Technologists Working to Improve American Democracy

26577780260_6a7c24a233_mThe Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School is pleased to announce its new cohort of Technology and Democracy Fellows—technologists committed to improving the health of American Democracy.

This year’s Fellows are especially passionate about building the capacity and new tools needed by civic activists, community organizers, local government officials, and journalists who are so critical to making democracy work.

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Join Us in Shaping a New Field of Constructive Democracy Studies!

group photo dec 2012Applications are now open for the AY2017-18 Democracy Fellowship Program. Since 2008, the Ash Center has been building a community of scholars and promoting research that is not only normatively and empirically sophisticated but also problem-driven and actionable. The Democracy Fellowship Program welcomes postdoctoral scholars, doctoral candidates, and other visiting scholars from a variety of disciplines and perspectives. Read on for more information and links to apply. This re-post shares highlights from our recently published Five-Year Retrospective of the Democracy Fellowship Program. Check out a multimedia version of the report here, and read the full report here.

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First Chapter: Democracy Reinvented by Hollie Russon Gilman

Gilman book coverBelow is an excerpt from Hollie Russon Gilman’s 2016 book, Democracy Reinvented: Participatory Budgeting and Civic Innovation in America. A postdoctoral scholar at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Russon Gilman has long been affiliated with the Ash Center, most recently as senior adviser to our Technology and Democracy Fellowship program.

Democracy Reinvented assesses the opportunities and obstacles of participatory budgeting (PB) and civic engagement using hundreds of interviews, survey research, process tracing, and field observations. Based on Russon Gliman’s PhD dissertation, the book is one of the first academic works to extensively analyze participatory budgeting in the United States and its efforts to mend our democratic state. Continue reading

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Filed under Boston Participatory Budgeting, Cities, First Chapter, Innovation, Participation, Participatory Budgeting, Youth

Spotlight on Organizing and Immigration at Democratic National Convention

brownIn light of this week’s Democratic National Convention, Heath Brown, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at City University of New York, shares research findings from his forthcoming book Immigrants and Electoral Politics: Nonprofit Organizing in a Time of Demographic Change which explores the role of nonprofits that represent immigrant communities in U.S. politics. Below, Brown presents some highlights of what he has learned about the work of Dreamer and DNC speaker Astrid Silva, and the work of leaders at similar organizations, which often reflects “a vision for democracy that is consistent with full and active participation of all Americans, citizens and non-citizens, those in the country with documentation and those without.”

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Can Transparency Solve America’s Eating Problem? A Fresh Look at Menu Labeling

ruiThis post is from HKS student Rui Zhang, who is working as a research assistant for the Ash Center’s Transparency Policy Project. At a time when “families are regularly eating out more,” Zhang notes, “even trained dietitians underestimate the calorie and fat content of restaurant meals.” But is it safe to assume that more information is better in the search for answers to diet-related health problems? Learn more about transparency policy and information disclosure at transparencypolicy.net and @SunshinePolicy.
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Why Mass Incarceration May Have Destroyed Our Communities

10525869_10101202330137563_2072457776631529863_nOn March 9, 2016, Leah Wright Rigueur, Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor of Public Policy, hosted a conversation with Heather Ann Thompson, Professor of Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Michigan. They were joined by Elizabeth Hinton, Assistant Professor of History and of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University, and Phillip Goff, Visiting Scholar with the Malcolm Weiner Center for Social Policy. The Ash Center sponsored the event as part of the Race and American Politics seminar series. In this post, HKS student Michael Huggins recaps the panel discussion and explores Thompson’s research on why mass incarceration matters to our cities, economy, and democracy. The panel considered why politicians and policy makers have started to rethink the American carceral state and addressed the barriers that prevent individuals from reentering society and deteriorating police-community relations that further degrade public trust in the government and local institutions. Continue reading

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John Gastil on Building an Integrated and Empowered Form of Civic Engagement

gastil headshotThis post excerpts from Building a Democracy Machine: Toward an Integrated and Empowered Form of Civic Engagement by Pennsylvania State University Professor John Gastil, the latest contribution to the Ash Center’s working paper series. Gastil is a leading scholar on deliberative democracy who headlined a spring 2015 panel discussion at the Ash Center on Citizens Initiative Review.

In Building a Democracy Machine, Gastil proposes a way to connect and unleash the latent potential of the dozens—and possibly hundreds—of available online platforms all aiming to facilitate civic engagement. With the intent of attracting feedback and collaborators, Gastil lays out both a vision and a practical plan for building a civic web portal that could generate the empowered deliberation and public legitimacy that healthy democratic governance needs. In the excerpt below, Gastil begins his paper by making the case for rethinking our current models of public consultation and engagement, mining the literature for what we have learned about designing effective deliberation and participation mechanisms, and highlighting some of the notable digital tools that would comprise the foundation of a new ‘Democracy Machine’. Continue reading

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Filed under Frontiers of Research, Innovation, Participation, Participatory Budgeting, Representation, Technology

Organizing and Elections in a Post-Brexit, Post-Sanders World

tom traillIn April of 2016, the Ash Center hosted a discussion about the future of social democracy. Moderated by HKS Senior Lecturer Marshall Ganz, the panel included Ash Center Fellow Kathryn Perera, HKS Associate Professor Quinton Mayne, and HKS Adjunct Lecturer Jesse Littlewood. Central to the discussion were the movements and the popular support garnered for the more left-wing candidates in recent progressive elections for the Labour Party with Jeremy Corbyn and for the Democratic Party with Bernie Sanders.

These issues are becoming only more crucial following the increasing disjunct between the outcomes of popular elections and the interests of the elites that organize them. From Brexit to the Republican nomination of Trump to Clinton’s struggles against Bernie Sanders, outcomes are consistently going against the groups that have held power over the last decades. Below, HKS student Tom Traill recaps and extends our recent panel discussion by interviewing Ganz and Perera on the role of popular support and community organizing on electoral and other political processes. Continue reading

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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, First Chapter, 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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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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