Publications

    In Praise of Skepticism: Trust but Verify

    Pippa Norris, September 2022 

    A culture of trust is usually claimed to have many public benefits--by lubricating markets, managing organizations, legitimating governments, and facilitating collective action. Any signs of its decline are, and should be, a matter of serious concern. Yet, In Praise of Skepticism recognizes that trust has two faces. Confidence in anti-vax theories has weakened herd immunity. Faith in Q-Anon conspiracy theories triggered insurrection. Disasters flow from gullible beliefs in fake Covid-19 cures, Madoff pyramid schemes, Russian claims of Ukrainian Nazis, and the Big Lie denying President Biden's legitimate election.

    Trustworthiness involves an informal social contract by which principals authorize agents to act on their behalf in the expectation that they will fulfill their responsibilities with competency, integrity, and impartiality, despite conditions of risk and uncertainty. Skeptical judgments reflect reasonably accurate and informed predictions about agents' future actions based on their past performance and guardrails deterring dishonesty, mendacity, and corruption. We should trust but verify. Unfortunately, assessments are commonly flawed. Both cynical beliefs (underestimating performance) and credulous faith (over-estimating performance) involve erroneous judgements reflecting cultural biases, poor cognitive skills, and information echo chambers. These conclusions draw on new evidence from the European Values Survey/World Values Survey conducted among over 650,000 respondents in more than 100 societies over four decades.

    In Praise of Skepticism warns that an excess of credulous trust poses serious and hitherto unrecognized risks in a world full of seductive demagogues playing on our insecurities, lying swindlers exploiting our greed, and silver-tongued conspiracy theorists manipulating our darkest fears.

    What to Expect from the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party

    Tony Saich, September 2022

    On October 16, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will convene its 20th Party Congress. Held every five years, the Congress is a critical event. While nothing is seriously debated there, the symbolic function of the Congress is extremely important. It summarizes past achievements and sets out future objectives, all while displaying an outward power and unity. The Congress brings together just over 3,000 delegates from the provinces, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), and some central agencies for about a week to approve the report of the General Secretary, amendments to the party statutes, and any other documents placed before them. In theory, this sets in motion the appointment of a new leadership by electing candidates to the Central Committee (around 200 members and 150 alternates). In reality, the Congress approves the slate proposed by the outgoing Political Bureau (Politburo) and senior leader- ship. In turn, the Central Committee elects members of the Politburo, its Standing Committee, and the Secretariat, again based on lists provided after the Party leadership has finished haggling.

    This Congress will be special, as General Secretary Xi Jinping seeks a third term as political leader (either as general secretary or party chairman), confirms his place and ideas even more concretely within the party statutes, and seeks to appoint a leadership cohort drawn from his associates. Below, I provide my best guesstimates on his chances of reappointment, the leadership structure, and indications for future policy trends.

    Democracy in Hard Places
    Mainwaring, Scott, and Tarek Masoud. 2022. Democracy in Hard Places. Oxford University Press. Learn more on the publisher's site Abstract

    Scott Mainwaring and Tarek Masoud, August 2022 

    The last fifteen years have witnessed a "democratic recession." Democracies previously thought to be well-established--Hungary, Poland, Brazil, and even the United States--have been threatened by the rise of ultra-nationalist and populist leaders who pay lip-service to the will of the people while daily undermining the freedom and pluralism that are the foundations of democratic governance. The possibility of democratic collapse where we least expected it has added new urgency to the age-old inquiry into how democracy, once attained, can be made to last.

    In Democracy in Hard Places, Scott Mainwaring and Tarek Masoud bring together a distinguished cast of contributors to illustrate how democracies around the world continue to survive even in an age of democratic decline. Collectively, they argue that we can learn much from democratic survivals that were just as unexpected as the democratic erosions that have occurred in some corners of the developed world. Just as social scientists long believed that well-established, Western, educated, industrialized, and rich democracies were immortal, so too did they assign little chance of democracy to countries that lacked these characteristics. And yet, in defiance of decades of social science wisdom, many countries that were bereft of these hypothesized enabling conditions for democracy not only achieved it, but maintained it year after year. How does democracy persist in countries that are ethnically heterogenous, wracked by economic crisis, and plagued by state weakness? What is the secret of democratic longevity in hard places?

    This book--the first to date to systematically examine the survival persistence of unlikely democracies--presents nine case studies in which democracy emerged and survived against the odds. Adopting a comparative, cross-regional perspective, the authors derive lessons about what makes democracy stick despite tumult and crisis, economic underdevelopment, ethnolinguistic fragmentation, and chronic institutional weakness. By bringing these cases into dialogue with each other, Mainwaring and Masoud derive powerful theoretical lessons for how democracy can be built and maintained in places where dominant social science theories would cause us to least expect it.

    Ensuring All Votes Count: Reducing Rejected Ballots
    Altamirano, Jose, and Tova Wang. 2022. “Ensuring All Votes Count: Reducing Rejected Ballots”. Abstract

    Executive Summary

    This brief studies trends in mail ballot rejection rates in 2020 compared to previous years and how different factors, including sets of policies and policy changes, the political environment, and voter outreach, may have contributed to these changes in an extraordinary election year. Our main findings include:

    • Mail ballot rejection rates decreased in most states in 2020 compared to 2018, and a number of states saw a consistent drop from 2016 to 2018 to 2020.
    • Certain states that adapted their voting laws to make mail voting more accessible in 2020, particularly in the South, saw especially pronounced changes in rejection rates.
    • In North Carolina, rejection rates vary from county to county. Previous studies of other states’ rejection rates found similar trends.
    • States that implemented mail ballot policies, including ballot curing, increased ease of access when returning mail ballots at boards of elections, early voting sites, drop boxes, and ballot tracking, saw lower rejection rates than those that didn’t, though we caution against assuming a causal relationship.
    • Previous academic and advocacy research suggests that voters of color, young voters, and first-time voters are disproportionately more likely to have their mail ballots rejected.

    We highlight these trends and suggest further areas of study that researchers, advocates, organizers, and policymakers can explore to better understand how voters casting their ballots by mail can ensure their votes are counted.

    Download the PDF

     

    Strengthening Models of Civic Engagement: Community-Informed Approaches to Inclusive and Equitable Decision-Making

    Archon Fung, Hollie Russon Gilman, and Mark Schmitt; July 2022

    For too long the federal policymaking process has been mysterious and inaccessible to everyone but the most sophisticated, elite stakeholders. Not only has this made the policymaking process exclusive to long-standing players with connections and resources, but it has also made it extremely difficult for most Americans, especially those from underrepresented communities, to be engaged in authentic ways with federal agencies and institutions.

    The costs of such exclusion are evident: Federal policies created and implemented without meaningful input from local leaders and residents are less efficient, less effective, and more likely to perpetuate the very systems of injustice they are often designed to disrupt or reverse. In contrast, inclusive engagement demonstrably increases the efficacy and legitimacy of federal policy, triggering a virtuous cycle of feedback and trust between government and the people.

    When the Biden-Harris administration took office, one of their very first acts was to issue an executive order to advance equity and racial justice throughout federal agencies and institutions. This was quickly followed by orders intended to transform the experience of interacting with government, modernize the federal regulatory process, and strengthen tribal consultations and nation-to-nation relationships. Together, these efforts push the executive branch to improve equity and racial justice through more inclusive policy processes.

    Reflecting on a Year of Promises: A Conference Assessing Organizational Antiracism Journeys

    The annual Truth and Transformation Conference is convened by Professor Khalil Gibran Muhammad and hosted by the Institutional Antiracism and Accountability (IARA) Project at Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center. This is the third installment of the conference, which began in 2019 and was estab- lished to focus on drivers of antiracist change in private, public, and academic institutions.

    During this free virtual conference, the IARA team invited fellow advocates, organizers, scholars, students, and community members to engage in challenging and thoughtful conversations centered around the 2021 theme “Reflecting on A Year of Promises.”

    This year’s event focused on examining the prior year of institutional promises and publicly stated intentions to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in the United States and globally in the wake of the “George Floyd” moment in American history. This year our organizers asked; Did organizations keep their promises? What more work is there to be done to follow through on these public commitments?

    The conference was organized in four parts around the question; How does historical reflection and reckoning move the public conversation and lead to policy and institutional change?

    In the opening Institute of Politics Forum, Professor Muhammad was joined by a leading scholar and practitioner, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi and Heather McGhee, to discuss ways to understand and measure change at this moment. The opening panel situated the conference and theme in a historical and con- temporary context that served as a reminder that the history and politics of racism must be viewed in tandem as mechanisms to measure change.

    Three additional panels featured leaders in academia and professional practice in discussion on transformative change beyond performative statements into actionable, institutional shifts. The first panel examined the validity of an economic argument for improving diversity and brought insights to the discussion from bankers, economists, and philanthropic directors. The second panel emphasized the importance of board membership as a conduit for enacting or inhibiting organizational change in relation to equity and inclusion. The final panel challenged the notion of risk as a measuring tool for organizational change and offered alternative perspectives on ways to identify and value humanity in the work across industries.

    The conference and its proceedings serve to remind us that if we are truthful about racism in our politics and policy making, then we must accept that it has a cost for all of us.

    Taiwan: A Risk Analysis Through the Lens of Hong Kong
    Kwok, Dennis W. H., and Johnny Patterson. 2022. “Taiwan: A Risk Analysis Through the Lens of Hong Kong”. Read full text Abstract

    Dennis W.H. Kwok and Johnny Patterson, May 2022

    This paper aims to provide an overall risk analysis of the Taiwan Strait situation by using Hong Kong’s experience over the past three decades as a point of comparison. The authors focus on three areas where those watching Taiwan can learn from Hong Kong. Since Deng Xiaopeng’s rule, Hong Kong and Taiwan have been inextricably intertwined, with China intending to reunify both territories using the “one country, two systems” formula. There are, of course, fundamental differences between the situations in Taiwan and Hong Kong. But there are also many similarities from which one can draw useful lessons. In the past three decades, Hong Kong tried to preserve its liberal democratic values whilst coexisting under an authoritarian regime. Hong Kong’s experience proved that a liberal democratic society cannot survive alongside an increasingly aggressive and authoritarian Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime. Taiwan essentially faces the same dilemma.

    Hong Kong offers four key insights: First, Hong Kong provides a window through which to understand the modus operandi of Xi Jinping’s CCP. Political priorities trump all others —while CCP actions make sense within the system, they may confuse outsiders. Ultimately, Xi’s words should be taken literally and seriously. Second, the failure of the “one country, two systems” formula and Hong Kong’s collapse should not be lost on Taiwan. The so-called “United Front” tactics and the political polarization that occurred in Hong Kong are being emulated in Taiwan, with the Kuomintang’s (KMT’s) platform feeling increasingly untenable and anachronistic, especially in light of Hong Kong’s experience. Third, the infiltration of Mainland capital into Hong Kong over the past two decades has changed the underlying structure of Hong Kong as a business and financial center. The effect of ‘red’ capital made local Hong Kong and international business voices irrelevant. The authors saw their ability to influence and thereby moderate government policies waned over the years—leading to disastrous consequences for Hong Kong. Finally, Hong Kong has changed the geopolitical landscape in ways that have profound ramifications for Taiwan and how the international community perceives the CCP. The CCP openly walked back on an international treaty registered with the United Nations. The response of the international community and businesses reveals important lessons about the West’s vulnerabilities to this kind of geopolitical shock should the situation over the Taiwan Strait worsen.

    Best Practices for the Governance of Digital Public Goods
    Eaves, David, Leonie Bolte, Omayra Chuquihuara, and Surabhi Hodigere. 2022. “Best Practices for the Governance of Digital Public Goods”. Read Full Text Abstract

    David Eaves, Leonie Bolte, Omayra Chuquihuara, and Surabhi Hodigere, April 2022

    “Digital government” is becoming simply “government.” As a result, an ever-increasing number of systems and processes critical to the operation of government—the core infrastructure of a state—are being digitized. This necessity creates enormous opportunities—to enhance, scale, and even standardize government services—and challenges—including a risk that building out this new infrastructure will impose costs that will reinforce global inequities.

    In this light, it is no surprise that Digital Public Goods (DPGs)—an institutionalized sharing of “open-source software, open data, open AI models, open standards, and open content” between government and other actors—are an increasingly discussed model. This presents an opportunity to share the burden of modernizing the core infrastructure of a state.

    Inspired by the open-source movement, not only are DPGs non-rivalrous, but sharing them across jurisdictions could lower costs, speed adoption, and create standards to facilitate cooperation and trade. However, the joint management of any resource by sovereign entities—particularly of key infrastructure for the maintenance of public goods and services offered by the state—carries with it significant questions of governance.

    The 2021 Digital Services Convening
    Eaves, David, and Sechi Kailasa. 2022. “The 2021 Digital Services Convening”. Read full text Abstract

    David Eaves and Sechi Kailasa, March 2022

    This year’s convening marked the fourth Digital Services Convening jointly organized by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and Public Digital, a disruptive digital trans- formation consultancy. The event has been described by a Cambridge University study as one of six seminal digital government conferences across the globe. The importance of having a space where digital government practitioners can learn, share, and discuss their experiences is only growing, as more and more governments are grappling with transformation efforts and the subsequent issues that such efforts give rise to.

    Many digital service teams had made significant gains during the pandemic and were awarded more authority, remit, and funding. COVID-19 had also affected governments’ risk appetites across the world, leading to more experimentation and iteration. This has not always led to successful outcomes; in some cases, it might not be appropriate to bypass processes or use a magic wand as a lever. However, this general shift has meant that the entrenched ways of working and the prevailing speed of bureaucracy were challenged. It remains an open question as to whether all the gains made during the pandemic can or should be retained.

    Growing Fairly: How to Build Opportunity and Equity in Workforce Development
    Goldsmith, Stephen, and Kate Markin Coleman. 2022. Growing Fairly: How to Build Opportunity and Equity in Workforce Development. Brookings Institution Press. Learn more on the publisher's site Abstract

    Stephen Goldsmith and Kate Markin Coleman, February 2022  

    The labor market in the United States faces seemingly contradictory challenges: Many employers have trouble finding qualified applicants for current and future jobs, while millions of Americans are out of work or are underemployed—their paths to living-wage jobs blocked by systemic barriers or lack of adequate skills.

    Growing Fairly offers workforce development reforms that meet the needs of both workers and employers. Based on the experiences of hundreds of leaders and workers, the authors set out ten principles for designing a more effective and equitable system that helps workers obtain the skills necessary for economic mobility.

    The principles outlined in the book argue for a more comprehensive view of the skilling needs of current and prospective workers. They spell out the attributes of effective programs and make the case for skill-based hiring, widely distributed performance data, and collaboration. The book emphasizes the importance of local action to overcome the structural barriers that challenge even the most determined would-be learners. Growing Fairly shows cross sector leaders how to work across organizational boundaries to change the trajectory of individuals struggling to make a living wage.

    This is not a book of untested theories. Instead, it is written by practitioners for practitioners. Much of it is told through the voices of those who run programs and people who have taken advantage of them. While the issues the book addresses are profound, its take on the subject is optimistic.

    Between them, the authors have spent decades searching out and supporting effective practices. Even more critically, they have learned how to knit competing agencies and organizations into cohesive systems with coordinated missions. Their practical ideas will benefit a wide range of readers, from practitioners in the field to students and scholars of the American labor system.

    Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, State of Ohio: Innovations in American Government Award Case Study

    Colleen Crispino, January 2022 

    Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD), Ohio’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency, is responsible for providing employment-related services to eligible individuals in Ohio to help them achieve their employment goals. Their program model, designed to improve employment outcomes for youth and adults with disabilities, addresses some of the barriers that exist for these populations. Since 2013, their Business Relations team has partnered with more than 500 employers statewide to match skilled candidates to available jobs. As part of this service, OOD provides no-cost solutions for employers, including improved worksite accessibility and accommodations and training on disability etiquette and awareness. These strategies have resulted in increased hiring of VR participants by employer partners.3

    As part of their innovative service system, OOD partners with large employers in the Columbus area to embed Ohio State VR staff in each employer’s human resources department to quickly match qualified candidates with disabilities to open positions. OOD first tested this approach with one major employer in 2017, leading to the hiring of 60 individuals with disabilities in the first three years. They later expanded the program to include an additional major employer, in a different industry, with similarly positive results.

    BenePhilly, City of Philadelphia: Innovations in American Government Award Case Study

    Betsy Gardner, January 2022 

    The American social safety net exists to meet needs for: unemployment assistance, supplemental money for food, help with health care costs and medical expenses, and more. However, the process of signing up for these services is often time-consuming, confusing, repetitive, and frustrating.

    To address these challenges, the Philadelphia-based nonprofit Benefits Data Trust (BDT) developed BenePhilly, in partnership with the City of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Departments of Aging and Human Services, to inform people of their eligibility for benefits and assist them in quickly and efficiently enrolling. This paper is a case study of the BenePhilly program and will serve as a guide to replicate its success. By using proven, data-driven methods, the program connects high-need, eligible individuals with up to 19 different benefits, all while reducing overall poverty, providing a better application experience, and increasing trust in local government.

    BenePhilly is a network of government agencies, nonprofits, and community-based organizations connecting Philadelphians to benefits through targeted, data-driven outreach, referrals from a network of organizations, and in-person and telephone application assistance. The trained staff at both BDT and the nonprofit organizations embedded in the communities they serve help individuals easily find and enroll in benefits. According to BDT’s Chief Strategy Officer Pauline Abernathy, BenePhilly has helped more than 125,000 Philadelphia residents secure over $1.6 billion in benefits as of January 2021.

    Pathways to Economic Advancement, Commonwealth of Massachusetts: Innovations in American Government Award Case Study

    Jeanne Batalova, January 2022 

    Adult English learners (ELs) are as likely to find jobs in the U.S. labor market as those who speak English fluently. There are significant differences, however, when it comes to salary, job quality, and professional opportunities. Today, more than 240,000 working-age adults are in need of English-language services in Greater Boston, with most seeking to improve their English fluency to find a job or get pro- moted. Despite this need, only 11,600 adults receive English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) services each year. As a result, adult ELs are often limited in their ability to contribute to local and state economies in terms of taxes and consumer spending.

    Developed by Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) in Boston, the Massachusetts Pathways to Economic Advancement (Pathways) program started with a fundamental question: Given the high unmet demand for vocational and workplace English, how do we effectively scale up a proven workforce-oriented model of teaching adults English for employment. Through its four program tracks and an innovating fund- ing model (Pay for Success), Pathways offers a continuum of work-related ESOL services coupled with individualized job coaching and job placement.

    Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, City University of New York: Innovations in American Government Award Case Study

    Philip Jordan, January 2022 

    Social and economic mobility are at historic lows in America, while entrenched racial inequality cotinues to erect barriers. Research suggests that education is critically important to enable economic mobility, particularly for the lowest-income populations, which are most frequently served by the patch- work of community colleges across the US.

    While progress in expanding access and enrollment at community colleges over the past 20 years is significant, the rate of degree completion has generally not improved. Systemic barriers, including financial, social, and academic, persist. Three-year completion rates for associate degrees are very low, and there is a significant achievement gap for racial and ethnic minorities. Eliminating barriers to success is not easy and the community colleges of the City University of New York (CUNY) have not been immune to these challenges. However, while many programs attempt to overcome these obstacles, few have demonstrated verifiable success and none more so than CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP).

    Designing for Community Engagement: Toward More Equitable Civic Participation in the Federal Regulatory Process

    Archon Fung, Hollie Russon Gilman, and Mark Schmitt; December 2021 

    To understand the advantages of and challenges to a reformed regulatory review process, New America’s Political Reform program and the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government convened a group of local community engagement experts, public sector leaders, and on-the-ground organizers to share their expertise in designing processes that support more inclusive engagement, in particular working with historically underserved communities.

    During this discussion with local community engagement experts, we sought to identify the process designs and other innovations that would empower residents to exercise meaningful influence over decisions about the formation, review, and implementation of regulations. Our discussion focused on extending community engagement processes to give grassroots groups and affected parties a voice in the federal regulatory process.

    These experts agreed that when engagement is designed intentionally, policymakers can work with communities more effectively to garner information and insights, implement programs or provide services, and build trusting relationships. Furthermore, while participation in and of itself is important, designing more effective engagement can also ensure that participants identify and harness opportunities to protect their interests and influence decision-making. And, most importantly, transparent and inclusive engagement practices can improve policy outcomes and strengthen equity.

    Assessing the U.S. Treasury Department’s Allocations of Funding for Tribal Governments under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021

    Eric C. Henson, Miriam R. Jorgensen, Joseph P. Kalt, & Isabelle G. Leonaitis; November 2021  

    The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“the Act” or “ARPA”) has resulted in the single largest infusion of federal funding for Native America in U.S. history. The core of this funding is $20 billion for the more than 570 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments. As required by the Act, the Department of the Treasury (“Treasury” or “the Department”) devised and has now implemented a formula for allocating these monies. In this report, the authors find that the allocations that have been made are grossly inequitable and contrary to the policy objectives of Congress, the Biden Administration, and the Treasury Department itself.

     

    This study uses publicly available information to estimate enrollment and employment counts for tribes. These figures are only estimates created for the express purpose of analyzing the appropriateness of the US Department of the Treasury’s American Rescue Plan Act allocations. Our estimates have not and cannot be verified against actual enrollment or employment data submitted to the Department of Treasury by each tribe.  We believe the estimates are as accurate as possible and reliable for the purpose of assessing the relative positions of tribes under Treasury’s ARPA allocations, but should not be extracted and used as accurate for any individual tribe or for any purpose other than how they are used here.

     

    Rapoport, Miles. 2021. “Testimony in Support of H 788, An Act Making Voting Obligatory and Increasing Turnout in Elections.” Joint Committee on Election Laws, General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Read the Full Testimony Abstract

    Testimony in Support of H 788, An Act Making Voting Obligatory and Increasing Turnout in Elections given to the Joint Committee on Election Laws by Miles Rapoport, Senior Practice Fellow in American Democracy at the Ash Center of the Harvard Kennedy School, October 20, 2021.

    View a Recording of the Testimony 

    The testimony begins at the 17:43 minute mark. 

    Democratizing the Federal Regulatory Process: A Blueprint to Strengthen Equity, Dignity, and Civic Engagement through Executive Branch Action

    Archon Fung, Hollie Russon Gilman, and Mark Schmitt; September 2021 

    While legislation tends to get more attention, the regulatory process within the executive branch is at the core of day-to-day democratic governance. Federal regulation and rule-making engages dozens of agencies and affects every American. In writing the rules and regulations to implement laws, revise standards, and exercise the substantial authority granted to the presidency, the agencies of the federal government set directions, priorities, and boundaries for our collective life. At times, the regulatory process has moved the country in the direction of greater justice, equality, and security. At other times, it has pulled us in other directions, often with little public engagement or debate.

    The Biden-Harris administration acknowledged the centrality of the regulatory process with two actions on the President’s first day in office. The first called for modernizing the regulatory review process, particularly the central oversight role of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). The second was an executive order calling on the federal government to support underserved communities and advance racial equity. To understand the challenges to and advantages of a reformed regulatory review process, New America’s Political Reform Program and the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government convened a group of academic experts from across the country to share their findings on the state of regulatory review and to identify alternative measures of not just the cost of regulations, but also the distributional impact of their costs and benefits. These experts specialize in administrative law, economic analysis, public participation, and regulatory review, and their work covers policy areas including patent law, healthcare, and environmental justice.

    Understanding the Role of Local Election Officials: How Local Autonomy Shapes U.S. Election Administration

    Hannah Furstenberg-Beckman, Greg Degen, and Tova Wang; September 2021 

    This policy brief will examine the independence and discretionary powers of local election officials and offer a framework to better understand local autonomy in our electoral system. It will also describe the larger system within which the local election official operates and demonstrate how local power and voter-focused decision-making varies across the country. The brief will use illustrative examples of the exercise of autonomy by local election officials from past elections as well as examples of shifts in local discretionary powers from the recent wave of state legislative efforts that seek to restrict autonomy.

    It will also address the implications of local autonomy for those with an interest in increasing voter access and promoting voter participation. This brief can be a resource for those seeking a better understanding of the possible levers of change in their own state or locality’s electoral system.

    Toward a Smarter Future: Building Back Better with Intelligent Civil Infrastructure -- Smart Sensors and Self-Monitoring Civil Works

    Stephen Goldsmith, Betsy Gardner, and Jill Jamieson; September 2021 

     

    The United States needs to build better infrastructure. The current repairs and replacements are disorganized and patchwork, resulting in unsafe, costly, and inequitable roads, bridges, dams, sidewalks, and water systems. A strategic, smart infrastructure plan that integrates digital technology, sensors, and data not only addresses these issues but can mitigate risks and even improve the conditions and structures that shape our daily lives.

     

    By applying data analysis to intelligent infrastructure, which integrates digital technology and smart sensors, we can identify issues with the country’s roadways, buildings, and bridges before they become acute dangers. First, by identifying infrastructure weaknesses, smart infrastructure systems can address decades of deferred maintenance, a practice that has left many structures in perilous conditions. Sensors in pavement, bridges, vehicles, and sewer systems can target where these problems exist, allowing governments to allocate funding toward the neediest projects.

    From there, these sensors and other smart technologies will alert leaders to changes or issues before they pose a danger—and often before a human inspector can even see them. The many infrastructure emergencies in the U.S. cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars each year, so identifying and fixing these issues is a pressing security issue. Further, as the changing climate leads to more extreme weather and natural disasters, the safety and resiliency of the country’s infrastructure is an immediate concern. Sensor systems and other intelligent infrastructure technology can identify and mitigate these problems, saving money and lives.

    In addition, intelligent infrastructure can be layered onto existing infrastructure to address public health concerns, like monitoring sewer water for COVID-19 and other pathogens or installing smart sensors along dangerous interstates to automatically lower speed limits and reduce accidents. It can also be used to improve materials, like concrete, to reduce the carbon footprint of a project, ultimately contributing to better health and environmental outcomes.

    Finally, addressing inequities is a major reason to utilize intelligent infrastructure. Research shows that people of color in the U.S. are exposed to more pollutants, toxic chemicals, and physical danger through excess car emissions, aging water pipes, and poor road conditions. The implementation and funding of these intelligent infrastructure projects must consider where—and to whom—harm has traditionally been done and how building back better can measurably improve the quality of life in marginalized and vulnerable communities.

    While there are challenges to implementing a sweeping intelligent infrastructure plan, including upfront costs and security concerns, all levels of government play a role in achieving a safer society. At the federal level, with infrastructure funding bills being debated at this moment, the government must look beyond roads and bridges and consider that intelligent infrastructure is a system: upheld, connected, and integrated by data. Through grants, incentives, and authorized funding, the federal government can effect monumental change that will improve how all residents experience their daily lives. At the state level, budgeting with intelligent infrastructure in mind will encourage innovative approaches to local infrastructure. And on a municipal level, cities and towns can invest in comprehensive asset management systems and training for local workers to best utilize the intelligent infrastructure data.

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