Each year, the Pennsylvania State University McCourtney Institute for Democracy gives a medal and $5,000 award for exceptional innovations that advance the design and practice of democracy. The medal celebrates and helps to publicize the best work being done by individuals or organizations to advance democracy in the United States or around the globe. The Institute gives medals in even-numbered years to recognize practical innovations, such as new institutions, laws, technologies, or movements that advance democracy. In odd-numbered years, the awards celebrate advances in democratic theory that provide richer philosophical or empirical conceptions of democracy. The Participatory Budgeting Project won the first medal in 2014 for the best innovation in the practice of democracy (see details at democracyinstitute.la.psu.edu).
Nominations will be accepted through December 10, 2014, and the awardee will be announced in the spring of 2015. The winning individual (or representative of a winning organization) will give a talk at Penn State in the fall of 2015, when they also receive their medal and $5,000 award. Between the spring announcement of the winner and the on-campus event in the fall, the Institute provides the recipient with professional editorial assistance toward completing a short (20-25 pages) essay describing the innovation for a general audience. Cornell University Press will publish the essay, which will be available to the general public at a very low price in electronic and print formats to aid the diffusion of the winning innovation.
Award Review Process for Innovations in Democratic Theory
This year’s Brown Medal competition will recognize an exceptional advance in democratic theory, broadly construed. Submissions can include conceptual advances, moral philosophical insights, rhetorical, interpretive or historical theories, empirical or causal models, and/or innovations in the design of democratic processes. Innovating ideas, models, and designs have been instrumental in advancing democracy on both large and small social scales, both in recent years and over the centuries of democratic practice. Examples include new methods of voting and representation, new notions of civil and human rights, theories of political communication, polarization, social capital, and social movements, models of democratization and its impediments, and deliberative and participatory re-conceptualizations of democracy.
Nominations will be accepted through December 10, 2014, and the awardee will be announced in the spring of 2015. Recipients may be scholars, civic reformers, non-governmental organizations, or any other individual or entity responsible for the theoretical innovation. The winner (or the representative of the winning organization) will give a talk at Penn State in the fall of 2015, when we will also present their medal and $5,000 award. Between the spring announcement of the winner and the on-campus event in the fall, the Institute will provide the recipient with professional editorial assistance toward completing a short (20-25 page) essay describing the innovation for a general audience. In the fall, Cornell University Press will publish the essay, which will be available to the general public at a very low price in electronic and print formats to aid the diffusion of the winning innovation.
All nomination letters must be emailed by December 10, 2014 to email@example.com to guarantee full review. Initial nomination letters are simply a one-to-two page letter that describes the innovation, its author/s, and the accessible location of its fullest expression (e.g., in a scholarly article, magazine essay, or on the Internet). Both self-nominations and nominations of others’ innovations are welcomed. In either case, email, phone, and postal contact information for the nominee must be included.
By January, 2015, a panel composed of Penn State faculty and independent reviewers will screen those initial nominations and select a subset of nominees who will be notified that they have advanced to a second round. By the end of February, those in the second round will be invited to provide further documentation, which includes the following: biographical sketch of the individual or organization nominated (max. 2 pages); two letters of support from persons familiar with their theoretical innovation, particularly those who work independently from the nominee; a basic description of the innovation and its efficacy, with a maximum length of 30 pages of printed materials and/or 30 minutes of audio/video materials; and a one-page description of who would come to Penn State to receive award and who would draft the essay describing the innovation. The review panel will then scrutinize the more detailed applications and select an awardee by the end of April.
The theoretical innovation selected will score highest on these features:
- The innovation is precisely that—a genuinely new way of thinking about democracy. It will likely build on or draw on past ideas and practices, but its novelty must be obvious.
- Systemic change. The theory, concept, or design should be able to change systematically how we think about and practice democracy. Conceptual insights should be of the highest clarity and quality, and empirical models should be rigorous and grounded in evidence. The practical significance of the innovation should be systematic, in that it can alter the larger functioning of a democratic system over a long time frame.
- Potential for Diffusion. The innovation should have general applicability across many different scales and cultural contexts. In other words, it should be relevant to people who aspire to democracy in many parts of the world and/or in many different social or political settings.
- Democratic Quality. The spirit of this innovation must be nonpartisan and advance the most essential qualities of democracy, such as broad social inclusion, deliberativeness, political equality, and effective self-governance. Nominees themselves may be partisan but their innovation should have nonpartisan or trans-partisan value.
- The award is intended to recognize recent theoretical accomplishments, which have occurred during the previous five years. The roots of an innovation could run deeper, especially as an idea or theory is developed and tested over time, but within the past five years, there must have been significant advances in its refinement or expression.
When choosing among otherwise equally qualified submissions, the review panel will also consider two practical questions. Who would give the lecture on campus and meet with the PSU community? Who would write the essay about the innovation? Neither needs to be the nominee, nor the nominator.
Individuals or organizations who have worked closely with the Institute’s director (Dr. John Gastil) or associate director (Dr. Mark Major) in the past five years are not eligible. For the first five years of the award (i.e., until 2019), Penn State alums or employees are also ineligible.
Questions and Further Information
Any questions or requests for more information should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Pennsylvania State University McCourtney Institute for Democracy (democracyinstitute.la.psu.edu) promotes rigorous scholarship and practical innovations to advance the democratic process in the United States and abroad. The Institute pursues this mission in partnership with the Center for Democratic Deliberation (CDD) and the Center for American Political Responsiveness (CAPR). The CDD studies and advances public deliberation, whereas CAPR attends to the relationship between the public’s priorities and the actions of elected bodies. Whereas each center focuses on the questions most salient to its mission, the Institute tends to larger issues and connections between those questions. The Institute examines the interplay of deliberative, electoral, and institutional dynamics. It recognizes that effective deliberation among citizens has the potential to reshape both the character of public opinion and the dynamics of electoral politics, particularly in states and local communities. Likewise, political agendas and institutional processes can shape the ways people frame and discuss issues. The main activities of the institute include giving a major annual award for democratic innovation, bringing speakers to campus, sponsoring faculty roundtables and workshops, and financially supporting student research.