Publications

    Disrupting the Party: A Case Study of Ahora Madrid and Its Participatory Innovations

    Quinton Mayne and Cecilia Nicolini, September 2020 

    In this paper, Quinton Mayne and Cecilia Nicolini examine the rise of Ahora Madrid, a progressive electoral alliance that—to the surprise of onlookers—managed to gain political control, just a few months after being formed, of the Spanish capital following the 2015 municipal elections. Headed by the unassuming figure of Manuela Carmena, a former judge, Ahora Madrid won voters over with a bold agenda that reimagined the relationship between citizens and city hall. Mayne and Nicolini’s analysis is a case study of this innovation agenda. The paper begins by exploring how Ahora Madrid’s agenda emerged as a response to, and built off of, historic levels of political disaffection and mass mobilization spurred by the 2008–2014 Spanish financial crisis. The authors examine how the alliance’s agenda of democratic disruption was realized, first through an unusual bottom-up electoral campaign and then, after taking office, by challenging and rethinking established relations between public officials, civil society, and city residents.  

    Mayne and Nicolini show that while Ahora Madrid’s time in power was not without its challenges, it still successfully implemented a set of far-reaching democratic reforms centered on institutional innovation. This included the creation of an internationally recognized online civic engagement platform, the establishment of neighborhood forums, and the implementation of a €100 million participatory budgeting process. Although Ahora Madrid lost the 2019 elections and the city swung back to the right, a number of its reforms, explored by Mayne and Nicolini in the case study’s conclusion, live on in an altered form, serving as a reminder of the alliance’s original bold vision for the city. 

    Disciplining of a Society: Social Disciplining and Civilizing Processes in Contemporary China

    Thomas Heberer, August 2020

    In this paper, we specifically focus on the social disciplining process in China since 2012, i.e., in the Xi Jinping era, although we also briefly touch upon historical aspects of disciplining (Confucianism, Legalism, New Life Movement” in the 1930s political campaigns in the Mao era, etc.). The approach adopted in this paper is to conduct an analysis of the disciplining/civilizing top-down project of the state.
     
    We argue that the function of the current Chinese state as a disciplining and civilizing entity is the connecting link tying policies such as the state’s morality policies, its anti-corruption drive or the so-called “social credit system” together under a specific governance logic: to discipline and civilize society in order to prepare the people to become modernized. In fact, modernization and modernity encompass not only a process of economic and political-administrative modernizing but concurrently one related to the organization of society in general and the disciplining of this society and its individuals to create people with “modernized” minds in particular.
     
    Our principal research questions in this paper are twofold: (1) How should disciplining and civilizing processes in general and in contemporary China in particular be understood? (2) What kind of policies and tools does the Chinese state use to pursue and implement its disciplining objectives?
     

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    A Turbulent Decade: The Changes in Chinese Popular Attitudes toward Democracy

    Yinxian Zhang, August 2020 

    In light of the increasingly aggressive policies and rhetoric of the Chinese government, many came to believe that China may pose a severe threat to democracy and the international order. However, less attention has been paid to Chinese popular attitudes toward democracy and authoritarianism. How does the Chinese public think of democracy in the changing domestic and international environment?

     

    This paper uses a novel data set of Chinese social media posts generated between 2009 and 2017 and investigates the changes in popular attitudes toward democracy in the past decade. Results show that online discussion around democracy has decreased and voices questioning democracy have become pronounced since 2013. While tightened state control is a critical factor shaping popular attitudes, this paper demonstrates that people’s increasing exposure to two types of foreign information has also played into this trend. These information lead to a perception of dissatisfying performance of other countries and an awareness of racial attitudes of the West. Lastly, increasing doubts about democracy are not necessarily translated into a strong authoritarian legitimacy. Instead, online discussion presents a sense of ambivalence toward the two models, and the Chinese regime has continued to face a predicament of legitimacy.

     

    Lift Every Voice: The Urgency of Universal Civic Duty Voting
    Rapoport, Miles, E.J. Dionne, and et al. 2020. “Lift Every Voice: The Urgency of Universal Civic Duty Voting.” Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Brookings Governance Program . Read the full report Abstract

    The Universal Voting Working Group, July 2020 

    Imagine an American democracy remade by its citizens in the very image of its promise, a society where the election system is designed to allow citizens to perform their most basic civic duty with ease. Imagine that all could vote without obstruction or suppression. Imagine Americans who now solemnly accept their responsibilities to sit on juries and to defend our country in a time of war taking their obligations to the work of self-government just as seriously. Imagine elections in which 80 percent or more of our people cast their ballots—broad participation in our great democratic undertaking by citizens of every race, heritage and class, by those with strongly-held ideological beliefs, and those with more moderate or less settled views. And imagine how all of this could instill confidence in our capacity for common action.

    This report is offered with these aspirations in mind and is rooted in the history of American movements to expand voting rights. Our purpose is to propose universal civic duty voting as an indispensable and transformative step toward full electoral participation. Our nation’s current crisis of governance has focused unprecedented public attention on intolerable inequities and demands that Americans think boldly and consider reforms that until now seemed beyond our reach.

    Understanding CCP Resilience: Surveying Chinese Public Opinion Through Time
    Cunningham, Edward, Tony Saich, and Jessie Turiel. 2020. Understanding CCP Resilience: Surveying Chinese Public Opinion Through Time. Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. Read the full report Abstract

    Edward Cunningham, Tony Saich, and Jessie Turiel, July 2020

    This policy brief reviews the findings of the longest-running independent effort to track Chinese citizen satisfaction of government performance. China today is the world’s second largest economy and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has ruled for some seventy years. Yet long-term, publicly-available, and nationally-representative surveys in mainland China are so rare that it is difficult to know how ordinary Chinese citizens feel about their government.

    We find that first, since the start of the survey in 2003, Chinese citizen satisfaction with government has increased virtually across the board. From the impact of broad national policies to the conduct of local town officials, Chinese citizens rate the government as more capable and effective than ever before. Interestingly, more marginalized groups in poorer, inland regions are actually comparatively more likely to report increases in satisfaction. Second, the attitudes of Chinese citizens appear to respond (both positively and negatively) to real changes in their material well-being, which suggests that support could be undermined by the twin challenges of declining economic growth and a deteriorating natural environment.

    While the CCP is seemingly under no imminent threat of popular upheaval, it cannot take the support of its people for granted. Although state censorship and propaganda are widespread, our survey reveals that citizen perceptions of governmental performance respond most to real, measurable changes in individuals’ material well-being. For government leaders, this is a double-edged sword, as citizens who have grown accustomed to increases in living standards will expect such improvements to continue, and citizens who praise government officials for effective policies may indeed blame them when such policy failures affect them or their family members directly. While our survey reinforces narratives of CCP resilience, our data also point to specific areas in which citizen satisfaction could decline in today’s era of slowing economic growth and continued environmental degradation.

    Union Impact on Voter Participation—And How to Expand It

    Tova Wang, May 2020

    Some politicians have enacted measures in recent years to make voting harder and to reduce participation among certain groups. Others have sought to counteract that voter suppression by implementing laws to make voting easier, such as same-day or automatic registration. There is another antidote to the effort to reduce participation: lifting up worker organizations. This is especially important to understand given the ways in which powerful individuals and groups have sought to weaken unions because of their political strength representing American workers.

    In this report, the author first explains efforts to weaken unions and the voice of working people; then what the decline of unions and union membership has meant for participation; next, Wang looks at the data showing the positive effects unions have on voter participation; and finally, she suggests how going forward we can reform the laws and how labor is structured such that it not only continues to facilitate voter participation, but even enhances it.

    Fernando Monge, Jorrit de Jong, and Warren Dent; May 2020 

    In the fall of 2016, the state government of the United Arab Emirates decided to take a new approach to spur floundering projects toward faster results.

    Frustrated with slow progress on key issues like public health and traffic safety, the state launched a new program to accelerate change and enhance performance across government agencies. The innovative program, called Government Accelerators, ran 100-day challenges—intense periods of action where “acceleration” teams of frontline staff worked across agency boundaries to tackle pressing problems. This case illustrates how three teams were chosen to participate in the program, and how, in the 100-day timeframe, they worked toward clear and ambitious goals that would impact citizens’ lives.

    The case aims to raise discussion about different types of public sector innovation, to explain the approach and methodology of the Government Accelerators, and to analyze the conditions under which a similar tool might work in other cities.

    Thanks to a gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies, no permission is required to teach with, download, or make copies of this case.

     Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College?

    Alexander Keyssar, July 2020

    With every presidential election, Americans puzzle over the peculiar mechanism of the Electoral College. The author of the Pulitzer finalist The Right to Vote explains the enduring problem of this controversial institution.

    Every four years, millions of Americans wonder why they choose their presidents through the Electoral College, an arcane institution that permits the loser of the popular vote to become president and narrows campaigns to swing states. Most Americans have long preferred a national popular vote, and Congress has attempted on many occasions to alter or scuttle the Electoral College. Several of these efforts—one as recently as 1970—came very close to winning approval. Yet this controversial system remains.

    Malcolm McPherson, March 2020 

    This paper examines how China can improve transboundary resource management within the Greater Mekong Basin (GMB) through its participation in the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC). Such improvement would ensure the efficient management and equitable development of the basin’s natural resources and ecosystems.

    Science, Technology, & Democracy: Building a Modern Congressional Technology Assessment Office

    Zach Graves and Daniel Schuman, January 2020

    This paper offers recommendations and a road map for the future success of a restarted technology assessment office in Congress. We look at three potential approaches: (1) Building up the Government Accountability Office (GAO)’s OTA-like capacity in its newly created Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics (STAA) team, and giving it greater resources and structural autonomy; (2) Reviving OTA but updating its procedures and statutory authority; and (3) A hybrid approach wherein both GAO and a new OTA develop different capacities and specializations. (Spoiler: we favor the third approach.)
     
    The next section of this paper reviews what OTA was and how it functioned. The third section discusses the history of and rationale for the defunding of OTA, other cuts to Congress’s S&T capacity, and why this congressional capacity and expertise matter for democracy. The fourth section reviews efforts to revive OTA and other efforts to build new congressional S&T capacity. The fifth section discusses the political landscape for building S&T capacity, including the legislative branch appropriations process and the different political constituencies for S&T. The final section offers a detailed discussion of various structural recommendations for a new congressional technology assessment office, including an expanded STAA unit in GAO, and a new OTA.
     
    The Hidden Face of Rights

    Kathryn Sikkink, January 2020 

    When we debate questions in international law, politics, and justice, we often use the language of rights—and far less often the language of responsibilities. Human rights scholars and activists talk about state responsibility for rights, but they do not articulate clear norms about other actors’ obligations. In this book, Kathryn Sikkink argues that we cannot truly implement human rights unless we also recognize and practice the corresponding human responsibilities.
     
    Focusing on five areas—climate change, voting, digital privacy, freedom of speech, and sexual assault—and providing many examples of on-the-ground initiatives where people choose to embrace a close relationship between rights and responsibilities, Sikkink argues for the importance of responsibilities to any comprehensive understanding of political ethics and human rights.

    William H. Overholt, December 2019

    This is an extensively edited, updated and expanded text of a lecture given for the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at Harvard Kennedy School on October 31, 2019. From the origination of “one country, two systems” in 1979 to today, this paper analyzes the history of the unique relationship between Hong Kong, Beijing, and the world.

    Legitimacy: The Right to Rule in a Wanton World
    Applbaum, Arthur Isak. 2019. Legitimacy: The Right to Rule in a Wanton World. Harvard University Press. Visit Publisher's Site Abstract

    Arthur Applbaum, Harvard University Press, November 2019 

    What makes a government legitimate? The dominant view is that public officials have the right to rule us, even if they are unfair or unfit, as long as they gain power through procedures traceable to the consent of the governed. In this rigorous and timely study, Arthur Isak Applbaum argues that adherence to procedure is not enough: even a properly chosen government does not rule legitimately if it fails to protect basic rights, to treat its citizens as political equals, or to act coherently.

    Mathis, Colleen, Daniel Moskowitz, and Benjamin Schneer. 2019. “The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission: One State's Model for Reform”. Read full paper Abstract

    Colleen Mathis, Daniel Moskowitz, and Benjamin Schneer; September 2019 

    In most states, redistricting, the process by which electoral district boundaries are drawn, is an overtly partisan exercise controlled by state legislatures. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2019 decision Rucho v. Common Cause held that federal courts cannot review allegations of partisan gerrymandering. Independent redistricting in practice has proven remarkably successful along several dimensions. This policy brief outlines key lessons learned from redistricting in Arizona, a state with a five-person independent redistricting commission.

    Transparency for Development Team, June 2019 

    This paper assess the impact of a transparency and accountability program designed to improve maternal and newborn health (MNH) outcomes in Indonesia and Tanzania. Co-designed with local partner organizations to be community-led and non-prescriptive, the program sought to encourage community participation to address local barriers in access to high quality care for pregnant women and infants. This paper evaluates the impact of this program through randomized controlled trials (RCTs), involving 100 treatment and 100 control communities in each country, and finds that on average, this program did not have a statistically significant impact on the use or content of maternal and newborn health services, nor the sense of civic efficacy or civic participation among recent mothers in the communities who were offered it.

    Civic Responsibility: The Power of Companies to Increase Voter Turnout

    Sofia Gross and Ashley Spillane, June 2019 

    This case study provides an analysis and evaluation of the implementation of civic participation programs by companies aimed at increasing voter turnout. The United States consistently lags behind the majority of developed democratic nations in voter turnout, averaging less than half of the eligible voter population participating in midterm elections. The U.S. ranks 26th out of 32 developed democracies in percentage of eligible voters who participate in elections. Today, many companies have dedicated resources for corporate social responsibility projects aimed at strengthening society and building goodwill among employees, consumers, and the public. Voter participation initiatives align with the goals of social responsibility projects, as they address a critical societal problem (lack of engagement), while building goodwill with key stakeholders. 

    Muriel Rouyer, May 2019 

    The saga of Brexit, an elusive public policy with shifting objectives but devastating costs, confirms an unpleasant reality: economic interdependence keeps majoritarian will, even that of a sovereign people, in check. Brexit raises the question, fundamental in democracy, of political freedom, which itself calls into question the political community within which freely agreed-upon choices are made.

    Elena Fagotto, Project on Transparency and Technology for Better Health, March 2019

    The Project on Transparency and Technology for Better Health was established to conduct comparative case studies on platforms that empower patients through information to provide an inventory and typology of initiatives. This case study takes a look at Breast Cancer Straight Talk Support, a closed Facebook community for women dealing with breast cancer and survivors. With hundreds of posts every day, the group is a safe space where women can vent about feeling scared, depressed, or lonely and receive support from women who “get them.” For many members, the group is a window into other women’s cancer journeys, which gives them perspective and a more proactive attitude to fight the disease. The community is also an important resource to ask questions on treatments, side effects, surgery and more.

    Elena Fagotto, Project on Transparency and Technology for Better Health, March 2019

    The Project on Transparency and Technology for Better Health was established to conduct comparative case studies on platforms that empower patients through information to provide an inventory and typology of initiatives. This case study takes a look at IBD Partners, a research network connecting nearly 15,500 IBD patients with over 300 researchers. Patients can contribute their self-reported health data for research by filling out surveys on their health twice a year. This way, patient-generated data feeds into an extensive database that can be accessed by researchers to conduct longitudinal studies, to connect with patients for clinical trials and for prospective studies. Patients can also use the platform to suggest research questions and vote for the most interesting ideas, generating a truly patient-driven research agenda.

    Elena Fagotto, Transparency and Technology for Better Health, March 2019

    The Project on Transparency and Technology for Better Health was established to conduct comparative case studies on platforms that empower patients through information to provide an inventory and typology of initiatives. This case study details ImproveCareNow (ICN), a network of clinicians, medical centers, patients, families and researchers working together to improve the lives of children with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

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