Archon Fung

Current Projects

Transparency Policy Project

The Transparency Policy Project conducts in-depth research on the political economy of U.S. and international transparency systems. The Project analyzes government-mandated systems designed to provide the public with critical information to improve public health and safety, reduce risks to investors, minimize corruption, and improve public services. Examples of U.S. systems include financial reporting by public companies, nutritional labeling, school report cards, campaign finance disclosure, auto safety rankings, and toxic pollution reporting. Examples of international systems include international financial reporting, infectious disease surveillance, and labeling of genetically modified foods.

The Project builds case studies and conducts cross-cutting analyses to learn from transparency systems with different policy goals. The Project has constructed a framework for assessing the sustainability and effectiveness of transparency systems. Project directors are currently at work on a book based on their research.

In March 2007, Cambridge University Press will publish some of the results of this research in Full Disclosure: The Perils and Promise of Transparency.

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Democracy Unbound

How should modern democracies be governed? Should the public’s business be conducted largely by elected representatives and professional administrators? Or, should citizens participate much more in making laws and policies and implementing them? Should the machinery of democracy simply tally the preferences and interests of citizens, or should it facilitate deliberations that inform and enlarge their views?

Dogmatic answers — for example that representative government is the only realistic form of modern government or that the only real democracy is a participatory one — now common in professional democratic theory and public discourse thwart the quest for practices that would better vindicate our fundamental democratic values. These dogmas, furthermore, prevent us from solving — sometimes even from recognizing — major political dilemmas of our time. Maintaining an open disposition toward a wide range of political practices can help citizens and leaders address those problems and deepen our democracy at the same time. Citizens’ welfare and the health of their democracies would be better served by a pragmatic public philosophy in which a wide range of political institutions are justified by their capacity to solve social problems in ways that secure individuals’ welfare and autonomy. My current book project, Democracy Unbound develops that pragmatic conception of democracy.

Pragmatic democracy begins with the basic presumption that governments are democratic insofar as they protect citizens’ interests effectively, treat them as equals, and provide opportunities for them to participate in public decision-making and action. Unlike most theories of democracy, however, pragmatic democracy does not prescribe a specific political institutions such as representation or deliberation to achieve these goals. Instead, it recognizes that no single set of institutions and political practices best advances these ends for all issues and circumstances. Some issues are appropriately addressed by experts, while others call for broad and direct citizen engagement. Rather than offering a single blueprint, Democracy Unbound provides conceptual and practical tools of democratic theory and institutional design to help political scientists, policy makers, and citizen activists understand the feasible and desirable range of decision-making processes.

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Metropolitan Governance

How are localities and regions currently governed? How can they be governed more democratically and equitably even as they face challenges of economic and demographic transformation? My research examines these questions by examining local democratic innovations. Many localities have developed particiaptory innovations in their municipal agencies. These agencies — school systems, police departments, housing bureaus, welfare offices, economic development departments, and the like — are the tangible face of government for many citizens. Is it possible to make the decisions of these bureacracies more responsive and accountable to citizens? Does doing so undermine the political authority and democratic legitimacy of elected officials who are supposed to oversee them? Can such reforms make government more effective, or must direct democracy be innefficient? Some of my research aims to answer these and other normative and empirical questions.

I am also part of the "Building Successful Regions" network of scholars and practitioners. Funded by the MacArthur Foundation, our group is devoted to understanding why some regions in the United States seem to be resilient amid dramatic dislocations such as rapid economic growth, large scale immigration, deconcentration of urban poverty, and economic decline while others crumble.

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Empowered Participation

Empowered Partcipation is a notion of popular government in which ordinary people exercise active voice over important decisions that affect them. Unlike most kinds of citizen action such as voting, petitioning representatives, or giving money to special interest groups, what ordinary individuals say in empowered participation make real differences in what government does. That is why we call it "empowered."

Unlike like much politics that is centrally concerned with amassing enough power, money, or votes to dominate those who disagree, decision-making most often involves figuring out how to solve complex problems in ways that all can accept through discussion, debate, and collaborative exploration. That is why we call it "deliberative."

One basic idea of empowered participation is local control. Since those closest to the action--such as teachers, parents, and principals in schools; police officers and neighborhood residents; factory workers and those who live near factories; slum dwellers and villagers in developing states--often know the most about the problems they face and how best to fix them, they should have the authority to develop and enact solutions.

But local action is often not enough. Bad luck, tough circumstances, lack of know-how, or ill-will may render local actions ineffective or unfair. Therefore, a second basic notion is that central power can remedy these problems through training, technical assistance, sharing innovations and lessons, making outcomes and operations transparent to facilitate public pressure and support, and by directly holding local units accountable for doing their best.

Come and see how government can become more fair and effective through innovations that increase citizen empowerment and deliberation using these two basic ideas.

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Real Utopias V Conference

This January 2000 conference in Madison, WI, explored Empowered Deliberative Democracy by examining its elements in five diverse reform areas: village governance in the Indian states of Kerala and West Bengal; municipal budget formulation in several Brazilian cities; the protection of endangered species under Habitat Conservation Planning; neighborhood planning in school governance and community policing in Chicago, IL; and industrial training and modernization under the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership (WRTP).

This conference produced Deepening Democracy: Institutional Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance (Verso Press, 2003).

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