New Ash Center Workshop Connects Students to the Civic Tech Scene

March 28, 2016
New Ash Center Workshop Connects Students to the Civic Tech Scene

By: Francesca Schembri, Communications Intern

“Living one’s civic life on the Internet is rapidly becoming as normal and natural as using technology in one’s personal and work lives,” said Seamus Kraft, cofounder of the OpenGov Foundation and one of the recipients of the Ash Center’s inaugural Technology and Democracy Fellowships, leading a workshop at the Center on March 8. Entitled “Learn to be Your Own Lobbyist (And Love it!),” the event was part of the Technology and Democracy Workshop Series.

The series brings exemplary practitioners from the worlds of technology, policy, and government together with Kennedy School students for workshops on a broad range of topics related to civic technology. Through participation in the series, students gain practical skills and a deeper understanding of how to make use of technology to facilitate interaction between the public and government. The fellowship is mutually beneficial: by leading the workshops and developing a community of learning with HKS students, the fellows will broaden and hone their communications skills and receive collaborative support as they develop projects in their respective fields that seek to improve the quality of democratic governance.

During the workshop, Kraft engaged HKS students in an interactive discussion on using technology to give more citizens a meaningful way to share their views and grievances with government officials. He introduced them to the OpenGov Foundation’s online policymaking software, Madison, and had them examine how it could be used to level the playing field between citizens and government insiders by allowing them to collaborate and communicate on policy decisions via the Internet. After discussing potential use cases and opportunities for Madison as a lobbying tool, the students provided Kraft with valuable feedback on the software, so that it could better serve citizens wishing to use the power of technology to engage with their government.

“There’s a genuine hunger for more online civic engagement,” said Kraft. “At Harvard, everyone in the workshop immediately grasped Madison, how it works, and the power of open online policymaking. That enabled us to spend the bulk of our time together not on the concepts or the backstory, but on specific use cases and opportunities and ways to make Madison even better. It was a productive, informative, and inspiring evening.”