Category Archives: Technology

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

Talking Politics Online: Why Not Everything Should Be Connected

Moore_AlfredIn advance of his talk on online deliberation this afternoon, former Ash Center Democracy Fellow Alfred Moore shares some preliminary results from a project on online commenting that he conducted with his colleagues John Naughton and Rolf Fredheim. Using data from Huffington Post comment sections over time, Moore and his colleagues uncover interesting trends that debunk the assumption that civility necessarily increases with the decline of anonymity in online commenting spaces.

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Filed under Democracy Program, Making Democracy Work, Technology

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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Filed under Innovation, Technology, Technology and Democracy

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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Filed under Cities, Health, Technology, Transparency

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 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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Filed under Elections, Technology, Technology and Democracy

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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Filed under Technology, Technology and Democracy

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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Filed under Elections, Innovation, Technology, Technology and Democracy

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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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

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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Filed under Inequality vs Democracy, Students, Technology, UK Discussion Group, Youth

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

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

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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Filed under Inequality vs Democracy, Participation, Technology, UK Discussion Group

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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Filed under #Hack4Congress, All Checks, No Balance, All the King's Men, All The Way, Cities, Dollarocracy, Expansion of Presidential Power, Future of Social Movements, Heart of Robin Hood, Immigration & Citizenship, Inequality vs Democracy, Innovation, Launch Event with On Point, Lawrence, Massachusetts, Nation of Devils, Participation, Technology, Voting Rights

Youth Violence Prevention and Technology in Philadelphia

courtneydsharpeIn this post, Harvard Graduate School of Design student Courtney D. Sharpe continues her coverage of efforts by My Brother’s Keeper Philadelphia to engage youth in violence prevention and juvenile justice reform. Sharpe is a recent Ash Center Summer Fellow working with My Brother’s Keeper Philadelphia to help design a comprehensive public database to promote City of Philadelphia opportunities open to youth. Here, Sharpe brings attention to the collaborative nature and emphasis on leveraging data of Philadelphia’s efforts to pursue timely interventions toward reducing the justice system-involvement of young people of color. Continue reading

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Filed under Cities, Policing, Students, Technology, Youth