Publications

    2020 Public Narrative Impact Survey Overview Report

    Emilia Aiello and Marshall Ganz, July 2021

    This report describes the results of the 2020 Public Narrative Impact Survey administered to individuals who learned public narrative in classrooms and in workshops between 2006 and 2020. Individual responses to the survey items provide data that will inform efforts to learn how public narrative is being used in different domains of usage (workplace, constituency groups, and campaigns; and within the private sphere, in interpersonal relationships such as family and friends), areas of societal action (e.g., advocacy/organizing in education, health, politics), and cultural and geographical contexts as well.

    The 2020 Public Narrative Impact Survey is part of the research project Narratives4Change led by Dr. Emilia Aiello, funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 841355. As part of this larger project, two research questions guided the survey. First, how is public narrative being used by individuals as a leadership practice within different domains of usage (e.g., workplace, constituency groups, campaigns, and within the private domain including family and friends)? Second, what impact does use public narrative have as reported by “users” at the individual, community, societal, and institutional level?

    Brokering Collaboration: Involving Officials in Community Scorecard Programs
    Kosack, Stephen, Jessica Creighton, Courtney Tolmie, Fatu Conteh, Eric Englin, Linda Gassama, Hannah Hilligoss, et al. 2021. “Brokering Collaboration: Involving Officials in Community Scorecard Programs”. Read the full report Abstract

    Transparency for Development Team, April 2021 

    Programs to improve the transparency and accountability of public services are an increasing focus of international commitments to sustainable development. We ask whether involving officials in one common approach—community scorecard programs—brokers state-society collaboration that improves public services. We compare two scorecard programs focused on improving maternal and newborn health care that were offered in 215 communities similarly stratified across five countries. The first program, offered in 200 communities in Indonesia and Tanzania, involved facilitated meetings among community members. A similar program in 15 communities in Ghana, Malawi, and Sierra Leone involved facilitated meetings among community participants as well as between community members and hereditary authorities (in Malawi) or district-level elected and appointed officials (in Ghana and Sierra Leone). Interviews, focus groups, and systematic observations consistently suggest that in the program in Malawi, participants took similar approaches to improving their health care to participants in Indonesia and Tanzania—focusing primarily on improving care themselves and with health-care providers and others in their communities—and that the results of their efforts were similar to the program in Indonesia and Tanzania, where a randomized controlled impact evaluation found that average community outcomes did not improve significantly faster than in a control group of communities. In both Ghana and Sierra Leone, participants collaborated more with officials and saw tangible changes to health care that they and others noticed and remembered in nearly twice the proportion of communities as in the program in Indonesia and Tanzania. We conclude that involving officials in these programs may increase their effectiveness.

    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?
     
    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.

     

    Joshua Forstenzer, July 2018 

    Just days after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States, specific passages from American philosopher Richard Rorty’s 1998 book Achieving Our Country were shared thousands of times on social media. Both The New York Times and The Guardian wrote about Rorty’s prophecy and its apparent realization, as within the haze that followed this unexpected victory, Rorty seemed to offer a presciently trenchant analysis of what led to the rise of “strong man” Trump. However, in this paper, Forstenzer points to Rorty’s own potential intellectual responsibility in the unfolding crisis of liberal democracy.

    This paper seeks to elucidate the relationship between Rorty’s liberal ironism and contemporary post-truth politics. While the paper ultimately concludes that Rorty is not causally responsible and thus not complicit with the rise of post-truth politics, it contends that Rorty’s philosophical project bears some intellectual responsibility for the onset of post-truth politics insofar as it took a complacent attitude towards the dangers associated with over-affirming the contingency of our epistemic practices in public debate. In the last instance, this paper argues that Rorty’s complacency is a pragmatic failure and thus cuts to the heart of his pragmatism.

     Transparency for Development Team, August 2017

    The Transparency for Development (T4D) study was designed to answer the question of whether a community-led transparency and accountability program can improve health outcomes and community empowerment, and, if so, how and in what contexts. To answer this question, researchers and civil society organization partners began by co-designing a program that would activate community participation to address myriad barriers to proper maternal and newborn care, with the ultimate goal of improving maternal and newborn health outcomes. This report presents the design of the program that was then implemented in 200 villages in Tanzania and Indonesia and studied using a mixed methods impact evaluation. In addition to detailing the program, this report outlines how the project team got there—describing a number of principles that informed some distinguishing features of the program, as well as an iterative design process that defined other features through trial and error.

    Mellon, Jonathan, Hollie Russon Gilman, Fredrik M. Sjoberg, and Tiago Peixoto. 2017. “Gender and Political Mobilization Online: Participation and Policy Success on a Global Petitioning Platform”. Publisher's Version Abstract

    Jonathan Mellon, Hollie Russon Gilman, Fredrik M. Sjoberg, and Tiago Peixoto; July 2017

    As political life moves online, it is important to know whether online political participation excludes certain groups. Using a dataset of 3.9 million signers of online petitions in 132 countries, this paper examines the descriptive success (number of successful petitions) and substantive success (topic of successful petitions) of women and men. Women’s participation is higher than expected in the ‘thin’ action of petition signing, but consistently lower in the ‘thick’ action of petition creation. This paper does not find a link between lower female thick participation and female descriptive success. In terms of substantive success, the paper finds successful petitions reflect female users’ priorities more closely than men’s, independent of the petition initiator’s gender. These results hold both platform-wide and within most countries in the dataset. This paper shows that these results occur due to the low level of petition success (1.2%) on the platform, which increases the importance of thin forms of participation.

    Hollie Russon Gilman, January 2016 

    This paper provides a brief overview of the genesis of participatory budgeting and its current incarnations in the United States. It situates the participatory budgeting process within a larger context of civic innovation strategies occurring across America. The paper outlines the institutional challenges and proposes assessment criteria to be considered when implementing civic and social innovations such as participatory budgeting.