A Tepid International Response to the Rohingya Migrant Crisis

Derek-PhamIn this post, originally published by the Kennedy School Review, HKS student Derek Pham comments on the regional and international response to the persecution and emigration of Rohingya refugees, a Muslim minority in Myanmar. “The Myanmar Government refuses to recognize them as one of the country’s ethnic groups and instead views them as illegal migrant Bangladeshis,” Pham writes. “Bangladesh does not recognize them as well and has refused to accept the newest refugees. The Rohingya thus remain stateless.” Pham neatly ties together historical, political, and humanitarian perspectives and suggests promising solutions. To read more about Myanmar, visit the Ash Center’s Myanmar Program, which works to deepen our understanding of the development and democratic governance challenges facing Myanmar.
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Filed under Democracy in Hard Places, Immigration & Citizenship, Myanmar, Students

Philadelphia Engages Young People in Dialogue on Community-Police Relations

courtneydsharpeIn this post, originally published by MBK Philly, Harvard Graduate School of Design student Courtney D. Sharpe recaps the latest in a series of efforts by My Brother’s Keeper Philadelphia and city agencies to engage youth in a dialogue on community-police relations. The one-day summit, attended by over 200 young people, and subsequent roundtable in City Hall were intended as platforms for youth, especially youth of color, to be able to share their stories and offer suggestions for ways that police and the community can adapt behaviors or policies to work better together. Sharpe is working with My Brother’s Keeper Philadelphia this summer as an Ash Center Summer Fellow. Read more about My Brother’s Keeper Philadelphia, the local affiliate of a national effort launched by President Obama to tackle the opportunity gaps for boys and young men of color. Continue reading

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Filed under Cities, Immigration & Citizenship, Participation, Policing, Youth

Exploring the Relationship Between Resources and Power with The Gettysburg Project

shutterstock_179267012This post summarizes a recent convening of The Gettysburg Project, a unique initiative of practitioners and scholars committed to revitalizing civic engagement led by Ash Center faculty Marshall Ganz and Archon Fung and others. As part of our ongoing coverage of The Gettysburg Project, we shared a summary of their fall 2014 convening as well as the first chapter of steering committee member Hahrie Han’s 2014 book How Organizations Develop Activists. We will continue to update Challenges to Democracy readers as The Gettysburg Project progresses! Continue reading

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Filed under Frontiers of Research, Future of Social Movements, Gettysburg Project, Immigration & Citizenship, Participation

At the Intersection of Urban Politics and Innovation

normaThis post was originally published on the Harvard Kennedy School Admissions Blog. Norma Torres Mendoza, a Master in Public Policy candidate concentrating in Business and Government, reflects on her work this summer in the City of Houston as an Ash Center Summer Fellow in Innovation as well as a Harvard University Presidential Fellow for Public Service. Continue reading

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Filed under Cities, Immigration & Citizenship, Innovation, Students

More Inclusive Governance in the Digital Age

hollieThis post by Hollie Russon Gilman, originally published by Data-Smart Citiy Solutions, is based on her recent paper in an ongoing series published by Data-Smart City Solutions exploring data-related facets of civic engagement in today’s cities. Russon Gilman proposes a multi-pronged strategy toward inclusive governance and highlights promising models. She then offers a set of insightful recommendations that scholars and practitioners alike will find useful in understanding and deploying digital tools with the potential to create more inclusive and collaborative structures for governance: leverage civil society to help foster the conditions for more successful innovation, experimentation and sustainability; commit to a vision of a more robust role of every day citizens in policy making; encourage citizens themselves need to take responsibility for their communities; and utilize online tools to support and enhance existing opportunities. Download a PDF version of Hollie’s full paper here. Continue reading

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Filed under Cities, Future of Social Movements, Innovation, Participation, Representation, Technology

First Chapter: Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy by Darryl Pinckney

blackballedBelow is an excerpt from the introduction to Darryl Pinckney’s 2014 book, Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy. On November 3, 2014, Pinckney spoke about Blackballed at the Ash Center as part of its Challenges to Democracy public dialogue series.

Blackballed is a masterfully-crafted study of American democracy and the changing role of the black vote within it, from Reconstruction to the election of Barack Obama. It is insightful, personal, informative, and remarkably timely. The book not only speaks to current questions about race within the social and political arenas, but to broader issues of the health and legitimacy of a democracy in which some voices are kept from entering the dialogue. Blackballed is one of those special works that effortlessly transports readers to another time while subtly drawing thematic ties to the present day. One leaves the experience not only appreciating the work done by generations past, but contemplating one’s own role in the historical arc. Continue reading

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Filed under First Chapter, Inequality vs Democracy, Participation, Voting Rights

Cambridge Concludes its Inaugural Participatory Budgeting Effort

ballots_2This post by Derek Pham continues our coverage of a new participatory budgeting (PB) initiative in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Residents were given the opportunity to decide how to allocate $500,000 between various capital projects. This post highlights the results and conclusion of its initiative, though which Cambridge hopes to cultivate a more diverse and participatory culture in local politics. Pham spoke with Michelle Monsegur, an analyst at the Budget Office who helped oversee much of the PB process. Monsegur shared her initial thoughts upon the recent completion of the city’s PB effort. Pham also reviews the city’s initial goals for the effort: make democracy inclusive; have a meaningful social and community impact; create easy and seamless civic engagement; and promote sustainable public goods. Continue reading

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Filed under Cities, Innovation, Participation, Participatory Budgeting, Representation, Technology

Democracy and the Challenge of Affordability: The Role of Film in Fighting Displacement

This post is the eighth in a month-long series of blog postings on affordable housing as a challenge to the health of American democracy, and in particular local democracy in the United States. The series, edited by Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor Quinton Mayne, is part of the Ash Center’s Challenges to Democracy series, a two-year public dialogue inviting leaders in thought and practice to name our greatest challenges and explore promising solutions.

andrew headshotIn this post, we invite documentary filmmaker Andrew J. Padilla to share the issues that motivate his filmmaking and what his films El Barrio Tours: Gentrification in East Harlem and El Barrio Tours: Gentrification USA, can tell us about the health of American democracy. In his piece Padilla describes his efforts as a filmmaker to give voice to communities who very often are the voiceless objects of urban policy decisions. He also reflects on how he and fellow filmmakers can engage communities in political awakening, coalition building, and mobilizing action toward positive change. Continue reading

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Filed under Challenge of Affordability, Cities, Future of Social Movements, Housing, Inequality vs Democracy, Participation, Representation

Democracy and the Challenge of Affordability: Using Film to Raise the Issue of Housing Affordability

This post is the seventh in a month-long series of blog postings on affordable housing as a challenge to the health of American democracy, and in particular local democracy in the United States. The series, edited by Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor Quinton Mayne, is part of the Ash Center’s Challenges to Democracy series, a two-year public dialogue inviting leaders in thought and practice to name our greatest challenges and explore promising solutions.

KingWilliamsIn this post, we invite documentary filmmaker King Williams to share the issues that motivate his filmmaking and what his film, The Atlanta Way, can tell us about the health of American democracy. In his piece Williams describes his efforts as a filmmaker to give voice to communities who very often are the voiceless objects of urban policy decisions. He also reflects on how he and fellow filmmakers can engage communities in political awakening, coalition building, and mobilizing action toward positive change. Continue reading

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Filed under Challenge of Affordability, Cities, Housing, Inequality vs Democracy, Participation, Representation, Technology

The Future of Democracy in the Arab World: Reform Versus Revolution

tarekThis post was originally published by the Harvard Kennedy School on June 2, 2015. Doug Gavel interviews the Ash Center’s Tarek Masoud, Sultan of Oman Associate Professor of International Relations at Harvard Kennedy School. Professor Masoud’s research focuses on the role of religion in the Muslim world’s political development. He is the author of Counting Islam: Religion, Class, and Elections in Egypt (Cambridge University Press, 2014), the co-author of The Arab Spring: Pathways of Repression and Reform (Oxford University Press, 2015), as well as of several articles and book chapters. “I think that you should never bet against the prospects for evolution towards something better in the Middle East,” Masoud says. “In fact, I wouldn’t be in this business if I didn’t think there was not potential within the Arab region for more accountable government that was more responsive to its citizens.”
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Filed under Arab Spring, Frontiers of Research, Future of Social Movements, Inequality vs Democracy

Reflections on #Hack4Congress: Daniel Schuman of the Congressional Data Coalition

schumanThis post by Daniel Schuman was originally published by the Congressional Data Coalition. It is the seventh in a series of occasional posts highlighting #Hack4Congress, a series of not-just-for-technologists hackathons organized by the Ash Center and The OpenGov Foundation to deliver crowd-sourced and innovative solutions to the impasse facing Congress and lawmaking. Three “civic hacks” in Cambridge, MA, San Francisco, CA (organized with PopVox), and Washington, DC took place in early 2015. The winners from each hackathon then traveled to Washington, DC on May 12 to demonstrate their projects to members of Congress and senior staff. Read more at hack4congress.org!

In this post Daniel Schuman, an experienced advocate for #opengov and #civictech, recaps the May 12, 2015 #Hack4Congress Briefing and Technology Demonstration on Capitol Hill. Schuman then identifies four insights that have emerged from the #Hack4Congress series: significant public enthusiasm exists for using technology to make Congress work better; the greatest improvements in public access to information arise from work done at the federal level; many people still do not know where to find federal legislative information; and civic technologists would benefit from additional guidance from those with experience at the intersection of Congress and technology. You can watch a recording of the entire May 12 briefing and demo in the video below. Continue reading

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Filed under #Hack4Congress, All Checks, No Balance, Innovation, Participation, Political Polarization, Representation, Technology

Democracy and the Challenge of Affordability: Organizing Citizen Demand for Affordable Housing

This post is the sixth in a month-long series of blog postings on affordable housing as a challenge to the health of American democracy, and in particular local democracy in the United States. The series, edited by Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor Quinton Mayne, is part of the Ash Center’s Challenges to Democracy series, a two-year public dialogue inviting leaders in thought and practice to name our greatest challenges and explore promising solutions.

adam headshotThe lack of affordable housing in urban and suburban America suggests a failure on the part of elected officials to respond to citizen need. One way to make politicians more responsive is for citizens to become more demanding. To make their demands known, however, citizens need to organize and mobilize. In cities across the nation, intermediary organizations like community development corporations (CDCs) and neighborhood or community-based organizations (CBOs) are providing the infrastructure of support necessary for citizens to come together to make their voices heard and address the issue of affordable housing.  In addition, CDCs and CBOs have long played a crucial role in everyday democratic life through a “self help” approach that enables citizens to work collectively to meet the challenge of affordable housing  in partnership with the public sector.

To get a better sense of how CDCs and CBOs are tackling the issue of affordable housing in Boston and beyond, for this post we invited Harvard Graduate School of Design doctoral candidate Adam Tanaka to speak with Katie Provencher of Urban Edge. His interview reveals that Urban Edge, like many CDCs across the country, plays a crucial political and policy role. We also learn that The Great Recession—in addition to drawing public attention to affordability issues—encouraged more collaborative and creative thinking on the part of CDCs and CBOs like Urban Edge.
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Filed under Challenge of Affordability, Cities, Future of Social Movements, Housing, Innovation, Representation

Democracy and the Challenge of Affordability: The Politics of New York City’s Grand Vision

This post is the fifth in a month-long series of blog postings on affordable housing as a challenge to the health of American democracy, and in particular local democracy in the United States. The series, edited by Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor Quinton Mayne, is part of the Ash Center’s Challenges to Democracy series, a two-year public dialogue inviting leaders in thought and practice to name our greatest challenges and explore promising solutions.

adam headshotIn this post, we invite Harvard Graduate School of Design Doctoral Candidate Adam Tanaka to comment on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ambitious plan to build 80,000 new and preserve 120,000 existing affordable housing units in New York City by 2025. Tanaka looks back to large-scale development efforts from the post-war era as a model for the politics of coalition building necessary for the ambitious projects required to meet the Mayor’s goal, illuminating how public and private sectors might “divide and conquer” in their attempt to meet the housing needs of both low- and moderate-income groups. The principal lesson that emerges from this retrospective is on mayoral leadership bringing together a network of pro-development and progressive institutions including public and union pension funds, financial institutions, affordable housing advocates and neighborhood groups, non-profit and for-profit developers, and large employers like hospitals and universities. Continue reading

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Filed under Challenge of Affordability, Cities, Housing, Representation

Democracy and the Challenge of Affordability: An Evolving and Expanding Definition of ‘Public’ Housing

This post is the fourth in a month-long series of blog postings on affordable housing as a challenge to the health of American democracy, and in particular local democracy in the United States. The series, edited by Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor Quinton Mayne, is part of the Ash Center’s Challenges to Democracy series, a two-year public dialogue inviting leaders in thought and practice to name our greatest challenges and explore promising solutions.

margaret headshotIn this post, we invite Harvard Graduate School of Design Master in Urban Planning candidate Margaret Scott to explore how the evolution of public housing as an institution might offer hopeful opportunities for a broader coalition of actors in the field of affordable housing. In particular, we explore the changing balance of power in the funding, production, and management of public housing between multiple scales of government and, increasingly, toward greater involvement of private actors in the delivery of public housing. Continue reading

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Filed under Challenge of Affordability, Cities, Housing, Innovation, Participation, Representation

Democracy and the Challenge of Affordability: Housing Beyond the Center City

This post is the third in a month-long series of blog postings on affordable housing as a challenge to the health of American democracy, and in particular local democracy in the United States. The series, edited by Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor Quinton Mayne, is part of the Ash Center’s Challenges to Democracy series, a two-year public dialogue inviting leaders in thought and practice to name our greatest challenges and explore promising solutions.

margaret headshotIn this post, we invite Harvard Graduate School of Design Master in Urban Planning candidate Margaret Scott to explore the very real financial pressures—from stagnating wages and increasing poverty rates to subsequent climbing housing cost burdens—facing communities across the U.S. As Scott highlights, these challenges are equally significant, and in some cases even greater, in suburban areas outside center cities—the traditional focus of affordable housing initiatives. Combined with a set of distinct political pressures, affordable housing in the suburbs—a blind spot in the affordability debate—is instructive to understanding its political dimensions. Continue reading

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Filed under Challenge of Affordability, Cities, Housing, Representation

Democracy and the Challenge of Affordability: An ‘Innovation’ Approach to the Problem of Housing in Boston

This post is the second in a month-long series of blog postings on affordable housing as a challenge to the health of American democracy, and in particular local democracy in the United States. The series, edited by Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor Quinton Mayne, is part of the Ash Center’s Challenges to Democracy series, a two-year public dialogue inviting leaders in thought and practice to name our greatest challenges and explore promising solutions.

adam headshotIn this post, we invite Harvard Graduate School of Design Doctoral Candidate Adam Tanaka to help us further understand affordable housing as an intractable political challenge. In his interview below, three leaders of the City of Boston’s new Housing Innovation Lab note that housing requires not only new resources and new policy solutions, but also a new framework for thinking about the problem that moves beyond the traditional technical, financial, regulatory, and design perspectives. Tanaka’s engaging interview covers a number of political dimensions to affordable housing in Boston, from influencing the public discourse to leveraging digital technology toward community engagement, and unearths valuable insights applicable to cities across the U.S. Continue reading

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Filed under Challenge of Affordability, Cities, Innovation, Representation

Democracy and the Challenge of Affordability: The Case of Housing

mayne headshotThis post kicks off a month-long series of blog postings on affordable housing as a challenge to the health of American democracy, and in particular local democracy in the United States. The series, edited by Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor Quinton Mayne, is part of the Ash Center’s Challenges to Democracy series, a two-year public dialogue inviting leaders in thought and practice to name our greatest challenges and explore promising solutions. Continue reading

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Filed under Challenge of Affordability, Cities, Housing, Representation

Reflections on #Hack4Congress: Lliam Morrison, The Democracy Fund

Lliam_1485_-_171_for_websiteThis post by Lliam Morrison was originally published by The Democracy Fund. It is the sixth in a series of occasional posts highlighting #Hack4Congress, a series of not-just-for-technologists hackathons organized by the Ash Center and The OpenGov Foundation to deliver crowd-sourced and innovative solutions to the impasse facing Congress and lawmaking. Two events in Cambridge, MA and San Francisco, CA (organized with PopVox), took place earlier in 2015. The third event, #Hack4Congress DC, takes place next week  (April 29 – May 1)! The winners from each hackathon will travel to Washington, DC in May to demonstrate their projects to members of Congress and senior staff. Read more and register (space is limited) at hack4congress.org!

In this post, Morrison offers helpful context to the role #Hack4Congress can play in fixing Congress, with an emphasis on the value of bringing together people from different and nontraditional disciplines. We are thrilled to have the participation of The Democracy Fund in #Hack4Congress DC!
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Filed under #Hack4Congress, Innovation, Participation, Representation, Technology

Revisiting the Global Prospects for Democracy and Democratization

RM1In this post, Ash Center Research Fellow Richa Mishra follows up on her February 2014 post, Reviewing the Global Prospects for Democracy and Democratization in 2014. In that widely-read review of recent articles and reports on democratic movements, public opinion and democracy promotion efforts, Mishra highlighted the importance of contextual nuance in understanding democratic twists and turns. Below, Mishra revisits her earlier post and offers a comprehensive update on the important themes of political freedom and civil liberties, electoral trends, government legitimacy, and citizen disenchantment. Continue reading

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Filed under All Checks, No Balance, Corruption, Expansion of Presidential Power, Future of Social Movements, Participation, Political Polarization, Representation

Looking for Inspiration? Five Noteworthy Innovations in Public Participation

participedia2This column profiles five recent entries in Participedia, an open global knowledge community for researchers and practitioners in the field of democratic innovation and public engagement. For more ideas, read our review of Participedia’s top innovations of 2013. Even better, visit Participedia to join the conversation and explore over 400 experiments in new forms of participatory politics and governance.
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Filed under Boston Participatory Budgeting, Cities, Innovation, Participation, Political Polarization, Representation, Technology