Practicing Democracy Project

“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), 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.

Marshall Ganz

Rita E. Hauser Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Organizing, and Civil Society
Faculty Director, Practicing Democracy Project

Current courses and recent work:

Public Narrative
Organizing: People, Power, Change
Executive Education – Public Narrative: Leadership, Storytelling, and Action
Executive Education – Leadership, Organizing and Action: Leading Change

Marshall Ganz Website


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.


Marshall Ganz, Faculty Director

Emily S Lin, Program Director

Markella Los, Leadership Development Fellow

Alyssa Ashcraft, Faculty Assistant

Vandinika Shukla, Fellow

Recent News

On March 19-20, 2022, the Practicing Democracy Project and the Leading Change Network collaborated to host the first online convening of 68 educators, practitioners and researchers of Community Organizing and Public Narrative from 13 countries to share, explore, and integrate methods of teaching, coaching, and practice—catalyzed recently due to the urgent need to adapt to online learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The convening also created an opportunity for the cultivation of deeper and diverse relationships.

COMING SOON: View the full report from the convening, where we have compiled key learnings from five presentations on innovation in the Public Narrative practice, leadership development, and team-based organizing practice, including:

  • A micro workshop to teach the use of empathetic bridge and narrative in moments of disruptive challenge: Loss, Difference, Power, and Change
  • Exploring how Public Narrative training can be scaled using digital micro learning platforms
  • Adapting the Organizing pedagogy to build practice-centered programs for leadership development with the Formerly Incarcerated People (FIP) Fellowship
  • Using data analysis to learn how to facilitate a team-based organizing project in the HKS graduate course MLD-377
  • Ahel’s pedagogy for stronger teams and collective leadership in Jordan, Amman