He was born in Richmond, Indiana and grew up on a dairy farm outside of Eaton, Ohio. His father was Robert M. West and his mother was Jean E. West. His siblings include Kenneth West of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Joanne Shaver of College Corner, Ohio, and Shirley Mitchell of Eaton, Ohio. He graduated from Eaton High School in 1972 and went on to earn a B.A. from Miami University (Ohio) in 1976 and a Ph.D. in political science from Indiana University in 1981. He taught at Brown University from 1982 to 2008. He was the director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University. The spring 2008 semester was his final semester at Brown University after 26 years on the faculty.
He currently resides in Washington, DC with his wife, the actress Karin Rosnizeck (see her website at www.KarinOnStage.com). Additional information on his family history can be seen at www.InsidePolitics.org/DWestFamilyHistory.html.
His book Digital Government is the winner of the Don K. Price award for best book on technology and his co-authored book Cross Talk won the Doris Graber award for best book on political communications.
His books include Brain Gain: Rethinking U.S. Immigration Policy (Brookings Institution Press, 2010) (winner of ForeWord Review Book of the Year Award for Political Science), Digital Medicine: Health Care in the Internet Era (Brookings Institution Press,2009; co-authored with Edward Miller), The Next Wave: Using Digital Technology to Further Social and Political Innovation (Brookings Institution Press, 2011), Digital Schools: How Technology Can Transform Education (Brookings Institution Press, 2012), and Going Mobile: How Wireless Technology Is Reshaping Our Lives (Brookings Institution Press, 2015).
His book Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust (Brookings Institution Press, 2014) looks at the 1,645 billionaires in the world today and how "wealthification" is affecting politics and society. It goes inside the world of the ultra-wealthy and examines the role of Sheldon Adelson, Michael Bloomberg, David and Charles Koch, George Soros, Tom Steyer, and Donald Trump, as well as international billionaires around the globe. He argues that the growing political engagement of the supra-wealthy raises important questions about influence, transparency, and government performance. It was named by the Washington Post as one of the best political books of 2014 and was the winner of the Foreword Review Book of the Year Silver Award for Political Science.
His book Megachange: Economic Disruption, Political Upheaval, and Social Strife in the 21st Century (Brookings Institution Press, 2016) examines the large and dramatic shifts that take place on a regular basis in today's world. Domestically, we see megachange at work in the new attitudes towards same-sex marriage, marijuana legalization, Obamacare, Trumpism, and border security. Globally, we have seen the rise and collapse of the Arab Spring, the spread of ISIS-fomented terrorism, the Brexit vote, and the fracturing of international alliances. Many of the social and political forces that used to anchor domestic and global politics have grown weak. Extremism in one part of the world can reverberate far from the original source. With megachange becoming the new normal, our domestic and global institutions require updates so we can cope with the massive economic, political, and social tidal waves of change.
Recently, he was honored by Public Administration Review for having written one of the 75 most influential articles since 1940. This was for his 2004 article "E-Government and the Transformation of Service Delivery and Citizen Attitudes".
In 2015, his project on financial inclusion was named by philanthropist Bill Gates as one of the top five "good news stories" of the year. Writing on December 18, 2015 at his personal blog, Gates said that "mobile banking exceeds our optimistic projections" and is "one of the best tools we've ever seen for helping people lift themselves out of poverty". Details on the Brookings Institution financial inclusion report can be found at www.Brookings.edu.
The center that he directs at Brookings  examines a wide range of topics related to technology innovation including public sector innovation; digital media and social networking; health information technology; and virtual education. Its mission is to identify key developments in technology innovation, undertake cutting-edge research, disseminate best practices broadly, inform policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels about actions needed to improve innovation, and enhance the public’s and media’s understanding of the importance of technology innovation.
Starting in 2000, he has undertaken annual studies on the websites of the 50 states, the leading federal agencies, and the 198 nations around the world. His e-government reports are available online at InsidePolitics.org. The Center that he directs examines a wide range of topics related to technology innovation including governance, democracy, and public sector innovation; policy architecture, legal and Constitutional aspects of technology; digital media and social networking; health information technology; virtual education, and green technology. Its mission is to identify key developments in technology innovation, undertake cutting-edge research, disseminate best practices broadly, inform policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels about actions needed to improve innovation, and enhance the public’s and media’s understanding of the importance of technology innovation.
He has delivered lectures in more than a dozen different countries around the world, including China, Japan, Russia, Taiwan, Mexico, Brazil, Indonesia, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, Turkey, Spain, India, Bahrain, and the United States. He has been quoted in leading newspapers, radio stations, and national television networks around the world.Making Campaigns Count (1984)
Congress and Economic Policymaking (1987)
Public Opinion in Rhode Island (1994) with Thomas Anton and Jack Combs
Cross Talk: Citizens, Candidates, and the Media in a Presidential Campaign, (1996) with Marion Just, Ann Crigler, Dean Alger, Tim Cook, and Montague Kern
The Sound of Money: How Political Interests Get What They Want (1999) with Burdett Loomis
Checkbook Democracy: How Money Corrupts Political Campaigns (2000)
Patrick Kennedy: The Rise to Power (2000)
The Rise and Fall of the Media Establishment (2001) (Chinese edition, Peking University Press, 2010)
Celebrity Politics, (2002) with John Orman
Running on Empty: Campaign Discourse in American Elections (2004) co-edited with Sandy Maisel
Digital Government: Technology and Public Sector Performance (2005)(Chinese edition, 2013)
Evaluating Campaign Quality: Can the Electoral Process Be Improved? (2007) with Sandy Maisel and Brett Clifton
Biotechnology Policy Across National Boundaries (2007)
Air Wars: Television Advertising in Election Campaigns, 1952-2012 Sixth edition(2013)(Japanese edition, 1996)
Digital Medicine: Health Care in the Internet Era (2009) with Edward Miller
Brain Gain: Rethinking U.S. Immigration Policy (2010)
The Next Wave: Using Digital Technology to Further Social and Political Innovation (2011)(Korean translation, Korea National Open University Press, 2013; Chinese translation, Shanghai Publishing, 2014)
Digital Schools: How Technology Can Transform Education (2012)
Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust (Brookings Institution Press, 2014; Korean translation, Wonderbox Publishing, 2016)
Going Mobile: How Wireless Technology is Reshaping Our Lives 2015
Megachange: Economic Disruption, Political Upheaval, and Social Strife in the 21st Century (Brookings Institution Press, 2016)