Exploring and Expanding Public Engagement through the Gettysburg Project

Angarita headshotThis post from HKS student Jennifer Angarita shares updates and reflections on the Gettysburg Project, a unique initiative of practitioners and scholars committed to revitalizing civic engagement. Professors Marshall Ganz and Archon Fung introduced the Gettysburg Project to students in the fall of 2013 in a session you can read about and view here, and we recently shared the first chapter of Gettysburg steering committee member Hahrie Han’s new book How Organizations Develop Activists. We will continue to update Challenges to Democracy readers as the Gettysburg Project progresses!

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Filed under Decline of Popular Movements, Gettysburg Project, Immigration & Citizenship, Participation, Representation

Closing the Civic Achievement Gap? Youth Leadership in Boston

boston pbThis post continues our ongoing coverage of Boston’s first in the nation youth participatory budgeting initiative, which is soon starting up its second round. Read more about Boston’s Youth Lead the Change initiative here.


By Tara Grillos

In No Citizen Left Behind, Meira Levinson asserts “that there is a profound civic achievement gap between non-white, poor, and/or immigrant youth, on the one hand, and white, wealthier, and/or native-born youth, on the other.” She goes on to provide some guidelines for effective civic education to close this gap, emphasizing the importance of civic knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors. Continue reading

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Filed under Boston Participatory Budgeting, Cities, In the News, Innovation, Participation, Technology

Congressional Gridlock and the Salience of Public Opinion

congress and prez cartoon largeLast fall, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation hosted a discussion exploring the (then) recent federal government shutdown and the ever-souring relationship between the President and Congress. The talk, part of the Ash Center’s Challenges to Democracy series, featured two renowned Harvard Kennedy School professors Thomas Patterson and David King. Patterson’s research explores the interaction between government and the media. King is a senior lecturer in Public Policy and chair of Harvard’s Bi-Partisan Program for Newly Elected Members of the U.S. Congress. Continue reading

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Filed under All Checks, No Balance, Expansion of Presidential Power, In the News, Media and Journalism, Political Polarization, Representation

Frontiers of Democracy Research: The Co-existence of Censorship and Responsiveness in Chinese Government

J PanHarvard Academy Graduate Fellow and recent Ash Center Democracy Fellow Jennifer Pan studies the intersection of politics, citizen interaction, and service delivery in Chinese cities. In this post, Richa Mishra captures Pan’s latest work on the nature of the interactions between government officials and citizens—from censorship to organizing to political responsiveness—in a regime without electoral competition. To whom are local Chinese government officials responsive? While we might assume that top down influences dominate, it appears that bottom-up pressure from citizens plays a role as well. Continue reading

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Filed under Frontiers of Research, Participation, Representation, Technology

First Chapter: How Organizations Develop Activists by Hahrie Han

Hahrie Han_GroundbreakersBelow is an excerpt from the first chapter of Hahrie Han’s 2014 book, How Organizations Develop Activists: Civic Associations and Leadership in the 21st Century. An Associate Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College, Han studies civic associations and engagement, organizing, political activism, and health and environmental politics. Han is on the steering committee of The Gettysburg Project, a new initiative co-organized by the Ash Center that explores ways to improve the scope, diversity and impact of organizing and mobilizing the public. On September 24, 2014, Han will speak about How Organizations Develop Activists at the Ash Center along side Sarah Hodgdon of the Sierra Club and HKS professors Archon Fung and Jane Mansbridge as the kick-off to the second year of our Challenges to Democracy public dialogue series. Continue reading

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Filed under Decline of Popular Movements, First Chapter, Gettysburg Project, Participation, Representation, Technology

NCDD’s ‘Democracy for the Next Generation’ Conference Coming in October

ncdd conf 2.jpgHappy to share the following announcement from the National Coalition on Dialogue and Deliberation with Challenges to Democracy readers. We have shared a number of valuable ideas from NCDD on this blog, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Community Forum, an annual review illustrating the robustness of the dialogue and deliberation community, and building the infrastructure to support public engagement and participation. Read more about their October conference and register here.
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Filed under Decline of Popular Movements, Participation, Representation, Technology

Lessons on Good Governance from the World’s Youngest Democracy

lhakpa2This post from Ash Center research fellow Lhakpa Bhuti explores the origins and impact of the government’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) policy on social, political and economic development in her home country of Bhutan. Well-being and happiness as legitimate and useful measures of government performance have been gaining traction in cities across the US, from Seattle, Washington to Somerville, Massachusetts. With a focus on the natural environment, Bhutan’s GNH policy and its GNH accounting might also offer novel solutions for addressing global warming. Bhuti suggests that these and other efforts to improve governance and even increase public engagement might learn lessons from Bhutan’s long-running GNH approach to improving both its political systems and actual policy outcomes.
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Filed under Corruption, In the News, Innovation, Representation

Building a Tradition of Organizing and Engagement Where None Exists: Stories from Japan

Lecture-by-MarshallThis post was originally published by the Leading Change Network. Author Kanoko Kamata is a recent Ash Fellow and Harvard Kennedy School graduate who returned to Japan build a culture and capacity for organizing and civic engagement in a country where little has traditionally existed. In the article below and elsewhere, Kamata has been recording and sharing her own work and the efforts of others along the way. Read for example her account of a local consensus-building effort on Yakushima Island and a commentary in the Japan Business Press in December 2012.

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Filed under Decline of Popular Movements, Innovation, Participation

Frontiers of Democracy Research: A Fresh Perspective on Lobbying and Political Access

mckinley_HLSIn this post, Richa Mishra explores Maggie McKinley’s work on The Madison Project, an online legislative crowd-sourcing platform, and its implications for the practice, function, and constitutional contours of federal lobbying. McKinley is a Climenko Fellow at Harvard Law School and recent Democracy Fellow at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. She researches and writes on legislation, theories of interpretation, minority rights and representation, and the architecture of lawmaking institutions. McKinley hopes to move the current rhetoric around reform away from a focus on majority control and a demonization of lobbyists toward a more productive discussion of procedural injustice and political access. Continue reading

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Filed under Frontiers of Research, Innovation, Representation, Technology

TurboVote Set to Help Register 850,000 College Students in Florida to Vote

Hands- TechThis post by Seth Flaxman was originally published by The Democracy Fund. Flaxman is Co-Founder and Executive Director of Democracy Works, a nonprofit dedicated to the idea that voting should fit the way we live. Flaxman launched Democracy Works’ first major project, TurboVote, with fellow Harvard Kennedy School alumni Kathryn Peters in 2010.  This spring, Flaxman participated in our #Tech4Democracy panel discussion with Harvard students and alumni who are launching promising tech start-ups that find creative ways to strengthen democracy.
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Filed under In the News, Innovation, Participation, Representation, Technology

Frontiers of Democracy Research: How Public Deliberation Helps Democracies Adapt Over Time

didierIn this post, recent Ash Center Democracy Fellow Didier Caluwaerts reflects on the dynamic nature of public problems and political power and the challenges this “migration” creates in democratic societies. He also proposes possible solutions, including deliberative democracy models like the G1000 Citizens’ Summit Caluwaerts organized in a divided Belgium in 2011. Continue reading

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Filed under Frontiers of Research, Participation, Political Polarization

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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Filed under In the News, Media and Journalism, Political Polarization

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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Filed under Participation, Representation, Technology

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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Filed under Boston Participatory Budgeting, Cities, In the News, Innovation, Participation, Representation, Technology

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. 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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Filed under Boston Participatory Budgeting, Innovation, Participation

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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Filed under Cities, Immigration & Citizenship, In the News, Lawrence, Massachusetts, Participation