Design Studio

Our constitutional democracy is at a crossroads, facing deep partisan and philosophical polarization. Understanding of and trust in our democratic institutions are dangerously low and misinformation is higher than ever. Universities must take a leading role to revive ethics and civics education, and educating for democracy, across the educational spectrum, including both K-16 and lifelong learning. Universities need to create new institutional partnerships that will fundamentally change how the fundamentals of democratic knowledge–ethics, civics, history, and more–are transmitted to students of all ages. We must engage learners in domains that have become unfamiliar and restore trust in our institutions as stewards of a healthy democratic culture. We seek to develop their capacity to act ethically and in support of democracy across the multiple contexts of their lives. This has never been more pressing. 

The Design Studio at Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, brings together ethicists and educators, scholars and students, practitioners, policymakers, and leaders in the education sector. They leverage the capacities of the Design Studio’s highly trained staff to develop partnerships in research and curricular design, new public policy interventions, and new professional norms and practices. Its distinct value-add is expertise in and commitment to the integration of ethics and civics learning across three major axes:  

  • The full educational spectrum, from kindergarten through professional training, including graduate school, professional development, executive education, and lifelong learning in the form of HarvardX offerings; 

  • The disciplines, including the humanities, business, STEM fields, and professional schools (medicine, business, public health); 

  • and personal and professional contexts—since ethics and civics learning apply across these domains. 

The Center for Ethics is uniquely positioned to deliver high quality resources and programs to support the skills and knowledge needed for an informed, authentically engaged, and compassionate citizenry, given our faculty and staff expertise in ethics, history, civics, developmental psychology, research, and project management. We have built a strong reputation as an innovative leader in the fields of ethics and civics across our 34-year history. By collaborating with a wide range of partners in the education sector, we can foster young peoples’ capacity for agency, reflection, values-based decision-making, and healthy participation in constitutional democracy, civil society, and work and the professions. The time is right to revive the way that ethics and civics is taught at the University and across the nation. 

Meira Levinson (Professor of Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and EJSCE faculty committee member) is stepping into the role as Faculty Director for the DKP Design Studio, succeeding Danielle Allen, the Founding Director.


In addition, the Design Studio is led by a Faculty Advisory Committee. This will be chaired in 2021-22 by Jane Kamensky (Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History at Harvard and Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study). That committee (also including Angela DePace, Alison Simmons, Jeff Behrends, Chris Robichaud, and Jess Miner) is made up of pedagogy project leads from across the University, including the Kennedy School of Government, the Harvard Medical School, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. See more information on the projects below.


What is the Design Studio?  

The Design Studio is a hub that supports innovative ethics and civics learning initiatives, originating all across the university, that are dedicated to teaching people how to think through and work collectively on hard issues. We serve as a hub for faculty-led efforts to work with partners to co-design and implement innovative ethics and civic education curricula, educator professional development offerings, assessment tools, and policy frameworks. Faculty-led projects are underway for K-12 learning, undergraduate and graduate learning, professional development, and life-long learning. Our goal is to develop informed, engaged, and compassionate citizens who know how to work together effectively in a shared democratic society. Doing so requires us to learn to act ethically where we are, regardless of our profession, especially in a distributed society such as ours. 

Successful ethics education and civic learning simultaneously inspire, enlighten, and empower. Students need to develop motivation for reflection and participation and an attunement to where ethical issues and dilemmas present themselves. They need to build an understanding of the workings of constitutional democracy and a robust sense of personal agency. 

Any ethics or civic education curriculum that can meet the significant needs facing people in conditions of rapid technological change will deliver “deeper learning,” built on mastery of disciplinary content, development of a decision-maker or civic identity integrated with positive social emotional learning (SEL) growth, and acquisition of deliberative and civic skills that can be creatively deployed. These are the overarching goals of DKP curricular design projects. 

Current Design Studio Supported Projects:  

  • The Democratic Knowledge Project (DKP), founded by Danielle Allen and advised by a committee of Harvard Scholars, has built a strategy for rebuilding civic education, in partnership with teachers and school districts across Massachusetts, by integrating the best historical and civic scholarship and action-oriented approaches to learning into the curriculum. The DKP is a K-12 civic education provider that offers curriculum development resources, professional development workshops for educators, and assessment tools and services—all in support of education for constitutional democracy. 
  • Collegiate Curricular Innovation, led by Christopher Robichaud, leads the way on curricular innovation at the undergraduate and graduate level at Harvard through the Ethics Pedagogy Fellowship program. The Fellows partner with faculty to revamp current courses or design new courses that meet the Ethics & Civics requirement for Harvard College’s General Education curriculum and incorporate active-learning projects. This project has also developed the first Intercollegiate Civil Disagreement Partnership in the nation in collaboration with state universities and community colleges. Finally, the Collegiate Curricular Innovation Project helped to launch and now supports Harvard’s intercollegiate undergraduate Ethics Bowl team.

  • The National Ethics Project, led by the Center's Executive Director, Jess Miner, is a consortium of researchers, educators, and practitioners from different disciplines and a range of higher ed institutions, founded by the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics. The project researches where and how ethics is currently taught at universities and whether university aspirations align with ethics offerings. Team researchers identify barriers to ethics education, share effective techniques for ethics instruction, and cultivate projects and tools that promote ethics teaching and learning nationwide.  

  • EdEthics, led by Meira Levinson, is building a global field of educational ethics, modeled after bioethics, that will offer real-time training and support to school and district personnel, foster ethical policy formation and evaluation, and develop theory that is both rigorous and relevant to key questions in education policy and practice. 

  • Embedded Ethics, led by Alison Simmons and Jeff Behrends, is a program that integrates custom-designed ethics modules into a range of courses across the university. This program is an expansion of Embedded EthiCS, a successful collaboration between the faculties of Philosophy and Computer Science at Harvard University that introduces ethics curriculum into existing CS courses.   

  • The Scientific Citizenship Initiative at Harvard Medical School, led by Angela DePace, is seeking to ensure that scientific research training and practice incorporate civic engagement as a professional responsibility and method for learning key skills for professional success, such as leadership, ethics and communication. 

  • Educating for American Democracy, led by Jane Kamensky at Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, is a collaboration with the EJSCE at Harvard University, Tufts University, Arizona State University and iCivics. Beginning in 2019 with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education, EAD brought together a national network of more than 300 scholars, classroom educators from every grade level, practitioners, and students from a diversity of viewpoints, demographics, and roles, who pooled their expertise to create a strategy for providing excellent history and civics to all students. Faculty affiliated with the EJSCE, including Dr. Kamensky, Dr. Danielle Allen (on leave as EJSCE Faculty Director), and team members from the DKP, have contributed to development and dissemination of the EAD roadmap, curation of curricular resources aligned to the roadmap, and development of shared research and assessment tools and methods.

  • Humanities and Liberal Arts Assessment (HULA), based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero and led by our Chief Assessment Scientist, David Kidd, has developed new evaluation and assessment tools for humanities teaching and learning. HULA has worked with dozens of public humanities programs to illuminate their work using empirical social science methods; it has contributed to innovative research to understand and improve ethics education at colleges and universities; and it has conducted research to establish valid research tools and assessments needed to support deeper civic learning.