Category Archives: Innovation

Uruguay Leads Its Neighbors in Open Government

This post examining the development of open government and open data in Uruguay comes from Daniel Carranza, co-founder of DATA Uruguay and consultant in OpenGov and eGov. Last August, Daniel joined a delegation from AGESIC (the Uruguayan agency for government innovation), organized by the United Nations Division for Public Administration and Development Management, that traveled to the United States to learn more about open government data (OGD) and municipal governance, and open data for smart cities. During the trip, the delegation met with faculty and staff at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and with government officials at the City of Boston’s Department of Innovation and Technology

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Filed under Innovation, Participation, Technology, Transparency

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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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

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

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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Filed under Elections, Innovation, Technology, Technology and Democracy

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

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

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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Filed under Corruption, Democracy in Hard Places, Elections, Innovation, Participation, Representation, Technology, Voting Rights

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

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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Filed under Cities, Innovation, Participation, Representation

Ash Center’s 10th Anniversary Series Provides Direction for the Next Ten Years

200x200logoFBshareIn May, the Ash Center concluded its Challenges to Democracy public dialogue series with presentations by the 2015 Innovations in American Government Award finalists. Local government officials, students, and scholars gathered with the Innovation Award finalists for a nuts and bolts conversation on fostering innovation in government. This model of conversation—one that brings together people and ideas unlikely to otherwise connect, in an environment that encourages candid conversation on important yet difficult issues, with an emphasis on finding a way forward—was a true reflection of the Challenges to Democracy series. This post explores some of the series’ highlights and how it will carry forth in the Ash Center’s upcoming work. Read more about all events in the series including associated multimedia such as podcasts, media coverage, photos, and video recordings.
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Student Research Explores Open Government Reform in Tunisia

nada_7This post, originally published by the Ash Center, profiles recent Harvard Kennedy School grad Nada Zohdy, MPP ’15. As a student Zohdy studied the mechanics of new forms of citizen participation and engagement both close to home in Cambridge, Massachusetts and in the Middle East/North Africa. Zohdy now manages the OpenGov Hub in Washington, D.C., a co-working community where she interacts daily with people from across the globe who are working on the frontiers of open government. Read more about the Ash Center’s Democracy in Hard Places initiative, which seeks to understand why democratic institutions thrive in some countries while failing in others.
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Filed under Arab Spring, Cambridge Participatory Budgeting, Democracy in Hard Places, Innovation, Participation, Participatory Budgeting, Students