A new year, a new purpose.
When I started my research and strategy practice about three years ago, I knew that I wanted to deepen my understanding of civic life and democracy in the United States. With incredible collaborators at Google, the Knight Foundation, and Democracy Works, I have been able to do that. And who would have guessed that that understanding would be more critical to the very functioning of our democracy now than ever? With our recent national election, I have become even more committed to creating a civic life that is both more meaningful and more inclusive.
I also became a mother in the past year – an experience I couldn't have imagined would be as rewarding as it is. It is also an incredibly challenging responsibility (how do we raise a 21st century girl?!). Now that we've been welcomed into the "Family of Families," I have a much deeper level of empathy with moms across the globe – particularly with what it really takes to meet public health goals of breastfeeding a child.
For these reasons, this year, I'm setting my talents, time, and resources on two main objectives:
- Making our democracy more inclusive, by aiming for a democracy moonshot: getting 80% of eligible American voters voting by 2024; and
- Making it easier for working moms to continue breastfeeding their kids, by making the breast pump not suck.
A more inclusive democracy
American democracy is facing a crisis of voter participation. Turnout peaks near 60 percent in presidential elections, averages 40 percent for midterms, and often falls between 5 and 20 percent for primary and local elections. Low engagement has created a power vacuum, leaving our democracy vulnerable to lobbyists, mega donors, party bosses, and paralyzing polarization.
With colleagues at the voting technology non-profit Democracy Works, we will organize and launch a democracy moonshot: getting 80 percent of eligible American voters voting by 2024.
A 20-point jump in turnout will focus politicians on serving voters over donors, undermine gerrymandering where district boundaries assume lower turnout, and tackle polarization by increasing primary turnout. We will expand voter participation by turning U.S. companies, colleges and nonprofits into on-ramps for voting, while providing election administrators with technology and funding support for key modernizations, adding up to a wave of participation that will overpower gerrymandering, undermine dark money and elect governments that serve the people.
Making the breast pump not suck
Based on the research, determinants of breastfeeding operate at structural, environmental and individual levels. There is a fairly robust understanding of breastfeeding barriers at each of these levels. A well-documented reason that women stop breastfeeding is working outside the home. We know of workplace policies and interventions that are successful at increasing breastfeeding, including maternity protections, maternity and paternity leave policies, lactation breaks, counseling and nursing rooms in the workplace.
But if we know these things, why do so many women have such extreme negative feelings about breastpumping and attempting to breastfeed while working? Why does it still suck so badly for so many women to meet basic public health goals in the United States?
What we lack are strong, powerful narratives that detail not just that a woman stopped breastfeeding her child, but first-hand accounts of the factors surrounding that decision.
With colleagues at the Emerson Engagement Lab and the MIT Media Lab, we plan to conduct applied qualitative research with women in Boston, MA, Detroit, MI, New Orleans, LA, and rural New Mexico – in order to nurture inclusive innovation in breastfeeding supportive technologies and policies among a racially and economically diverse group of women. Specifically, we wish to understand the experiences of women of low socio-economic backgrounds in using a breast pump to maintain a breastfeeding relationship with their baby. Their narratives and experiences will inform 1) a national event focused on inclusive innovation in the design of breastfeeding supportive technologies and 2) a policy summit focused on changing the social norms associated with breastfeeding and building political will to invest in it.
For both of these initiatives, collaboration will be key. Stay tuned for more about ways to participate and please get in touch with suggestions, questions, and offers of support! Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org