Research Briefs


Religious People Are Better Neighbors

The work of Robert Putnam, Malkin Professor of Public Policy, has long focused on the importance of community. In his latest book, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, written with David Campbell, of the University of Notre Dame, Putnam reveals an interesting fact about religious Americans: They make better neighbors, regardless of other factors such as age and faith. “The answer lies not in their beliefs but in their friends,” Putnam and Campbell wrote in an editorial in USA Today. “Specifically, having friends at church (or synagogue, temple, mosque, etc.) fosters neighborliness. While having more friends is, for civic purposes, better than having fewer friends, what matters most is having friends within a religious congregation. And the type of congregation does not matter. Friends found in Catholic parishes, Jewish synagogues, Protestant churches, Mormon wards — and every other type of religious grouping — all produce the same civic effect.”

Robert Putnam, Religious People Are Better Neighbors

Trust and Perception: Powerful Factors in Assessing News About War

“‘Elasticity of reality’ is the phrase we use to describe the relative size of the gap between the rhetoric and reality that journalists and the public will accept at any one time,” writes Matthew Baum, Kalb Professor of Global Communications. “It’s always the case that various factions try to frame reality to their own advantage. Sometimes rhetoric and reality tightly cohere, as when events are going well from the administration’s perspective; at other times, not. Yet as the gap between reality and rhetoric expands, the risk increases that journalists and the public will notice and grow skeptical of future rhetoric, even when it better fits reality. As journalists and citizens acquire more and more diverse information over time, the elasticity of reality shrinks. At the onset of the Iraq surge, this elasticity had collapsed almost entirely. This made it extremely hard for President Bush to alter what had become the prevailing narrative of Iraq — a fiasco.”

Matthew Bunn, Trust and Perception: Powerful Factors in Assessing News About War

How Political Appointees Undermine Large IT Programs— And How to Turn the Tide

Why do so many large government information technology programs fail? Steve Kelman, Weatherhead Professor of Public Management, lays some of the blame at the feet of political appointees. “A political appointee makes a project a priority and gets it started, but by the time project implementation is in full swing, that appointee is gone and the new one has no interest in projects the predecessor promoted,” Kelman writes in Federal Computer Week. “The result is a loss of executive leadership and momentum.” With the prevalence of political appointees in the U.S. system of government (in the United Kingdom, Kelman points out, the equivalent of an assistant secretary would be a civil servant) the question needs addressing. With incentives weighted toward abandoning old initiatives and starting new ones, Kelman proposes what he calls a Continuity Award, “given each year to the political appointee who most successfully continues and brings to fruition a major initiative begun by his or her predecessor,” he writes. “Not every issue in government, particularly those related to managing the government, need involve partisan rancor.”

Steve Kelman, How Political Appointees Undermine Large IT Programs— And How to Turn the Tide

Democratic Deficit: Critical Citizens Revisited

“The heady hopes for the progressive spread of democracy worldwide, captured by Fukuyama’s idea of the ‘end of history’, coined immediately after the fall of the Berlin wall, have flagged over the last two decades,” writes Pippa Norris, McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics, in Democratic Deficit, which examines the divergence between democratic aspirations and performance. Comparing system support — the attitudes toward the nation-state, its agencies, and actors — in more than 50 societies worldwide, Norris challenges the claim that established democracies have experienced increasing political disaffection during the third-wave era. “. . . The evidence demonstrates that democratic aspirations play a significant role in strengthening forms of political participation, including both indicators of citizen interest and protest activism, as well as reinforcing compliant behavior in compliance with the law, and ultimately also contributing towards sustainable democratic regime,” Norris writes.”

Pippa Norris, Democratic Deficit: Critical Citizens Revisited

John F. Kennedy School of Government 79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
617-495-1100 Get Directions Visit Contact Page