Technology and Democracy

Technology and Democracy
The story of technology and government is the story of innovation in government, and the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation has long been the Harvard Kennedy School’s primary resource for the research, teaching, and practice of public sector innovation. Over time, the Ash Center has focused its efforts on the potential and pitfalls of a number of levers available to public innovators—public value creation; privatization and managed competition, networked and collaborative governance, social innovation, and encouraging innovative jurisdictions. It has also long turned its attention to the potential and pitfalls of technology as a lever for improving democratic governance.

Research

The Innovations in Government Program has served as the nucleus for much of the School’s work on innovation and government for nearly 30 years. Since 1985, the Innovations in American Government Awards Program has been recognizing value-creating innovations across all areas of government. The Program has played a leading role in identifying the frontier of technology in governance for three decades, harking back to the early days of electronic public assistance benefit transfers in the 1980s to the emergency of CompStat in New York and the broader performance stat movement in the 1990s to the rise of 311 and its later electronic variants in the 2000s. 

Equally important, the Ash Center has been conducting and supporting research on the processes, structures, and strategies deployed by innovative public officials and managers—creating innovative, learning organizations; diffusing best practices; leading and facilitating multi-sector networks of providers and  stakeholders; and improving public participation, transparency, deliberation, mobilization, and more. This research has advanced our ability to teach degree program and executive education students how to become creative and effective public leaders prepared for the known and unknown challenges they will soon face.

In 2012, Stephen Goldsmith launched The Data-Smart City Solutions project to catalyze adoption of data projects on the local government level by serving as a central resource for cities interested in this emerging field. The project has provided dozens of students with opportunities to contribute to research on the intersection of government and data. Data-Smart City Solutions seeks to promote the combination of integrated, cross-agency data with community data to better discover and preemptively address civic problems.

The center has also launched the Innovation Field Lab as part of a major research in partnership with a number of small to medium sized cities in eastern Massachusetts to better understand the conditions that allow technological innovations in government to take root. The Transparency Policy Project, overseen by Archon Fung, helps governments understand when it is most useful to make data publicly available. Tarek Masoud's recent work on the Arab Spring movement has leveraged social media data to paint an accurate picture of public sentiment during the mass protests and provide a critical alternative to traditional public polling data.

Students

Ash Center summer fellow Alex Lawrence
Ash Center summer fellow Alex Lawrence worked in the Boston Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, one of the leading civic innovation hubs in the U.S
At the heart of the Ash Center are the students it supports. Engaging nearly ten percent of HKS students though some form of support whether scholarships, research grants, internship placements, research assistantships, and more, the Center has helped nurture a strong cohort of students interested in the intersection of government and technology. They want to code. They are passionate about net neutrality.  They are perplexed by the failures of the launch of healthcare.gov. They are budding technologists who have chosen public policy over dot com riches. We have aligned with a cadre of students who are passionate and engaged on issues related to civic technology and technology policy.

The Ash Center enthusiastically supports the efforts of students who are passionate and engaged on issues at the intersection of democratic governance and technology. It also provides a number of offerings to help students learn crucial technology-related skills and provide opportunities to develop those skills in applied learning environments.

See the full list of technology offerings for students here.

Practitioners

Government Innovators Network portal
The Government Innovators Network is the largest online academic portal to provide up-to-date examples of government innovation.
The Ash Center convenes practitioners to actively engage and learn about the development and implementation of data-driven best practices to drive innovative change across jurisdictions and the world. Whether it is our Project on Municipal Innovation, our Project on County Innovation, or other programs, the Center connects public officials to the latest research and proven government programs that use new technologies to enhance public value.  

The Center has built important relationships with the technologists around the world to promote innovative solutions to issues of democratic engagement and public participation.  The Center’s work in this area can be seen through its support of hackathons and technology demonstration events including #Hack4Congress and #Tech4Democracy

The Ash Center has several efforts that disseminate data-driven solutions to public problems. The Data-Smart City Solutions project is working to catalyze adoption of data projects on the local government level by serving as a central resource for cities interested in this emerging field. Our Better, Faster, Cheaper blog captures the latest in cutting-edge technology, innovative policy approaches, and creative partnerships between government and the private sector.

The Government Innovators Network is the largest online academic portal to provide up-to-date examples of government innovation - many technology-specific - for policymakers, policy advisors, and practitioners interested in improving government and governance. Finally, the Center’s numerous social media outlets amplify all of these efforts.