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Two HKS Students Call for Greater Civic Engagment

By Angela N. Fu and Lucy Wang, Contributing Writers

Two Kennedy School of Government students advocated for more innovations aimed at engaging the public in local politics and shared their experiences working at the municipal level Friday afternoon.

The panel, “Democracy Entrepreneurship: Hands-on with Participatory Innovation,” was part of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation’s Student Speaker Series, which invites students to discuss their research projects.

Ana Babovic discussed her experience working with the Citizen’s Initiative Review in Massachusetts, a project aimed at informing voters about ballot measures.

The project involved assembling 20 randomly selected voters from across the state to discuss the proposed legalization of marijuana for recreational use, also known as Question 4 on the ballot. After hearing from experts in the field for four days, the voters created a Citizens’ Statement discussing the pros and cons of each side.

“Citizens have a responsibility, but it’s not only a responsibility for voting. It’s a responsibility for what comes afterward,” Babovic said.

Elizabeth M. Ribble said she spent the summer working on the New York City’s Participatory Budgeting initiative, which allows local residents to help direct how the city council allocates its budget and seeks to increase the involvement of underrepresented groups.

“As [the city council members] involve people who are underrepresented, they build more trust, and the city gets a better idea of what needs to happen in the community,” Ribble said.

Audience members said they found the panel helpful in gaining exposure to experiences outside the classroom.

“It sobered me up to the challenges that exist between coordinating a public and private sector project,” attendee Frank D. Hines ’85, who is working towards the economic revitalization of Franklin Field in Dorchester, said.

In an interview after the event, Ribble said that small-scale initiatives to engage voters on a local level are especially important at a time when many Americans are disillusioned with larger political institutions that they find “toxic.”

“I think this is key for getting people’s trust and re-establishing the involvement in the political system,” she said.

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