Ash Center Occasional Papers Series

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.

 

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.

Hila Mehr, August 2017

From online services like Netflix and Facebook, to chatbots on our phones and in our homes like Siri and Alexa, we are beginning to interact with artificial intelligence (AI) on a near daily basis. AI is the programming or training of a computer to do tasks typically reserved for human intelligence, whether it is recommending which movie to watch next or answering technical questions. Soon, AI will permeate the ways we interact with our government, too. From small cities in the US to countries like Japan, government agencies are looking to AI to improve citizen services. This paper explores the various types of AI applications, and current and future uses of AI in government delivery of citizen services, with a focus on citizen inquiries and information. It also offers strategies for governments as they consider implementing AI.

Tony Saich, August 2017

This analysis argues that the period of easy reforms in China has ended, and the time of difficult reforms that touch core political interests has begun. The resulting challenges facing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary Xi Jinping when he is confirmed for another five-year-term span political, economic, and international spheres. This leadership must both maintain a domestic focus to strengthen economic growth and avoid the “middle-income trap,” while also engaging in a host of regional and global actions to cement China’s position on the world stage.

 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.

David Dapice, June, 2015

The purpose of this paper is to provide an assessment of the current socioeconomic conditions in Myanmar's Rakhine State and to evaluate the prospects of accelerating economic development as a way of reducing tensions between Muslim and Buddhist groups. There has been significant conflict in recent years which has continued sporadically into 2014, resulting in severe hardship for approximately 140,000 Muslim refugees and significant damage to the local economy. The tensions also weaken the country by presenting a challenge to a potential framework for federalism by undermining stability and thus the confidence of potential investors. They also risk drawing in Muslim extremists outside the country. Drawing on historical information and on conversations conducted with a variety of Rakhine (Buddhist) business, civil society, political and government people, this study reviews the demographic trends affecting the state to separate fact from fiction and sheds light on the impact of current policies on the state's potential for economic development. Areas for working toward reconciliation are explored, and options such as promoting shared stakes in local resources and governance are discussed.

Duan, Peijun, and Tony Saich. 2013. “Reforming China's Monopolies”. Read Full Paper Abstract

Peijun Duan and Tony Saich, August 2013

This working paper focuses on an aspect of governance that is crucial to the next phase of China’s development: reducing state monopolies in order to enhance economic efficiency and promote more equitable growth. It is important to note that monopoly control in the Chinese political economy is not simply an economic phenomenon but also a phenomenon deeply embedded in a comprehensive system of power. Monopolies in the economic sphere (resources, prices, markets, and assets) are serious, but they are derived from the legacy of the centrally planned economy. They are also rooted in the traditional structure of Chinese society and its culture. In this paper, we will present a comprehensive examination of the phenomenon of monopoly control in the Chinese system.

Tony Saich, August, 2013

This working paper focuses on an aspect of governance that is crucial to the next phase of China’s development: reducing state monopolies in order to enhance economic efficiency and promote more equitable growth. It is important to note that monopoly control in the Chinese political economy is not simply an economic phenomenon but also a phenomenon deeply embedded in a comprehensive system of power. Monopolies in the economic sphere (resources, prices, markets, and assets) are serious, but they are derived from the legacy of the centrally planned economy. They are also rooted in the traditional structure of Chinese society and its culture. In this paper, we will present a comprehensive examination of the phenomenon of monopoly control in the Chinese system.

Gigi Georges, Tim Glynn-Burke, and Andrea McGrath, June 2013 

This paper is the first in a miniseries that explores emerging strategies to strengthen the civic, institutional, and political building blocks that are critical to developing novel solutions to public problems — what the authors call the “innovation landscape.” The miniseries builds on past research addressing social innovation and on The Power of Social Innovation (2010) by HKS Professor Stephen Goldsmith.

In this first paper, the authors introduce readers to the nature of the work by highlighting current efforts to drive innovation in Boston, Denver, and New York City. They also orient the miniseries within the robust discourse on government innovation.

Improving the Local Landscape for Innovation Part 3: Assessment and Implementation

Gigi Georges, Tim Glynn-Burke, and Andrea McGrath, June 2013

This paper is the third in a miniseries that explores emerging strategies to strengthen the civic, institutional, and political building blocks that are critical to developing novel solutions to public problems — what the authors call the “innovation landscape.” The miniseries builds on past research addressing social innovation and on The Power of Social Innovation (2010) by HKS Professor Stephen Goldsmith.

In this paper the authors focus on implementation of their framework’s strategies, primarily through the introduction of a unique assessment tool that includes key objectives and suggested indicators for each component of the framework. This final paper also includes a brief case study on New York City’s Center for Economic Opportunity, an award-winning government innovation team, to demonstrate and test the validity of the assessment tool and framework. The paper addresses some likely challenges to implementation and concludes with an invitation to readers to help further refine the framework and to launch a conversation among cities that will help improve their local landscapes for innovation.

Improving the Local Landscape for Innovation Part 2: Framework for an Innovative Jurisdiction

Gigi Georges, Tim Glynn-Burke, and Andrea McGrath, June 2013

This paper is the second in a miniseries that explores emerging strategies to strengthen the civic, institutional, and political building blocks that are critical to developing novel solutions to public problems — what the authors call the “innovation landscape.” The miniseries builds on past research addressing social innovation and on The Power of Social Innovation (2010) by HKS Professor Stephen Goldsmith.

In this second paper, the authors introduce a framework for driving local innovation, which includes a set of strategies and practices developed from the Ash Center’s recent work on social innovation, new first-person accounts, in-depth interviews, practitioner surveys, and relevant literature. The authors explore the roots and composition of the core strategies within their framework and provide evidence of its relevance and utility.

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