The “Brexit” Referendum: An Argument for Direct Democracy

Dean_Rikki

This post was originally published here on LSE’s British Politics and Policy blog. It is a commentary by Rikki Dean, former Ash Center Visiting Fellow in the Democracy Fellowship Program. Rikki shares his thoughts on today’s EU referendum in which British citizens will decide to leave or remain in the European Union. Rikki makes the argument for direct democracy, pushing back against the idea that important political decisions should be left to the political elites. Read more posts from our blog on referenda and direct democracy.

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The Technology of Elections: Q&A with Tiana Epps-Johnson

Tiana 1Ash Center Technology and Democracy Fellow Tiana Epps-Johnson discusses her recently launched Election Toolkit for local officials administering elections across the United States. The Toolkit, developed in part during Tiana’s tenure as a fellow at the Ash Center and with the financial support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will serve as an online clearinghouse of resources for the 2016 General Election and beyond.  The Toolkit will include website templates, data tools, civic icons, and other digital resources to allow local election officials to better distribute nonpartisan election information in their communities. Read more about the Technology and Democracy Fellowship.

Check out interviews with other Technology and Democracy Fellows here.

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Journalism in the Age of Data: Q&A with Dhrumil Mehta

26756849632_c984671078_zAsh Center Technology and Democracy Fellow Dhrumil Mehta discusses his role as a database journalist at the data-driven news site FiveThirtyEight. Dhrumil uses an impressive digital toolkit to turn the plethora of harvested public information into usable data for data-driven stories on politics. In this interview, Dhrumil speaks to the connections and tensions between data analysis and content creation, and emphasizes the importance of transparency and data availability for database journalists. Read more about the Technology and Democracy Fellowship.

Check out interviews with other Technology and Democracy fellows here.

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Digitizing Congress: Q&A with Kirsten Gullickson

Kirsten 4 Kirsten Gullickson, Special Guest to the Ash Center Technology and Democracy Fellowship, discusses how specific file formats of legislative documents and online repositories can make Congress more transparent and accountable to the public with Francesca Schembri. As a senior systems analyst for the Office of the Clerk in the U.S. House of Representatives, Kirsten spearheads the effort to convert the paper and parchment of legislative documents and federal law into digital formats including text, XML, and PDF. Read more about the Technology and Democracy Fellowship.

Check out interviews with other Technology and Democracy Fellows here. Continue reading

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Filed under #Hack4Congress, Participation, Technology, Technology and Democracy

Visualizing Campaign Finance: Q&A with Solomon Kahn

Solomon 2Ash Center Technology and Democracy Fellow Solomon Kahn discusses data, transparency, and solving our democratic deficit with Francesca Schembri. Technology coach and data scientist by day, Solomon uses his skills in his spare time to innovate in the civic tech space. His latest project, Explore Campaign Finance, was launched this summer and allows the public to better understand where contributions to federal office holders come from with more context than ever before. Read more about the Technology and Democracy Fellowship.

Check out interviews with other Technology and Democracy Fellows here.

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Students’ UK Discussion Group: Gender Equality in the UK

gapThis post, written by Peter Willis (MPP) and Amy Woolfson (Kennedy Scholar), recaps the third meeting of a new UK discussion group among British students and anglophiles from across Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The group convened in spring 2016 on a weekly basis to discuss the most difficult and pressing issues facing the UK today–bridging disciplines to present viable policy solutions. The discussion highlighted below explored gender equality in the UK—current attitudes towards gender equality, women in the workplace, and the government’s role in promoting equality. The Ash Center is delighted to support student initiatives like the UK discussion group as well as other opportunities to contribute to public discourse on both the challenges to democratic governance and promising solutions. Read other posts in the UK discussion group series

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First Chapter: Why Elections Fail by Pippa Norris

9781107679023Below is an excerpt from Pippa Norris’s book, Why Elections Fail. Paul. F. McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at HKS, Pippa Norris is a long-time friend and Faculty Affiliate of the Ash Center, where she gave a book-talk last fall.

Electoral integrity, the set of international norms governing the appropriate conduct of elections, is more complex than the popular focus on ballot stuffing and vote buying. In Why Elections Fail, Norris argues that the rules preventing political actors from manipulating electoral governance are needed to secure integrity, although at the same time, officials need sufficient resources and capacities to manage elections effectively.

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Filed under Democracy in Hard Places, Elections, Participation, Voting Rights

The Surveillance State: 1984 and Today

agadaIn February 2016, the Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center, in collaboration with the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T) in Cambridge, MA, hosted a discussion series examining the issues of privacy, technology, surveillance, and totalitarianism. These discussions followed performances of George Orwell’s classic 1984 and were led by Robert Duffley, A.R.T. Artistic Program Associate. In the following blog post, Enumale Agada, HKS and HLS student, highlights portions of the February 23, 2016 discussion with James Waldo, Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Computer Science at HKS, and the February 24, 2016 discussion with Archon Fung, Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship and Academic Dean of the Harvard Kennedy School. Listen to podcasts of the talk back discussions with Tony Saich, Daewoo Professor of International Affairs and Director of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, and Merilee Grindle, Edward S. Mason Professor of International Devolpment at HKS.

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Democracy Fellowship Program: Shaping a New Field of Scholars

In 2008, the Ash Center reenvisioned its Democratic Governance Program as an active research community that would fill a void in current scholarship in democratic governance by fostering research that is not only normatively and empirically sophisticated but also problem-driven and actionable. The Ash Center’s Democracy Fellowship Program is the heart of the Democratic Governance Program’s efforts to build a new field of scholarship — and scholars — studying both the challenges to democratic governance and promising solutions.

For five years, the Democracy Fellowship Program has welcomed postdoctoral scholars as well as doctoral candidates, senior scholars, and practitioners from a variety of disciplines and perspectives. Ash Center Director Tony Saich and Academic Dean Archon Fung have just published a retrospective celebrating the Democracy Fellowship Program on the occasion of its fifth anniversary. This post shares highlights from the Five-Year Retrospective. Check out a multimedia version of the report here, and read the full report here.

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Is Gun Control Black Control? Black Politics and Gun Violence in America

10525869_10101202330137563_2072457776631529863_nOn February 17, 2016, Leah Wright Rigueur, Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor of Public Policy, hosted a conversation with Martha Biondi, Chair of the Department of African American Studies and Professor of African American Studies and History at Northwestern University. The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation sponsored the event as part of the Race and American Politics seminar series. This blog will articulate Professor Biondi’s research on how gun control and gun violence intersect with race and politics. Biondi also investigates whether gun control laws protect black lives or oppress them.

The Ash Center’s Race and American Politics Series is a multidisciplinary series of seminars and round-table conversations led by Leah Wright Rigueur. Co-sponsored by the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research and Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, the series features academic, practitioner, and journalistic perspectives from across the nation on the most pressing political and social issues related to race in the United States. Read other posts covering the Race and American Politics seminar series here.

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Filed under Participation, Race and American Politics

Is Showing Up Enough? Lessons from Mobilizing for Participatory Budgeting in Rural Kenya

KeeleyIn this post, Juliette Keeley, MPP ‘17, explores the issue of elite capture in participatory budgeting processes. She highlights HKS Associate Professor of Public Policy Ryan Sheely’s randomized experiment in rural Kenya, which seeks to understand the links between mobilization, participatory budgeting, and elite capture. The study finds that mobilization is important in increasing participation, but may not prevent government officials, the wealthy, or other elites from co-opting the participatory budgeting processes in ways that serve their interests. More research and innovative solutions are necessary to ensure participatory budgeting enables everyday citizens, not elites, to decide how local funds are allocated. Follow our past coverage of participatory budgeting click here.

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Filed under Democracy in Hard Places, Participation, Participatory Budgeting

Every Voice Matters: A Guiding Principle for One Municipal Department’s Innovation and Research Unit

D.LevineIn this post, Dr. Darren Levine, Manager of the Innovation and Research Unit within the Office of the Commissioner of Social Services for the Regional Municipality of Durham, Ontario, shares his unit’s initiative to foster an office climate of staff-driven innovation. This three-pronged approach to unlock staff creativity and to encourage innovation in all areas of the workplace makes use of innovation labs, an annual innovation and research forum, and Agora Town Hall, a platform developed by Harvard Kennedy School alumna Elsa Sze, winner of the Ash Center’s recent #Tech4Democracy Showcase and Challenge.

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Filed under Cities, Innovation, Participation

The Surprising Power of Stories for Accountability: From Testable Theories to Motivating Tales

22737545512_d985f95933_q (1)Today’s post from Courtney Tolmie is the fourth in an occasional series, cross-posted on the Results for Development blog, that shares insights from the Transparency for Development (T4D) Initiative. The T4D Initiative—a joint effort of the Ash Center and Results for Development—is about empowering people, improving maternal and newborn health, and learning. It was developed to answer questions about what determines whether an intervention can increase citizen empowerment while improving health outcomes at the same time. Although the project is ongoing and final results are a long way off, T4D is excited to share initial take-aways about the importance of local context, community involvement, mixed methods evaluations, co-design, and piloting.

Courtney Tolmie is Program Director at Results for Development, a non-profit organization whose mission is to unlock solutions to tough development challenges that prevent people in low- and middle-income countries from realizing their full potential. She is a principal investigator on the T4D Initiative alongside Archon Fung, who serves as Chief of Party. In this post, Tolmie shares T4D’s experience using Social Action Stories to empower people to improve their community health service delivery by determining and undertaking collaborative actions.

Read the other posts in this series here.

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Filed under Democracy in Hard Places, Innovation, Participation, Transparency for Development

Leveraging Technology to Improve Participation: Textizen and Oregon’s Kitchen Table

chanteToday’s post from Chante Lantos-Swett is the first in an occasional series that explores the top 25 ideas from the last round of the Roy and Lila Ash Innovations Award for Public Engagement in Government. Now in its second year, this special Innovations Award is designed specifically to recognize government-led innovations that demonstrate enhanced public engagement and participation in the governance of towns, cities, states, and the nation. The deadline to submit an application for this year’s award is April 15, 2016.

In this post, Chante Lantos-Swett, MPP’17 candidate, examines two cutting edge technologies striving to bring policy discussions into the public space. Textizen and Oregon’s Kitchen Table are two new initiatives that engage communities in innovative ways through text messaging and online crowdfunding. Lantos-Swett explores the potential of online tools to increase civic participation across a more diverse population and at a sustainable cost.

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Filed under Cities, Innovation, Participation, Technology

Race, Public Opinion, and the Fight Over Reparations in the Age of Obama

10525869_10101202330137563_2072457776631529863_nOn November 8, 2015, Leah Wright Rigueur, Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor of Public Policy, moderated a discussion between Michael C. Dawson, the John D. MacArthur Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science and the College at the University of Chicago, and Walter Johnson, the Winthrop Professor of History at Harvard University. The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation sponsored the event as part of the Race and American Politics seminar series. The discussion between the two professors primarily examines the common objections to reparations for the African enslavement in the United States. This post presents the main arguments for and against reparations as presented by Professors Dawson and Johnson.

The Ash Center’s Race and American Politics Series is a multidisciplinary series of seminars and round-table conversations led by Leah Wright Rigueur. Co-sponsored by the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research and Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy, the series features academic, practitioner, and journalistic perspectives from across the nation on the most pressing political and social issues related to race in the United States. Read other posts covering the Race and American Politics seminar series here.

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Filed under Inequality vs Democracy, Political Polarization, Race and American Politics

Students’ UK Discussion Group: Primary and Secondary Education

amelia pThis post, written by PhD student Amelia Peterson, recaps the second meeting of a new UK discussion group among British students and anglophiles from across Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The group is convening in spring 2016 on a weekly basis to discuss the most difficult and pressing issues facing the UK today–bridging disciplines to present viable policy solutions. The discussion highlighted below explored educational disparities in the UK—their relationship to economic inequality, the future value of education as a public good, and the changing role both of technology and of teachers. The Ash Center is delighted to support student initiatives like the UK discussion group as well as other opportunities to contribute to public discourse on both the challenges to democratic governance and promising solutions. Read other posts in the UK discussion group series. Continue reading

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Filed under Inequality vs Democracy, Students, Technology, UK Discussion Group, Youth

Does the World Need Another Toolkit? 4 Ways to Use Transparency, Accountability, and Health Resources from the T4D Project

22737545512_d985f95933_q (1)Today’s post from Courtney Tolmie is the third in an occasional series, cross-posted on the Results for Development blog, that shares insights from the Transparency for Development (T4D) Initiative. The T4D Initiative—a joint effort of the Ash Center and Results for Development—is about empowering people, improving maternal and newborn health, and learning. It was developed to answer questions about what determines whether an intervention can increase citizen empowerment while improving health outcomes at the same time. Although the project is ongoing and final results are a long way off, T4D is excited to share initial take-aways about the importance of local context, community involvement, mixed methods evaluations, co-design, and piloting.

Courtney Tolmie is Program Director at Results for Development, a non-profit organization whose mission is to unlock solutions to tough development challenges that prevent people in low- and middle-income countries from realizing their full potential. She is a principal investigator on the T4D Initiative alongside Archon Fung, who serves as Chief of Party. In this post, Tolmie shares four ways practitioners can use the transparency, accountability, and health resources developed during the T4D project in a broad range of initiatives.

Read the other posts in this series here.

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Filed under Democracy in Hard Places, Innovation, Participation, Transparency for Development

Connecting HKS to Technologists and Practitioners: Ash Center Launches Technology and Democracy Fellowship

16243123919_a22201b2af_mThe Ash Center has established a Technology and Democracy Fellowship program as part of the Center’s initiative to explore technology’s role in improving democratic governance—with a focus on connecting to practice and on helping Harvard Kennedy School students develop crucial technology skills. This post provides an overview of the fellowship, introduces the inaugural cohort of fellows, and describes the technology skills workshops that the fellows are leading. Each workshop aims to help HKS students develop their “technological intelligence” and learn skills related to understanding, managing, or creating digital technologies with the potential to improve the quality of democratic governance. Read more here.

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Filed under Innovation, Participation, Students, Technology

Slow Democracy Builds a Better Park

Archon Fung. Photo: Martha StewartThis post was originally published by Harvard Kennedy School. Katie Gibson profiles the work of Archon Fung, Linda Bilmes, Hollie Russon Gilman, and other Harvard Kennedy School faculty, fellows, students, and alumni who are involved in studying, teaching, and practicing participatory budgeting. You can read more of the Challenges to Democracy blog’s coverage of participatory budgeting in Boston, Cambridge, and beyond here. Continue reading

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Filed under Boston Participatory Budgeting, Cambridge Participatory Budgeting, Cities, Innovation, Participation, Participatory Budgeting, Students

Failing Fast: 3 Things We Have Learned about Engaging and Empowering Communities

22737545512_d985f95933_q (1)Today’s post from Courtney Tolmie is the second in an occasional series, cross-posted on the Results for Development blog, that shares insights from the Transparency for Development (T4D) Initiative. The T4D Initiative—a joint effort of the Ash Center and Results for Development—is about empowering people, improving maternal and newborn health, and learning. It was developed to answer questions about what determines whether an intervention can increase citizen empowerment while improving health outcomes at the same time. Although the project is ongoing and final results are a long way off, T4D is excited to share initial take-aways about the importance of local context, community involvement, mixed methods evaluations, co-design, and piloting.

Courtney Tolmie is Program Director at Results for Development, a non-profit organization whose mission is to unlock solutions to tough development challenges that prevent people in low- and middle-income countries from realizing their full potential. She is a principal investigator on the T4D Initiative alongside Archon Fung, who serves as Chief of Party. In this post, Tolmie shares three lessons about the importance of piloting and iterative learning before launching a large intervention.

Read other posts in this series here.

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Filed under Democracy in Hard Places, Innovation, Participation, Transparency for Development