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 Inequality vs Democracy, 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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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The Challenges of Ensuring Credible Elections

KeeleyIn this post, HKS student Juliette Keeley, MPP ‘17 delves into the challenges of election monitoring and highlights innovations designed to address different aspects of this complex problem. She lays out the advantages and shortcomings of using technology in various capacities to improve election-reporting mechanisms, to report and limit violence and intimidation, and to map community-based organizations. Keeley finds that widespread on-the-ground mobilization and citizen participation are common themes running throughout the most successful election monitoring initiatives.

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Apply Again for Harvard’s $100,000 Award in Public Engagement and Participation!

IAG_BFCThe Innovations in American Government Awards program is currently accepting applications and nominations for the next round of competition (Deadline: April 15, 2016). The awards are given to programs that serve as examples of creative and effective government at its best.

For the second time, the Ash Center is pleased to offer a special $100,000 award—named the Roy and Lila Ash Innovations Award for Public Engagement in Government—for government-led innovations that demonstrate novel and effective approaches to increasing public engagement and participation in the governance of towns, cities, states, and the nation. Learn more about the award below in the form of four FAQs: Should I apply? How will my application be evaluated? What happens if I win? And who wins these awards? Continue reading

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If Harvard Students Ran the Senate

PhamOn February 19th, 2016, almost 100 students from across Harvard University filed into the life-sized Senate Chamber at the new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston, Massachusetts to participate in the inaugural, student-run Kennedy Senate Simulation. Spearheaded by Michael Thng (MPP ’16) and a team of Kennedy School students, the simulation placed students in positions of current Senators, both Republican and Democrat, to deliberate and vote on the Criminal Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 and the Defend America Act.

In this post, HKS student Derek Pham (MPP ’16) reports on how this unique event engaged and challenged tomorrow’s leaders by exposing them to the real problems facing the U.S. government today. This exercise was not only a procedural lesson, but it also helped illuminate why Senate gridlock is the default, and why coalition building and consensus is so difficult. Supported by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, the Institute of Politics, and the Center for Public Leadership, the organizing team hope to make the Kennedy Senate Simulation a trademark yearly event at HKS. For pictures from the event, please visit the Kennedy Senate Simulation Facebook page here.

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How to Empower People and Save Babies: 5 Things That Might Work (And 5 That Definitely Won’t)

22737545512_d985f95933_q (1)Today’s post from Courtney Tolmie is the first in an occasional series, cross-posted on the Results for Development blog, that will share 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 health, and learning. It was developed to answer questions about what determines whether an intervention will be successful in increasing citizen empowerment and improving health outcomes. Although the project is ongoing and final results are a long way off, T4D is an exciting initiative that takes an innovative approach to local context, community involvement, mixed methods evaluations, co-design, and piloting.

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 introduces the initiative and shares some of the T4D team’s early learning and takeaways in the form of five lessons about transparency and accountability intervention design.

Read other posts in this series here.

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Students’ UK Discussion Group: Jobs and Inequality

uk FLAGThis post, written by recent HKS alum Anna Stansbury with assistance from current HKS student Nyasha Weinberg, recaps the inaugural 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 below explored whether the current toolkit of policy options is sufficient to address the challenges of jobs and inequality, or do we need more radical options? 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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Breaking Congo’s Glass Ceiling

Tom O'Bryan_smallThe following is an excerpt from “Breaking Congo’s Glass Ceiling: Gender Politics in the DRC” published in a recent edition of Foreign Affairs by HKS student Tom O’Bryan. The Ash Center is supporting O’Bryan’s work in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he is working with a group of partner nonprofits to launch the Congo Democracy Project: a series of interactive maps of the DRC, focused on elections and democratic governance in the country.

This article profiles the women leading the fight for gender equality in Congolese politics as the country approaches critical national elections later this year. From the streets to the Constitutional Court, DRC’s activists, advocates, and candidates are making important progress in the face of growing resistance.

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Is The President’s Call For More Public Participation Within Reach?

Larry SchoolerIn this post, Larry Schooler of the City of Austin, Texas comments on President Obama’s recent call for greater public participation in his final State of the Union address. “We should strive to ensure, after all, that those affected by a public policy decision can affect that decision,” Schooler writes. “That’s not the case now in much of our country.” Yet Schooler, an experienced practitioner who directs community engagement, public participation, and conflict resolution projects for the City of Austin, is optimistic about the prospects for greater participation. He highlights a number of tools, tactics, and alternatives to traditional public hearings being used effectively in cities around the country, ranging from neutral moderators and discussion guidelines to deploying citizen hosts who engage neighbors in constructive dialogue in their homes, cafes, or places of worship.
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America’s Struggle for Voting Rights

Give us the ballotIn October 2015, the Ash Center hosted the inaugural session of its Race and American Politics Seminar Series featuring an author’s talk with The Nation’s Ari Berman. Berman discussed his new book Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America with Lani Guinier, the Bennett Boskey Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, Leah Wright Rigueur, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School and chair of the Race and American Politics Seminar Series, and Alex Keyssar, Professor of History and Social Policy at Harvard Kennedy School.

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. See other events and read more about the series here.

Read posts about other events in this seminar series here.

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