The Practicing Democracy Project (PDP), led by Faculty Director Professor Marshall Ganz and housed at the Center for Public Leadership, enables people to work together to develop the leadership; build the community; and create the power to fulfill the democratic promise of equal, inclusive, and collective agency.

We do this by supporting educators, researchers, and practitioners in engaging with questions of shared identity, self-governance, and people-centered power across three interdependent domains of democratic practice: leadership development, pedagogical development, and development of organizational capacity.

We develop leadership—accepting the responsibility for enabling others to achieve shared purpose under conditions of uncertainty, through practices of civic relationship building, values-based public narrative, constituency-based strategizing and mobilization of collective action, and the structuring of democratic organization.

Download the Practicing Democracy Project one pager.

“Democracy is not something you have, but something you do. It is a verb. And we are creating it, or un-creating it, all the time.”

Marshall Ganz

The Practicing Democracy Project (PDP) is directed by Marshall Ganz, who holds the Rita E. Hauser Senior Lectureship in Leadership, Organizing and Civil Society. Prof. Ganz has a long and storied history in the field of community organizing, beginning with leaving his Harvard undergraduate studies in 1964 to participate in the Mississippi Summer Project, followed by 14 years working alongside Cesar Chavez in the United Farm Workers movement, another 10 years of union and electoral organizing, then returning to the academy to developing ways to integrate the research, teaching, and practice of developing leadership, organizing community with that leadership, and building power from the resources of that community – the practice of democratic craft. His frameworks for leadership, community organizing, and public narrative have been adopted by practitioners and educators around the world. His influence extends even more broadly, especially after the groundbreaking role he played in helping to design the organizing strategy for the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama.

Given the pressure faced by democratic societies today, the regeneration of democratic practice is urgent. Uniquely situated at the Center for Public Leadership (CPL) at the Harvard Kennedy School—and in concert with collaborators including the Leading Change Network, Ahel, WiLD, and others—the Practicing Democracy Project leverages our position at a major research university and educational gathering place for leaders from around the world to engage with students, scholars and practitioners to advance democratic practice globally.

For more information about the Practicing Democracy Project, please download our Executive Summary.

Emily S Lin, Program Director

Alyssa Ashcraft, Faculty Assistant

Sapna Saleem, Fellow

Vandinika Shukla, Fellow

Chris Badillo, Research Assistant

Faculty Director

Marshall Ganz Photo

Marshall Ganz

Rita E. Hauser Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Organizing, and Civil Society

Spring 2023


As we close out the 2023 academic year, the Practicing Democracy Project has plenty to celebrate and much to continue to learn. We reinvented our foundational degree course in people, power, and change as an intensive “courseshop,” followed by a campaign coaching practicum, with the creative and pedagogical leadership of Sarah ElRaheb-Dagher, Predrag Stojicic, Toni Kokenis, and Jake Waxman, among many others. We trained 150 new leaders and organizers in our global online Executive Education course in Leadership, Organizing, and Action, guided by Ashraf Hamzah, James Brockman, and a stellar teaching team. We piloted the Liberation Lab, a co-curricular leadership program for Harvard students on race, restoration, and resilience, led by Abel Cano and Kortni Malone. We began a new chapter in our practice-based research, examining questions of organizational structure, effectiveness, and self-governance with Yong Jung Cho, Liz McKenna, and many compatriots in both academia and practice. We hosted five reading and discussion sessions on political economy for organizers and trainers with Professors Margaret Levi, Liz McKenna, Danielle Allen, Rebecca Henderson, and Naomi Oreskes. We supported the learning of public narrative and organizing with colleagues at Harvard and around the world, including at the Harvard Trade Union Program, the Advanced Leadership Initiative, the Belfer Technology and Public Purpose Project, the Institute to End Mass Incarceration, the Neighborworks Achieving Excellence Program, the Leadership for System Change program for Schwab Foundation fellows, the International LGBTQI+ Advocacy Summit, and the Atlantic Fellows for Health Equity in Southeast Asia. We continue to contribute to and learn from our friends and colleagues in the Leading Change Network, Ahel, Haiyya, Community Organizing Japan, WiLD, re:power, and others all over the world. And, of course, we celebrated 80 trips around the sun with Marshall Ganz! 


Events and Talks 

Related News 

Fall 2022





Click here to see news from past semesters.