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Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation

Renovating our democratic institutions for the 21st century.

Andy Feliciotti, Unslpash
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GETTING-Plurality


The Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation addresses the threats to American and global democracies with research and field-building to support power-sharing liberalism. Just societies require robust political equality, fully inclusive institutions, and broader avenues for participation and connectedness, all of which rest on the material and social bases for human flourishing. Our multidisciplinary community of scholars, practitioners, and partner organizations work together to shepherd concepts and reforms into practice—to translate research into impact. From community-led initiatives to national-level policies and structural reforms, the Allen Lab works to renovate American democracy.

 

Meet the Lab


Danielle Allen
Headshot of Danielle Allen

Danielle Allen

Professor of Public Policy, HKS;
James Bryant Conant University Professor, FAS

Ben Barsky

Doctoral Student, Harvard Chan School of Public Health

Sofia Corona

Researcher, Harvard College

Sadie Cox

Sadie Cox

Executive Assistant to Danielle Allen

Owen Ebose

Researcher, Harvard College

Eli Frankel

Eli Frankel

Research Coordinator, Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation

Darshan Goux

Darshan Goux

Senior Lab Director, Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation

Brian Highsmith

Doctoral Student, Harvard Government Department

Sarah Hubbard

Sarah Hubbard

Senior Fellow, Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation

David Knight

Principal Investigator;
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Columbia University

Hannah Kunzman

Researcher;
Doctoral Student, Harvard Government Department

Woojin Lim

Researcher, Harvard College

Tessel van Oirsouw
Tessel van Oirsouw

Tessel van Oirsouw

Visiting Fellow, Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation

Alexander Pascal

Alexander Pascal

Senior Fellow, Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation

Charlotte Ritz-Jack

Researcher, Harvard College

Christian Schmidt

Researcher;
Master in Urban Planning Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Design

Priyanka Sethy

Lab Program Manager, Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation;
Doctoral student, Harvard Gov Department

Allison Stanger

Allison Stanger

Senior Fellow, Allen Lab for Democracy Renovation;
Co-Director and Co-Investigator, GETTING-Plurality Research Network

Jama Willis

Communications, Harvard College

The lab currently supports four research workstreams, all with accompanying impact projects.

Work is carried out through weekly lab and workstream meetings, reading groups, stakeholder convenings, foundational paper development and publication, development of policy guidance, editorial meetings, and dissemination and engagement convenings and activities. Activities are supported with robust project management. The overarching outcome will be a new paradigm for policy-making, and exemplary policies, supportive of democracy in 21st century conditions of digitality, complexity, scale, mobility, heterogeneity, and climate change.

 

 

Research Workstreams

GETTING-Plurality: Governance of Emerging Technology and Tech Innovations for Next-Gen Governance through Plurality)

GETTING-Plurality is a multi-disciplinary research network linking philosophers, social scientists, computer scientists, legal scholars, and technologists. The team is building a unique collaborative that unites tech ethics initiatives at Harvard University with external impact partners across higher education and the tech industry, bringing philosophers and ethicists to the table for every project.

We’re at a pivotal moment. In order to promote universal well-being, we need to promote the responsible governance of innovation and responsibly innovate the way we govern.

The GETTING-Plurality teams seeks to advance the understanding of how to shape, guide, govern, and deploy technological development in support of democracy, collective intelligence, and other public goods. The focus is on how to do so, given the plural nature of human and artificial intelligence. The team pursues foundational analysis and theory, field-building, and policy development in key focus areas to foresee and mitigate potential harms to democracy and to strengthen the public benefit and democracy-supportive effects flowing from technology innovation.

PEPL: Political Economy for Power-sharing Liberalism—from Foundations for Flourishing to Abundance

The PEPL Team seeks to develop exemplary policies intended to anchor the paradigm of power-sharing liberalism. On this paradigm, inclusive and dynamic—or “empowering” —economies serve to support healthy democracy. Empowering economies depend on the integration of all members of society into production, and the benefits that flow from it. The economy should work for people, not the other way around. The focus is on supply-side progressivism with investment in foundations of flourishing (from housing to education) and pursuit of abundance in those critical goods through technological and organizational innovation (i.e. solutions to the collective action problems that cause scarcities). Exemplary policies have been developed in the domains of housing, transportation, education, good jobs, justice and safety, health, and climate.

Teams are currently working on innovating exemplary policy in the domains of education and public health and safety. The education team is working on infrastructure to support innovation in credentialing via next-generation badging of competency-based mastery. The public health and safety team is working on pathways to success for racial health equity in alternative emergency response programs.

The PEPL team also seeks to convene the many networks of scholars around the world working to develop a new paradigm in political economy that can respond effectively to the pressing political economy problems of our time—including stalled mobility and dysfunctional immigration policies; the climate crisis; social alienation, disempowerment, and violence.

Collaborating impact organizations include the Justice, Health, and Democracy Impact Initiative; the Democratic Knowledge Project; and Abundance California.

AF: Aspirational Federalism—Strategies for Jurisdictional Innovation in the US Federal System

The work of the AF Team starts from recognition of the value for social resilience and human flourishing of federalist, federated, and even decentralized structures of governance, especially as a response to the scale and complexity of human social organization in the 21st century. The team focuses on the specific case of U.S. federalism and the jurisdictional and organizational innovations that can improve state capacity and secure responsive governance in contemporary conditions. AF Teams are currently working on governance innovations to support accelerated siting of renewable energy projects, fiscal federalism, and a strategy of harmonized federalism in support of increased investment in civic education.

Collaborating impact organizations currently include Educating for American Democracy.

RAD: Reinventing American Democracy for the 21st Century

The RAD Team contributed to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Our Common Purpose Commission and Report and to the development of a holistic, 360° degree standard for understanding the elements of healthy democracy. The Team continues to contribute to the ongoing Our Common Purpose research and strategy work, as well as exploring further challenges to full participation in U.S. democracy. Current projects are focused on civic education in higher education, digital civic infrastructure, America’s 250th anniversary, and immigrant integration and participation.

Collaborating impact organizations currently include the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Partners In Democracy and The Council on Civic Strength.

Upcoming Events


Ash Center Open House

Ash Center Open House

In-Person Event

Ash Center Foyer, Suite 200, 124 Mount Auburn Street
4:00 pm – 6:00 pm EDT

Photo of Gloria Ayee hugging another event goer.

The Latest News and Research


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AI and the 2024 Elections

Video

AI and the 2024 Elections

The GETTING-Plurality Research Network at the Ash Center’s Allen Lab and Connection Science at MIT Media Lab hosted a webinar event focused on “AI and the 2024 Elections”. In this session, we hear from Danielle Allen, Harvard University; Sandy Pentland, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Nate Persily, Stanford University. Each presenter gives a lightning talk, followed by audience Q&A.

Terra Incognita: The Governance of Artificial Intelligence in Global Perspective

Additional Resource

Terra Incognita: The Governance of Artificial Intelligence in Global Perspective

GETTING-Plurality Research Network members Allison Stanger and Woojin Lim, along with other authors, published “Terra Incognita: The Governance of Artificial Intelligence in Global Perspective” in the Annual Review of Political Science.

 

AI and the Future of Privacy

Video

AI and the Future of Privacy

The GETTING-Plurality Research Network at the Ash Center’s Allen Lab and Connection Science at MIT Media Lab hosted a webinar event focused on “AI and the Future of Privacy”. In this session, we hear from Bruce Schneier, security technologist, and Faculty Affiliate at the Ash Center; Sarah Roth-Gaudette, Executive Director of Fight for the Future; and Tobin South, MIT Ph.D. Candidate and Fulbright Scholar. Each presenter gives a lightning talk, followed by audience Q&A.

AGI and Democracy

Policy Brief

AGI and Democracy

We face a fundamental question: is the very pursuit of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) the kind of aim democracies should allow?

Democracy as Approximation: A Primer for “AI for Democracy” Innovators

Additional Resource

Democracy as Approximation: A Primer for “AI for Democracy” Innovators

This essay was adopted from a presentation given by Aviv Ovadya at the Second Interdisciplinary Workshop on Reimagining Democracy held on the campus of Harvard Kennedy School in December 2023.

The Real Dangers of Generative AI

Additional Resource

The Real Dangers of Generative AI

“The Real Dangers of Generative AI” by Danielle Allen and Glen Weyl was featured in the January 2024 Journal of Democracy.

Abstract: As perhaps the most consequential technology of our time, Generative Foundation Models (GFMs) present unprecedented challenges for democratic institutions. By allowing deception and de-contextualized information sharing at a previously unimaginable scale and pace, GFMs could undermine the foundations of democracy. At the same time, the investment scale required to develop the models and the race dynamics around that development threaten to enable concentrations of democratically unaccountable power (both public and private). This essay examines the twin threats of collapse and singularity occasioned by the rise of GFMs.

Stay updated on the Allen Lab’s most recent news and events

Advancements in Global AI Policy

Video

Advancements in Global AI Policy

The “Advancements in Global AI Policy” webinar featured the following speakers and topics:

            Regulating Web3: Global Trends and Challenges

            Video

            Regulating Web3: Global Trends and Challenges

            “Regulating Web3: Global Trends and Challenges” webinar session featured the following speakers and topics:

            • Peter Kerstens (European Commission) on EU Markets in Crypto Asset Regulation
            • Carol Van Cleef (Luminous Group) on US Approach to Digital Asset Regulation
            • Urszula McCormack (King & Wood Mallesons) on APAC Approach to Digital Asset Regulation
            • Thomas Hardjono (MIT Media Lab) on Technical Standards for Web3

            Summit on AI and Democracy

            Additional Resource

            Summit on AI and Democracy

            On November 7, 2023, the Summit on AI and Democracy gathered experts across multiple institutions to discuss ongoing research, policy, and development efforts related to the recent advancements in artificial intelligence.

            Reimagining Democracy for AI

            Additional Resource

            Reimagining Democracy for AI

            “Reimagining Democracy for AI” by Aviv Ovadya was featured in the October 2023 Journal of Democracy.

            Abstract: AI advances are shattering assumptions that both our democracies and our international order rely on. Reinventing our “democratic infrastructure” is thus critically necessary—and the author argues that it is also possible. Four interconnected and accelerating democratic paradigm shifts illustrate the potential: representative deliberations, AI augmentation, democracy-as-a-service, and platform democracy. Such innovations provide a viable path toward not just reimagining traditional democracies but enabling the transnational and even global democratic processes critical for addressing the broader challenges posed by destabilizing AI advances—including those relating to AI alignment and global agreements. We can and must rapidly invest in such democratic innovation if we are to ensure that our democratic capacity increases with our power.

            The Dark Side of AI: Crime and Adversarial Use Cases

            Video

            The Dark Side of AI: Crime and Adversarial Use Cases

            “The Dark Side of AI: Crime and Adversarial Use Cases” webinar session featured the following speakers and topics:

            • Bruce Schneier (Harvard): Hackers and Security Vulnerabilities
            • Matt Groh (Northwestern): Deepfakes and Misinformation, see related paper The Art and Science of Generative AI
            • Shlomit Wagman (Harvard): Financial Crime
            • Jennifer Calvery (HSBC): Financial Crime

            Introduction to AI and Public Policy

            Video

            Introduction to AI and Public Policy

            The “Introduction to AI and Public Policy” webinar session featured the following speakers and topics:

            • Danielle Allen (Harvard): AI and Democracy
            • Sandy Pentland (MIT): A Practical Framework for Data and AI systems for Regulators
            • Shayne Longpre (MIT): A Primer in Large Language Models
            • Gabriele Mazzini (European Commission): Overview of the EU AI Act

            GETTING-Plurality Comments to White House OSTP on National Priorities for Artificial Intelligence

            Policy Brief

            GETTING-Plurality Comments to White House OSTP on National Priorities for Artificial Intelligence

            The GETTING-Plurality Research Network submitted a series of memos which respond to various questions posed around the topics of bolstering democracy and civic participation; protecting rights, safety, and national security; and promoting economic growth and good jobs.