Category Archives: Representation

What’s the Verdict on Direct Democracy?: Lessons from Latin America

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This is the first of two posts by HKS MPP’18 James Pagano exploring the promises and pitfalls of direct democracy—and how it might be used in the United States. In this post, James draws lessons from direct democracy efforts in Latin America that can be used to inform such initiatives in the United States.

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Filed under Elections, Participation, Representation

UK Discussion Group: Brexit and Trade

Alongside the US election results, there was another issue Kennedy school students were eager to understand more about at the end of last semester: Brexit. The UK caucus held a packed discussion group on November 23rd with special guests Robert Lawrence, Professor of International Trade and Investment at HKS, and Peter Sands, former CEO of Standard Chartered bank based in London and a visiting fellow at HKS, to discuss Brexit and its implications for trade.

Read other posts in the UK discussion group series.

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Commentary from Democracy Fellow Kai Thaler on Tillerson Confirmation as U.S. Secretary of State

In this op-ed, originally published by the Maine Beacon, Ash Center Democracy Doctoral Fellow Kai Thaler entreats his Maine Senator, Angus King, to rethink his backing of Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State. Thaler argues that Tillerson’s actions as CEO of Exxon Mobil and his ties with Vladimir Putin and other autocratic leaders with questionable human rights records should preclude him from being confirmed.

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Protest and Legislative Responsiveness: Q&A with LaGina Gause

gause_lagina_headshotThis post is the first in a series of Q&As introducing our new cohort of Democracy Fellows. LaGina Gause, the Ash Center’s new Democracy Postdoctoral Fellow, joins us from the University of Michigan where she received her PhD in Public Policy and Political Science. Gause’s research focuses on legislative response. Her dissertation book project specifically explores legislative behavior in response to protesters in their congressional districts. 

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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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Filed under Elections, Immigration & Citizenship, Participation, Representation, Voting Rights

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

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

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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Filed under Political Polarization, Representation, Students

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

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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Filed under Inequality vs Democracy, Race and American Politics, Representation, Voting Rights

HUBweek Event Shows Greater Boston is Ripe with Civic Tech

guests 2The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation is a leading research center at the Harvard Kennedy School focused on the intersection of government and technology. We are helping HKS students—our future public leaders—to learn crucial technology skills that they will take with them into their careers. The Center is also studying unanswered questions about the potential and the pitfalls of technology’s role in making government more modern, effective, and efficient as well as more responsive, transparent, and participatory. Continue reading

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Filed under All Checks, No Balance, Cities, Frontiers of Research, Future of Social Movements, Innovation, Participation, Participatory Budgeting, Political Polarization, Representation, Students, Technology

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 Cambridge Participatory Budgeting, 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

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