NSF Grant to Fund New National Digital Government Center at Kennedy School

Contact: Doug Gavel
Phone: 617-495-1115
Date: June 14, 2002

CAMBRIDGE, MA – A three-year $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will establish the new National Center for Digital Government Research and Practice based at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. The new Center will bring together scholars and practitioners to conduct research and provide discussion on issues relating to government use of the Internet and other emerging information technologies.

The National Center will be led by principal investigator Jane Fountain, associate professor of public policy. "We’re absolutely delighted to have this award from NSF," Fountain says. "The point of a national center is to build partnerships with researchers from several different fields, technical and social, whose work needs to be better connected to build a coherent understanding of governance in a networked world. We ground our research in critical, pressing problems by partnering with government agencies. Our studies, combined with the activities at the National Center, will provide compelling new perspectives on the effects of the Internet on institutions of governance and the effects of governance systems of new information technologies."

David Lazer, assistant professor of public policy, is the co-principal investigator. A project coordinator, several research fellows and advanced graduate students initially will form the core research team at the Kennedy School. The center will rapidly reach out to other Harvard faculty, major research centers across the country, and government agencies to build and strengthen the national and international network associated with digital government.

"I’m particularly pleased to be able to make this award to a researcher of Professor Fountain’s caliber working within the context of Harvard’s excellent Kennedy School of Government," says Larry Brandt, NSF program manager for digital government. "For the first several years of the Digital Government research program, we have been supporting technical pilot projects. As time has passed we have begun to realize the need to support research into how information technologies are brought into government, and fail or succeed in their goals; in general how these fundamental technologies impact government organizations and more broadly our civic discourse. This award provides NSF the opportunity to move very strongly into this new area."

As part of its mission to advance the understanding of digital government, the new Center will initiate several activities at the Kennedy School to benefit the national network of digital government researchers and practitioners, including:

A fellowship program for doctoral candidates researching digital government;
A seminar series titled "Future Directions in Digital Government Research and Practice";
Mini-workshops on research methodologies;
Small research grants to support Master’s level capstone projects on digital government conducted in partnership with government clients.
The NSF award will also fund two major research initiatives – institutional analysis of emerging cross-agency organizations in the federal government and research on a web forum designed for a specific policy sub-community (in this case, for those involved with the use of DNA evidence in the criminal justice system).

"As we move toward new models of governance, the intersection of information technology and government moves front and center," stated Lazer. " Whether we are talking about Homeland Security or environmental regulatory policy, information technology creates the technical possibility of more effective policy. However, without considering the institutional prism, those technical possibilities will often remain just possibilities. It is exactly at this intersection of institutions and information technology that our efforts will be aimed."

"Fountain and Lazer have assembled a world-class team of faculty and practitioners who will help to bridge the gap between theory and application in the exploding world of digital government and e-governance," said Ira Jackson, director of the Kennedy School’s Center for Business and Government. "We're especially pleased to house this new national center of excellence here at CBG, which is at the crossroads between the public and private sectors and civil society. Creative and effective work in this field holds the prospect of yielding enormous benefits to society in terms of greater efficiency, equity, accountability, transparency and a more seamless delivery of public services."

Fountain, whose current research focuses on the relationship between institutions, organizations, information technology and governance, is the author of Building the Virtual State: Information Technology and Institutional Change (Brookings Institution Press, 2001). She co-chairs the Kennedy School’s faculty group on information and governance. Fountain also serves on the advisory boards of several technology initiatives. She holds a double Ph.D. from Yale University in organizational behavior and political science.

Lazer is currently completing an edited volume, The Technology of Justice: DNA and the Criminal Justice System, and has a more general interest on the role that social networks play in improving the governance of systems. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Michigan.

The NSF Digital Government program supports research on or related to information technology in government agencies. The focus is on deep collaborations between government employees and academic researchers, with agencies providing driving problems and data, and researchers providing cutting edge technologies and research products to provide a broader strategic vision for the agencies.

The National Science Foundation is an independent U.S. government agency whose mission is to "promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; and to secure the national defense." NSF grants are designed to "strengthen scientific and engineering research potential" throughout the United States.

For more information on the NSF, access the Web site: http://www.nsf.gov/.

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