local Innovations in Immigrant Integration Expand Our Notions of Democracy?

This post from Harvard Kennedy School student Isaac Lara recounts a recent panel discussion hosted by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation exploring local innovations in immigrant integration and how they might be expanding our notions of American democracy.

Co-hosted by the Harvard Journal for Hispanic Policy and the HKS Progressive Caucus, the event featured Kamal Essaheb of the National Immigration Law Center, Kica Matos of the Center for Community Change, and Carlos Saavedra, a local immigration activist. Moderated by Quinton Mayne, the discussion moved from discussing local initiatives aimed at integrating local immigrant populations to local law enforcement and the potential of national immigration reform. Continue reading

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Filed under Cities, Decline of Popular Movements, Immigration & Citizenship, Innovation, Participation, Representation

My Challenges: Gar Alperovitz, Author of ‘What Then Must We Do,’ Wants Us to Get Serious about System Change

garAsked to diagnose the health of American democracy, Gar Alperovitz calls for more debate about our economic and political systems—one that links real-world experience and activism to a theory of politics in historical change. Continue reading

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Filed under Decline of Popular Movements, Inequality vs Democracy, Innovation, My Challenges, Participation, Workplace Democracy

Participatory Budgeting: A Review of the Promise and Pitfalls

By Richa Mishra

ARI-Cameroon-Paper-cover-sml-208x300In December 2013, the White House included Participatory Budgeting as a key initiative in its Second Open Government National Action Plan. As a follow-up, in May 2014, the Office of Science and Technology hosted a day-long discussion on Participatory Budgeting among practitioners, academics and researchers, government staffers and funders. Around the same time, the Africa Research Institute published a report on a PB initiative in Yaoundé, Cameroon. The contextual details of these two events could not be more disparate and yet the key objectives and concerns revealed a striking similarity. Continue reading

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A Revolution in Politics? Social Media in China, Egypt, and the U.S.

Ash Center faculty members Tony Saich, Tarek Masoud, and Archon Fung recently discussed the rise of social media and its impact on government and social movements with students, alumni, and supporters of Harvard Kennedy School. This post was originally published on the Harvard Kennedy School website.

 

By Maisie O’Brien
From tweeting a positive comment about a presidential candidate to liking the Facebook page of a local nonprofit, citizens are constantly using social media in civic-minded ways. But can this new form of communication substantively improve government or transform it entirely? Continue reading

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Filed under Frontiers of Research, In the News, Media and Journalism, Participation, Technology

Understanding How Communities Respond to Immigration

This spring, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation co-hosted a town hall discussion on integrating immigrant communities in Lawrence, Massachusetts as part of its Challenges to Democracy Series. The series is exploring the challenges posed by immigration and how communities are working to find solutions to such. Part of this broader discussion about immigration and democracy comes from the perspective of social scientists, while some of it comes from having conversations similar to the Lawrence meeting to learn about the challenges and opportunities posed by changing populations.

Below is an account of the key themes and ideas from the discussion, which was moderated by WBUR journalist Asma Khalid and featured four Lawrence residents active on the issue. Long-time advocate for Lawrence and community development Bill Traynor and Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera welcomed the audience of almost 200 people, with Professor Archon Fung providing concluding remarks. Continue reading

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Students to Somerville Mayor Curtatone: Separate Happiness from Hedonism and Citizenship from Demand-Making

This post by Harvard Kennedy School student Sudeep Doshi recounts the fourth session of a Cities, Technology and Democracy Study Group at Harvard Kennedy School hosted by student groups Tech4Change and the Regional, State, Local, and Tribal (RSLT) Governance Professional Interest Council, along with the Ash Center. The session featured Jorrit de Jong, Lecturer in Public Policy and Management, and Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone of Somerville, Massachusetts. The group discussed how measuring citizen wellbeing, scaling technology-based innovations and increasing tech equity could enhance public engagement in the city of Somerville. Continue reading

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Tech Experts from the Right and Left Agree: Digital Allows for Real Engagement, But is Anyone Listening Yet?

The Ash Center recently hosted a panel discussion with Matt Lira, Deputy Executive Director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Macon Phillips, Coordinator for the Bureau of International Information Programs at the U.S. Department of State. Moderated by Archon Fung, the discussion provided unique perspectives from both the Right and Left of the US political spectrum on how digital technology is affecting the political landscape. Lira and Phillips agreed upon the transformative role that digital platforms can play in both electoral politics and in more responsive governance, but we still have some time before digital technology reaches its potential as a tool to encourage public participation. Continue reading

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Calling All Innovators! New Award for Public Engagement in Government

By Christina Marchand

The Innovations in American Government Awards program is currently accepting applications and nominations for the next round of competition (Deadline: June 20, 2014).

This year we are very pleased to offer a special $100,000 award for programs and initiatives that focus on public engagement and participation, in conjunction with our Challenges to Democracy series. Continue reading

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Public Sector Principles for Encouraging and Supporting Innovation in Democratic Participation

This post was originally published by the Brookings Institution blog TechTank as a series from Hollie Russon Gilman (read part one and part two). A Civic Innovation Fellow at the New America Foundation, Russon Gilman is tracking and studying tech innovations in democratic participation across the country. In this post she observes a set of key principles held by successful government innovators and then explores the modernization of elections as an example of how one might apply those principles. Russon Gilman is a regular contributor to the Challenges to Democracy blog, including pieces on New York’s Talking Transition and Boston’s youth participatory budgeting (updated here). Continue reading

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Can Digital Technology Boost the Quantity and Quality of Civic Participation? A Talk with Tom Cosgrove

This post by Harvard Kennedy School student Neil Dandavati recounts the third session of a Cities, Technology and Democracy Study Group at Harvard Kennedy School hosted by student groups Tech4Change and the Regional, State, Local, and Tribal (RSLT) Governance Professional Interest Council, along with the Ash Center. The session featured Quinton Mayne, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, and Tom Cosgrove, co-founder and current board member of New Voice Strategies. Mayne and Cosgrove discussed the promise and pitfalls of using digital technology to increase civic engagement in public decision making. The author also based this post on a follow-up conversation he had with Cosgrove in April 2014. Continue reading

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In the News: Burlington, VT Builds a Digital Commons

In response to a recent Knight News Challenge titled How can we strengthen the Internet for free expression and innovation?, Bradley Holt profiles a new effort in Burlington, VT funded by the Knight Foundation that leverages the city’s fiber-optic gigabit network to build a new virtual public space for “innovative community organizers, nonprofits and civic hackers.” Continue reading

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Who Calls the Shots? Who Really Rules? New Research on Influence in American Policy

By Richa Mishra

Justice Louis Brandeis once stated, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” More recently, humorist Fran Lebowitz noted, “In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy.” A new study shows that both, perhaps, were right: the wealthiest Americans “generally get their way” on issues that the average citizen disagrees with, from tax reform and corporate regulation to abortion. Continue reading

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Bryan Cranston Captures the Virtues and Vices of the Ultimate Politician: LBJ in “All the Way”

On October 6, 2013, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation collaborated with the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) on a performance of Robert Schenkkan’s political drama All the Way. The play focuses on Lyndon B. Johnson’s first year as President with a particular eye to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Bryan Cranston, fresh off of his Breaking Bad success, starred as Johnson. Following the performance, A.R.T. Artistic Director Ryan McKittrick moderated a discussion with actor Michael McKean, who played J. Edgar Hoover in the production, and Alex Keyssar, Stirling Professor of History and Social Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. The following post highlights elements of the conversation. Continue reading

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Frontiers of Democracy Research: The Gettysburg Project

This post highlights a new initiative exploring the decline of public engagement and ways that we might improve the scope, diversity and impact of organizing and mobilization of the public. Lead faculty Marshall Ganz and Archon Fung first introduced students to their new initiative, The Gettysburg Project, in 2013. This post captures that introductory discussion for an occasional series on the blog exploring the frontiers of research on democratic governance. The series highlights the work of the Ash Center’s faculty and Democracy Fellows whose research illuminates aspects of democratic governance, with a focus on innovations in public participation and on urgent substantive policy or social problems related to democratic governance. Continue reading

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My Challenges: Oded Grajew, Founder of the World Social Forum and Sustainable Cities Program, Brazil

Asked to assess the health of democracy in the U.S. and compare it to his home country of Brazil, Oded Grajew comments on the power of business in a democracy to both negatively influence politics and to bring positive social change. Continue reading

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The Responsive City: Implementing Technology is a Decidedly Human Act

This post by Harvard Kennedy School student Jen North recounts the second session of a new Cities, Technology and Democracy Study Group at Harvard Kennedy School hosted by student groups Tech4Change and Regional, State, Local and Tribal (RSLT) Governance Professional Interest Council, along with the Ash Center. The session featured Susan Crawford, the John C. Reilly Visiting Professor of Intellectual Property at Harvard Law School. Professor Crawford discussed how city government officials and civic activists use data tools and information access strategies to transform city government. Continue reading

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Donald Rumsfeld as Performance Artist: A Conversation with Errol Morris

On February 26, 2014, the Ash Center hosted a screening of the new film The Unknown Known, followed by a spirited conversation with the filmmaker Errol Morris as part of its Challenges to Democracy public dialogue series. After the screening, Morris took questions from an engaged audience in a large classroom on the Harvard Kennedy School campus. Moderated by Archon Fung, the conversation shifted between the making of Morris’ film, his impressions of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (the subject of the film), and dimensions of executive power. Below are three excerpts from the discussion. Continue reading

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Youth Lead the Change: Boston Participatory Budgeting Goes Online for Idea Collection Phase

This post by Hollie Russon Gilman is part of our ongoing coverage of Boston’s first-in-the-nation participatory budgeting initiative, which is distinct in that it is youth-focused and being driven by the mayor’s office. Read our earlier posts here and here. Continue reading

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Building the Infrastructure to Support Public Engagement and Participation

This post is excerpted from How we tackled “Civic Infrastructure” at NCDD 2012 by Sandy Heierbacher, originally published by the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD). Heierbacher asks readers to consider how to develop “the underlying structures needed to help ensure people can come together to address their challenges effectively.” We encourage you to join the conversation and leave your comment below or on Sandy’s original post. Continue reading

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Integrating Immigrant Communities: March 31 Panel Discussion in Lawrence, Mass

On March 31, the Ash Center is co-hosting a panel discussion addressing the topic of immigration from a local perspective. Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera will begin the discussion moderated by WBUR’s Asma Khalid.

 

By Maisie O’Brien

As Washington’s continued partisan gridlock has cast great doubt on the likelihood of passing comprehensive immigration reform in the near term, attention is turning to local initiatives – particularly as cities and states seek innovative ways to integrate immigrant communities into political and civic life. Continue reading

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In the News: Surveying the Landscape of Local Government Public Engagement Efforts

Our friends at the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) pointed us to a new article in the International City/County Management Association’s (ICMA) magazine Public Management. Authors Robert Vogel of Peak Democracy, Evelina Moulder of ICMA, and Mike Huggins of Civic Praxis paint a picture of local government public participation efforts, including their nature, purpose, scope, outcomes, and more. Their data come from the ICMA 2012 State of the Profession Survey. Continue reading

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In the News: Millennials Are Down on Government

Emma Roller reports for National Journal on two surveys that reflect a shift toward the middle and a waning trust in government among Millennials.

Millennials have long been the carbuncle on the GOP’s backside, but these studies suggest some ways that Republicans can make inroads with younger voters. Twentysomethings today are less ideologically “pure” than older voters, and therefore more likely to be swayed to one side or another. Continue reading

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VouliWatch: Crowd-sourcing the Greek Parliament

This post comes to us from the birthplace of democracy. Authors Antonis Schwarz and Harvard Kennedy School alum Panagiotis Vlachos, MPA ’13, paint a dark picture of the political landscape in Greece, from distrust to fury. Yet out of this unrest and pessimism they describe launching VouliWatch, a new online platform encouraging dialogue between Greek citizens and their elected representatives. VouliWatch, whose beta version launched this week, is the latest iteration of ParliamentWatch, a German innovation that has spread to six other European countries. Continue reading

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Participatory Budgeting: Re-imagining Civic Engagement in the City of Boston

This post by Crosby Burns recounts the first session of a new Cities, Technology and Democracy Study Group at Harvard Kennedy School hosted by student groups Tech4Change and Regional, State, Local and Tribal Professional Interest Council, along with the Ash Center. The session featured HKS Professor Archon Fung and Chris Osgood and Shari Davis from the City of Boston. The subject was Boston’s first-in-the-nation youth participatory budgeting initiative, with a focus on the practical challenges of implementation from political leadership to performance indicators. Continue reading

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Frontiers of Democracy Research: American Political Science Association Weighs in on Congressional Gridlock

This post highlights a recent report from the American Political Science Association, Negotiating Agreement in Politics: Report of the Task Force on Negotiating Agreement in Politics, edited by Jane Mansbridge and Cathie Jo Martin. Mansbridge is recent president of APSA and an affiliated faculty member of the Ash Center. The post is part of an occasional series exploring the frontiers of research on democratic governance. The series highlights the work of the Ash Center’s faculty and Democracy Fellows whose research illuminates aspects of democratic governance, with a focus on innovations in public participation and on urgent substantive policy or social problems related to democratic governance. Continue reading

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In the News: What’s Gone Wrong with Democracy?

Check out this in-depth essay from The Economist on democracy across the globe. “Democracy was the most successful political idea of the 20th century,” they write. “Why has it run into trouble, and what can be done to revive it?” Below are a few excerpts. Continue reading

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Filed under Cities, Corruption, Decline of Popular Movements, In the News, Inequality vs Democracy, Media and Journalism, Participation, Political Polarization, Representation, Technology

In the News: A Cure for Presidential Power Grabs?

On February 26, the Ash Center is hosting a screening of Errol Morris’ new film “The Unknown Known” and a discussion with the filmmaker, as part of its Challenges to Democracy public dialogue series. One of the themes in the film, and in our series, is executive power.

Much has been written about the real threats posed by expanding presidential power, but in a recent commentary on Huffington Post, Yale University’s Bruce Ackerman suggests real solutions, which are more difficult to find. Continue reading

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The Unknown Known: Film Screening and Discussion Featuring Director Errol Morris

Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris to speak at Harvard Kennedy School on February 26, 2014 after a screening of his new documentary film The Unknown Known.

 

One of the challenges in the Ash Center’s Challenges to Democracy public dialogue series is the expansion of presidential power and the potential threats it poses to our democracy’s compact between the chief executive, Congress, the courts, and the people. Continue reading

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Boston Launches First Youth-Driven Participatory Budgeting in the US

By Hollie Russon Gilman, PhD

There is a general sense that young people don’t want to engage in politics. And yet, we are seeing young people increasingly using new technologies to express their civic identities. Maybe young people are engaging politically in new ways? From crowdfunding for good or using social media to convey political preferences, perhaps young people can help us imagine and innovate new relationships with traditional governance institutions.

Boston’s Participatory Budgeting (PB) is an interesting example in envisioning just what is possible. Continue reading

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Immigration Reform Stalled in Washington, Cities and Towns Taking the Lead Again

Immigration policy and paths to citizenship are hotly contested topics on the national stage, yet immigration is most often experienced locally. As shown by the recent news reports below, cities like Hartford, CT and towns like Oakley, CA are on the front lines of some of the most important questions and tensions related to immigration.

How, for example, does the integration of local immigrant communities challenge our notions of justice and equality? How far should we extend civil and political rights, for example, to immigrants with or without authorization; and what responsibilities should we expect in return? Continue reading

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In the News: Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index

Transparency International recently released its 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.  Each year the Index measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption in 177 countries and territories. This year’s report confirms that corruption remains a global threat. Continue reading

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Reviewing the Global Prospects for Democracy and Democratization in 2014

In this post, Ash Center Research Fellow Richa Mishra reviews a set of recent articles and reports on democratic movements, public opinion and democracy promotion efforts. Mishra, who has extensive experience in promoting democratic institutions in transitional political systems, highlights the importance of contextual nuance in understanding democratic twists and turns. Continue reading

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In the News: Rethinking Social Media’s Role in Protests and Elections

Much has been said about the key role social media has played in the Arab Spring and other people led protests around the world. Two recent pieces from Olga Onuch of The Washington Post and Alex Hanna and Kevin Harris of Foreign Policy take another look at whether or not social media is instrumental in igniting and sustaining popular public protests in Ukraine and as an accurate predictor of electoral outcomes in the Middle East. Continue reading

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In the News: Engaging Marginalized Communities in Reporting Environmental, Other Abuses

Grant Tudor reports for Forbes on how relatively simple and user friendly technologies are empowering remote and marginalized communities to monitor, report and demand accountability for environmental and human rights abuses and making ”evidence—and marginalized voices—harder to ignore.” Continue reading

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Can Hackathons Enable Cities to Better Engage Local Immigrant Communities?

Below is a recap of the America’s Datafest hackathon hosted by Harvard Kennedy School students on November 2, 2013. Hackathons are an increasingly popular mechanism for cities to engage local computer programmers and tech entrepreneurs in designing new apps or other innovations that serve a public purpose. Alison Flint, a Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) student and co-chair of the HKS Tech4Change student group, explores both the promise and practical challenges of hackathons. Part of the Challenges to Democracy series, Datafest combined two of the challenges we will focus on: immigration and technology. Continue reading

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Tapping into the Robust and Active Dialogue and Deliberation Community

The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD) has to be one of the nation’s best resources for practitioners in the field of increasing participation and engagement, as well as citizens interested in deepening democracy in their own community. NCDD provides tools, ideas, potential collaborators, events, and more across a broad spectrum of issue areas. Continue reading

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In the News: One Party Rule in Many US States

Haeyoun Park, Jeremy Ashkenas, and Mike Bostock created a powerful infographic on the presence of one party rule in many US states for The New York Times.

 

Republicans or Democrats have single-party control of both the legislature and the governor’s office in 36 states, the most in six decades. Lawmakers in these states have been seeking to reshape government policy in recent years, from legalizing same-sex marriage to restricting labor unions. Continue reading

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First Chapter: Affluence and Influence by Martin Gilens

Below is an excerpt from the first chapter of Martin Gilens’ 2012 book, Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America. One of the most exciting political scientists in the country, Gilens spoke at the Challenges to Democracy launch event, an October 3 panel discussion moderated by WBUR and NPR’s On Point host Tom Ashbrook on the threat economic inequality poses to the health of American democracy. This post is part of an occasional series highlighting the first chapters of recent books by speakers and participants in the Challenges to Democracy public dialogue series. Continue reading

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In the News: White House Announces Support for Participatory Budgeting, Other Open Government Initiatives

Toward the end of 2013, the White House published a second U.S. Open Government National Action Plan. This plan is part of the U.S. commitments to the multi stakeholder Open Government Partnership (OGP) under which 62 countries have pledged for more participatory, transparent, and collaborative governance.

The U.S. released plan includes 23 new or expanded open-government commitments that build on the first “Open Government” plan. The Ash Center’s Hollie Russon Gilman was instrumental in putting the plan together. Continue reading

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In the News: A DIY Approach to Conflict Resolution and Local Democracy

Albert W. Dzur interviews Lauren Abramson of Baltimore’s Community Conferencing Center for a series called Trench Democracy: Participatory Innovation in Unlikely Places in Boston Review. They discussed an innovative democratic practice in Southeast Baltimore to help communities resolve local conflicts on their own.

 

The conference began with angry comments. Parents defended their children against what they felt was unfair treatment by neighbors. In turn, the adult residents expressed their frustration over the late night noise created by the football games: was this really the best place to play football at night? Continue reading

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Innovations in Participation, 2013: Participedia’s Year in Review

This column profiles six new entries from 2013 in Participedia, an open global knowledge community for researchers and practitioners in the field of democratic innovation and public engagement. Visit Participedia to join the conversation and explore nearly 400 experiments in new forms of participatory politics and governance.

 

By Michael MacKenzie, Tim Glynn-Burke and Archon Fung

It has been another great year for Participedia. We hope to become a key resource for scholars, activists, policy makers and citizens who are interested in new democratic practices and institutions. Our team has made big strides towards reaching that goal. This year, 445 new members joined the website and 152 new cases were added to our collection. Continue reading

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In the News: A Different Kind of Debate over Immigration and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital

The Washington Post editorial board weighed in on a Council of the District of Columbia measure to extend voting rights to D.C. residents who are not U.S. citizens. The Post later published a response to their opposition to the bill from a representative from FairVote’s Promote Our Vote initiative.

 

From the Post:

Under a law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, it is a crime for noncitizens to vote in a federal election. Similarly, no state permits voting by green-card holders, as legal permanent residents are known. There is no logic to justify at the local level what is expressly forbidden at the state and federal levels. Continue reading

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Let’s Talk About It: Can a National Dialogue Take a Private Issue and Make it Public?

Millions of Americans suffer from mental health problems, but stigma prevents many from seeking care. To raise awareness and perhaps help remove some of that stigma, the Obama Administration has launched a national effort to engage citizens in a dialogue about mental health.

Local organizers of community forums across the country are setting additional goals like changing care practices. Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry co-hosted a forum this summer, about which he said “Today’s dialogue is just the beginning. We have continued conversations planned to ensure the ideas and priorities discussed today are carried out throughout the Greater Albuquerque community.” Continue reading

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Inequality Is a Threat to American Democracy. Who Will Ring the Bell?

Highlights from the Challenges to Democracy launch event on October 3, 2013, a panel discussion moderated by WBUR and NPR’s On Point host Tom Ashbrook on the threat economic inequality poses to the health of American democracy. Continue reading

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All the King’s Men: Populism and Frustrating Presidents As Constants In U.S. Politics

On December 6, the Ash Center partnered with the Harvard Film Archive on a screening of the 1949 classic All the King’s Men directed by Robert Rossen. Rossen’s work is being featured in a film series at the Film Archive from November 29 to December 23, 2013. Ash Center Director Tony Saich, the Daewoo Professor of International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School, introduced the film with brief remarks capturing the novel, people and places that inspired All the King’s Men. Saich also highlighted compelling connections between democracy today and the life and times of the film’s muse, former Louisiana Governor Huey Long. If you enjoyed this film, you will surely enjoy reading Saich’s remarks reprinted below! Continue reading

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A 21st Century Soapbox in New York

By Hollie Russon Gilman, PhD and Tim Glynn-Burke

Hundreds of New Yorkers sit around tables inside a glittering white “tent” on the corner of Canal Street and 6th Avenue in Hudson Square. Each table is covered by maps of the city, pens and paper, and cups of coffee and water. Projected on a large screen at one end of the tent, above the tables, are the words “Can We Get Everything We Need? An Interactive About the City’s Budget.” The groups are participating in a simulation exercise, envisioning where and how they would spend $100 million in public dollars. Plywood message boards line the walls. Other participants are absorbed into tablets scattered throughout the tent.  Live musical performances draw in more people. Continue reading

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Next Stop for Participatory Budgeting: Boston

The City of Boston recently announced a Participatory Budgeting Boston initiative that will give the city’s youngest residents a voice and a vote in how to spend $1 million of its FY2014 capital budget.

 

“Participatory budgeting is a real school of democracy. Young people across Boston will learn democracy by doing – and decide how to spend $1 million on concrete improvements to their communities. I’m excited to work with the City and other community partners to build this groundbreaking new model for youth engagement and empowerment,” said Josh Lerner, Executive Director of The Participatory Budgeting Project. Continue reading

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Is Public Deliberation a Relic of America’s Past?

American democracy was built by ordinary people standing up in the town square and engaging with each other to organize, debate, struggle, and decide what was important to them. Yet the evidence today suggests that public deliberation seems to be a relic of the past. Has American politics been too corrupted by those who command the most money, or can Americans from all walks of life still participate in shaping their futures based on the values and issues of the collective, and not just of the few? Continue reading

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In the News: Which City is Most Engaged and Democratic?

The National Conference on Citizenship recently collaborated with the Center for Metropolitan Studies at the University of Pittsburgh and the Program for Deliberative Democracy at Carnegie Mellon University on a robust diagnosis of Pittsburgh’s civic health.

Pittsburgh, they found, is among the most engaged cities in the country. Continue reading

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First Chapter: Plutocrats by Chrystia Freeland

An excerpt from journalist Chrystia Freeland’s book Plutocrats in which the author gives two brief historical narratives, one of America’s economic inequality and the other of political inequality, from the 1770s to the 1970s. Continue reading

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Filed under First Chapter, Inequality vs Democracy, Launch Event with On Point

In the News: Don’t Dare Call the Health Law ‘Redistribution’

On December 15, the Ash Center is collaborating with the American Repertory Theater on its performance of The Heart of Robin Hood. The legend of Robin Hood and his band of outlaws, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, is perhaps the most well-known symbol of  economic redistribution. Following the performance, Archon Fung will discuss  the fight for economic justice in Boston with Steve Meacham, Organizing Coordinator of City Life/Vida Urbana.

Meanwhile, John Harwood reports for the New York Times on the political toxicity of the word redistribution in the Obama Administration. Continue reading

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My Challenges: Karen Mills, Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, 2009-2013

Asked to diagnose the health of American democracy, Administrator Mills is enthusiastic, seeing hope in recent bi-partisan efforts to jumpstart the economy by supporting small businesses and entrepreneurship. Continue reading

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Filed under Expansion of Presidential Power, My Challenges, Political Polarization

All the King’s Men at Harvard Film Archive: Official Ash Center Poster

Join us for a screening of the 1949 classic All the King’s Men at Harvard Film Archive’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts. Directed by Robert Rossen, All the King’s Men was based on the novel by Robert Penn Warren chronicling the rise and fall of local politician Willie Stark (based loosely on a former governor of Louisiana named Huey Long). Continue reading

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Filed under All the King's Men, Decline of Popular Movements, Expansion of Presidential Power, Participation

In the News: Talking Transition in NYC

As New York City Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio prepares to take office, a handful of the city’s largest foundations are trying to set a tone for city hall that is more open to community engagement and perhaps more inclusive.  Former Ash Center Democracy Fellow Hollie Russon Gilman writes about the Talking Transition initiative in GovLab Blog. Continue reading

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Robert McChesney and John Nichols Want You to Help Break Apart the Media-Money-Elections Complex

Highlights from a discussion of their new book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America at the Ash Center on October 1, 2013.

 

By Tim Glynn-Burke

In 1888, the time of America’s Industrial Revolution and Gilded Age, President Rutherford B. Hayes said “This is a government of the people, by the people and for the people no longer. It is a government of corporations, by corporations and for corporations.” Some 80 years later the tide appeared to have turned. Continue reading

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Filed under Dollarocracy, Inequality vs Democracy, Media and Journalism, Representation

Video: Watch November 6 Discussion on the Sources of Congressional Gridlock

Coming close on the heels of the recent federal government shutdown and narrowly avoided default, on November 6 the Ash Center welcomed Harvard Kennedy School professors Thomas Patterson and David King in a discussion on partisanship and gridlock in Congress. Continue reading

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Filed under All Checks, No Balance, Media and Journalism, Political Polarization, Representation

First Chapter: Nation of Devils by Stein Ringen

Below is the first chapter from Oxford Professor Stein Ringen’s latest book, Nation of Devils: Democratic Leadership and the Problem of Obedience. It is the first post in an occasional series highlighting the first chapters of recent books by speakers and participants in the Challenges to Democracy public dialogue series. Ringen spoke at the Ash Center on October 30 on the leadership challenges that presidents and prime ministers face. Foreshadowing the recent debacle around the federal health insurance website, he argued that legislation and policy-making is relatively straightforward compared to the arduous tasks of implementing that law and policy. Continue reading

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Filed under Expansion of Presidential Power, First Chapter, Nation of Devils

Inequality vs. Democracy: The Boston Review Explores Influence of Money

 

For those interested in further information related to our Oct. 3 launch event on Inequality vs. Democracy with On Point’s Tom Ashbrook, check out this online discussion in The Boston Review on the threat to American democracy posed by growing economic inequality. One of our featured guests, Princeton Professor of Politics Martin Gilens, leads off the discussion with a comment based on his 2012 book Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America. Ten scholars responded in what is a lively debate that digs deeply into this challenge. Continue reading

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Filed under In the News, Inequality vs Democracy, Launch Event with On Point, Representation

In the News: The Snowden Leaks and the Public

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger contributes an interesting first-person perspective on the Snowden leaks to The New York Review of Books.

 

Lacking confidence in the courts or Congress, Snowden approached the other people who, in any modern democracy, are there to uncover truth, host debates, and hold people to account—journalists. When Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers just over forty years ago he or his representatives went to The Washington Post and The New York Times. These days whistleblowers are spoiled for choice. Continue reading

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Filed under Expansion of Presidential Power, In the News, Media and Journalism, Technology

In the News: Can Adopting Ranked-Choice Voting Make Politics Civil?

Louis Jacobson reports for Governing on the spread of ranked-choice approach voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, to various U.S. cities and states. But can it improve democracy?

The system is designed to produce a winner who is at least somewhat acceptable to the widest share of the voting population. Ranked-choice voting doesn’t affect the result in a two-candidate race, but once three or more candidates are running, the system prevents the election of a winner who secures less than a majority of the vote.

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Filed under In the News, Participation, Political Polarization, Representation, Technology

Video: Watch October 30 Seminar on Getting Things Done in a Democracy

On October 30, the Ash Center welcomed Stein Ringen to discuss his new book Nation of Devils: Democratic Leadership and the Problem of Obedience. Ringen spoke on the leadership challenges that presidents and prime ministers face. Foreshadowing the recent debacle around the federal health insurance website, he argued that legislation and policy-making is relatively straightforward compared to the arduous tasks of implementing that law and policy. Continue reading

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Filed under Expansion of Presidential Power, Nation of Devils

In the News: Harvard’s Thomas Patterson Takes The Media To Task

Carol Iaciofano reviews Tom Patterson’s latest book Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism for WBUR’s The Artery:

It’s no accident that “Informing the News” is framed around a set of problems; it sets forth a convincing case that Americans are currently “ill-served by the intermediaries — the journalists, …talk show hosts, pundits, and bloggers — that claim to be their trusted guides.” In short, “Information corruption is deeply rooted in contemporary America.” Continue reading

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Filed under All Checks, No Balance, In the News, Media and Journalism, Technology

In the News: A Blue State’s Road to Red

For the Washington Post, Karen Tumulty explores the forces driving a traditionally Democratic population from the left to the right.

 “Honestly, because everybody in this county hates Barack Obama. That is the biggest reason,” Mitchell said. Animosity toward President Obama runs high here. He lost Wyoming County by nearly 56 percentage points last year, despite the fact that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 3 to 1. Continue reading

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Filed under In the News, Inequality vs Democracy, Political Polarization, Representation

In the News: Glenn Greenwald and the Future of Leaks

David Cay Johnston interviews Glenn Greenwald for Newsweek on his new work with eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and the revolution coming to journalism.

 

Surveillance, in Greenwald’s view, destroys journalism because it allows the government to monitor the reporting being done on it. A world in which the government operates in private while the lives of individuals are exposed, is the appalling opposite of what America’s Founders intended and a healthy democracy demands. Continue reading

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Filed under Expansion of Presidential Power, In the News, Technology

In the News: Tea Party has Progressives Fooled

Michael Lind argues in Salon that affluent and educated conservative elites, not the white working class, are to blame for the Tea Party.

 

Why, in the face of all of this evidence, are so many progressives and pundits convinced that the white working class, rather than affluent and educated conservative elites, are the driving force behind the right? Why do so many American progressives blame the masses for a movement of the classes? Continue reading

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Filed under Decline of Popular Movements, In the News, Political Polarization, Representation

In the News: California Sees Gridlock Ease in Governing

The New York Times reported recently on new redistricting and primary election rules that might be making democracy work better in California…

 

Before Washington, California was the national symbol of partisan paralysis and government dysfunction.

This was the place where voter initiatives slashed the power of state lawmakers, runaway deficits and gridlocked budgets were the rule of the day, and a circus of a recall election forced a governor out of office 10 months into his second term. Continue reading

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Filed under All Checks, No Balance, In the News, Inequality vs Democracy, Political Polarization, Representation

Frontiers of Democracy Research: A Game Stacked Against Them

Below is an article originally published by the Ash Center about former Democracy Fellow Shauna Shames’ research on why women and minorities don’t run for political office. It is the first post in an occasional series exploring the frontiers of research on democratic governance. The series will highlight the work of the Ash Center’s Democracy Fellows: pre- and post-doctoral scholars whose research illuminates aspects of democratic governance, with a focus on innovations in public participation and on urgent substantive policy or social problems related to democratic governance. Continue reading

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Filed under Frontiers of Research, Inequality vs Democracy, Participation, Representation

Video: Watch October 3 Launch Event on Inequality vs. Democracy

The Challenges to Democracy series launched October 3 with a standing room-only event in the JFK Jr. Forum featuring a panel discussion moderated by Tom Ashbrook on the threat economic inequality poses to the health of American democracy. The discussion was broadcast the next day as the second hour of WBUR and NPR’s On Point radio program. Continue reading

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Filed under Inequality vs Democracy, Launch Event with On Point

Video: Watch October 1 Seminar on Money and Media Election Complex

On October 1, the Ash Center welcomed John Nichols and Robert McChesney to discuss their new book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex Is Destroying America. Nichols and McChesney argue that what has emerged is a “money-and-media election complex.” This complex is built on a set of commercial and institutional relationships connecting wealthy donors, corporations, lobbyists, politicians, coin-operated “think tanks,” beltway pundits, and now super-PACS. Continue reading

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Filed under Dollarocracy, Inequality vs Democracy, Participation, Representation

Inequality vs. Democracy: Join the Conversation!

Post your questions, ahead of the live event on October 3, to On Point host Tom Ashbrook and panelists Chrystia Freeland, Martin Gilens and Alex Keyssar in the Comments section below. The discussion will be broadcast on WBUR on October 4 at 11 a.m. EST.

 

The Ash Center is thrilled to host its Challenges to Democracy launch event on the evening of Thursday, October 3rd at 6 p.m. in the JFK Jr. Forum. Hosting the Inequality vs. Democracy event will be Tom Ashbrook, host of On Point. Continue reading

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Filed under Inequality vs Democracy, Launch Event with On Point

Inequality vs. Democracy with WBUR and NPR’s On Point: Official Poster

Here is the Forum’s official poster for our Launch Event on October 3.  The Forum will stream Tom Ashbrook and our panelists’ discussion online; during the event click on the poster below for the link to watch it live! Continue reading

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Filed under Inequality vs Democracy, Launch Event with On Point

Making a Connection to LBJ and the Fight for Civil Rights in 1963-64

 By Tim Glynn-Burke

 

The expansion of presidential power threatens our democracy’s compact between the chief executive, Congress, the courts… and We the People. One salient example of this challenge is in navigating between civil liberties and national security, between secrecy and transparency. While President Lyndon Baines Johnson is often remembered for his role in escalating Vietnam and associated debates over civil liberties, his administration’s first year belonged to Civil Rights—the subject of Robert Schenkkan’s play All The Way.

Presented though October 12 at the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.), All The Way reminds audiences that while our protector-in-chief, the President also has the potential to be a true changemaker. “We have already waited a hundred years,” LBJ argued, “and the time for waiting is gone.” Continue reading

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Broadcasting from the JFK Jr. Forum

Tom Ashbrook, host of WBUR and NPR’s On Point, will lead a panel discussion on the threat economic inequality poses to the principle of political equality upon which our country is founded.

By Tim Glynn-Burke

 

The Ash Center is thrilled to join with WBUR and NPR’s On Point and the JFK Jr. Forum at Harvard Kennedy School to host its Challenges to Democracy launch event on the evening of Thursday, October 3rd at 6 p.m. in the JFK Jr. Forum. Hosting the Inequality vs. Democracy event will be Tom Ashbrook, an acclaimed journalist and host of On Point. Continue reading

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Welcome to the Challenges to Democracy Blog

By Archon Fung and Tim Glynn-Burke

 

Democratic governance in the United States is being tested. Economic and political inequality, shaky checks and balances, unresolved immigration policy disagreements, the ambiguous effects of new digital technologies, and waning participation are just a few of today’s threats to American Democracy.

We regularly study these and other challenges here at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation—a distinctive mix of faculty, visiting scholars, and dedicated staff who teach courses, conduct research, and run programs at the leading edge of a broad array of disciplines.

Ten years ago an extraordinary gift from Roy and Lila Ash helped to launch the Ash Center. Roy and Lila had dedicated their lives to serving the public good in both business and government, as well as through extensive volunteer and philanthropic endeavors. Through these experiences, Roy came to view democracy as “fragile and in need of real and constant hands-on care.” Continue reading

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Filed under All The Way, Expansion of Presidential Power, Inequality vs Democracy, Launch Event with On Point