Digital Democracy: Is Digital Technology Transforming the US Political Landscape as Expected?


Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 4:10pm to 5:30pm


124 Mt. Auburn Street, Suite 200-North, Cambridge, MA

shadow handsMatt Lira, National Republican Senatorial Committee Macon Phillips, U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Information Programs
Archon Fung, Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship (Moderator)

About the Event
This panel will feature a discussion between two of Washington’s best known digital media experts-representing both the right and the left side of the political spectrum – on the potential of digital technology to influence American democracy. There is disagreement about the significance and character of how digital technology is transforming the political process. Panelists will discuss how digital media has transformed the U.S. political landscape, or at least political communication, within both the realm of electoral politics and issue advocacy? Specifically, how have political parties and institutions differed in their attempts to harness the power of digital media to communicate with voters or potential voters? Why have both the Obama campaign and congressional Republicans been lauded for their successful ability to harness the political power of digital media?

Read the Challenges to Democracy blog post about this event

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About the Speakers

Matt Lira is currently the Deputy Executive Director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Matt strongly believes in the potential of digital platforms to repair our democratic processes, by empowering people to positively impact our nation’s politics and governance. Previously, Matt served as Senior Advisor to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. In this capacity, Matt worked to modernize both public communication and policy development; for this work, he was named one of TechCrunch’s “Ten Most Innovative People in Democracy.” In 2007, working for then-Chief Deputy Minority Whip Cantor, Matt helped create the Young Guns program to recruit and highlight a new generation of public servants. Matt has also served as the Digital Director for VP-Nominee Paul Ryan, founded the digital department at the House Republican Conference, worked as a grassroots organizer and co-founded a successful startup that developed websites for professional baseball players. Macon Phillips is Coordinator for the Bureau of International Information Programs, a position he assumed in September 2013. His first role in the Obama Administration was at the White House, as a Special Assistant to the President and Director of Digital Strategy. Previously he ran the new media program for the Presidential Transition Team and served as the deputy director of the Obama campaign’s new media department. Prior to the campaign, Mr. Phillips led Blue State Digital’s strategy practice, working with clients like the Democratic National Committee and Senator Ted Kennedy. A proud Americorps *VISTA alum, the Huntsville, Alabama native is a graduate of Duke University. Archon Fung is the Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship at the Harvard Kennedy School. His research explores policies, practices, and institutional designs that deepen the quality of democratic governance. He focuses upon public participation, deliberation, and transparency. He co-directs the Transparency Policy Project and leads democratic governance programs of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Kennedy School. His books include Full Disclosure: The Perils and Promise of Transparency (Cambridge University Press, with Mary Graham and David Weil) and Empowered Participation: Reinventing Urban Democracy (Princeton University Press). He has authored five books, four edited collections, and over fifty articles appearing in professional journals.

Suggested Reading
Examining the effect of digital technology on politics, Six Models of Internet and Politics (Archon Fung): “The way to understand the effect of technology on politics is not to generalize or analogize from one or other digital platform such as the collaborative production of knowledge on Wikipedia – but rather to understand some digital technology as a part and an intervention in a larger political system.”

Reviving political conversation, Digital Democracy and the New Age of Reason (David Winston): “Digital technology is the best way to communicate ideas, and democracy is the best means of realizing those ideas. I believe this to be the most powerful combination for improving civilization in the future.”

A podcast featuring Harvard Kennedy School Lecturer Nicco Mele, Is the Internet Making Politics More Dysfunctional?

Aspen Institute, Technology’s Role in Sparking Participatory Democracy (Charlie Firestone and Sarah Eppeheimer): “American democracy is premised on informed citizens engaging in self-governance. Yet today, many citizens are disenchanted with their government at every level and uninterested in participating. They are, however, interested in their smartphones – use of mobile and digital technologies has skyrocketed in the past few years, and created a significant communication gap between governments and the governed.”

Millennial Voters, Redditors, and News Consumption (Jennifer Elizabeth Frank): “American Millennials grew up with 24-hour access to news, but have not established consistent news habits – reading the morning newspaper or watching the nightly news – that an informed electorate needs. The major research question is: What role will news play in preserving and advancing American democracy in the digital generation?”

Techies entering public service, FT Magazine, Let’s Get Geeks into Government (Gillian Tett): “If ever there was a time when it might make sense for more techies to give back by doing public service, that moment is now.”