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Call for Nominations for 2017 Brown Democracy Medal

Nov 02, 2016

Seeking Nominations for the 2017 Laurence and Lynne Brown Democracy Medal

Innovations in Democratic Theory


The McCourtney Institute for Democracy at The Pennsylvania State University is accepting nominations for the 2017 Brown Democracy Medal. The medal and $5,000 are awarded annually to bring attention to the best new work being done by individuals or organizations to advance democracy in the United States and around the globe. The Brown Medal recognizes recent work that is significant but under-appreciated. The medal brings new ideas and innovations the public recognition they deserve and advances their positive impact on democracy.

Award Review Process for 2017

In odd-numbered years, the award celebrates 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. 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. As illustration, the 2015 Brown medal was awarded to Joan Tronto of the University of Minnesota, for her work on care in democratic politics.)

Nominations for the2016 medal will be accepted through January 3, 2017, and the awardee will be announced in the spring. The winner will give a talk at Penn State in fall, 2017, when they will receive their medal and 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 verylow price in electronic and print formats to aid the diffusion of the winning innovation. Essays from the previous winners are available through Cornell University Press and other online outlets.

To assure full consideration, please send all nomination letters before January 3, 2017 to . Initial nomination letters are simply that, a one-to-two page letter that describes how the nominee’s work meets the criteria for this award and what distinguishes it from other work on democracy. Both self-nominations and nominations of others are welcomed. In either case, email, phone, and postal contact information for the nominee must be included.

A distinguished review panel composed of Penn State faculty, doctoral students, 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. Those in the second round will be required to provide further documentation, which includes the following: a brief biographical sketch of the individual or organization nominated; two letters of support from persons familiar with their work; and a basic description of the innovation and its efficacy. The review panel will then scrutinize the more detailed applications and select an awardee by the end of April.

Review Criteria

The democratic innovation selected will score highest on these features:

  1.  Novelty. The innovation is precisely that—a genuinely new way of thinking about democracy or practicing it. The award is thus intended to recognize recent accomplishments, which have occurred during the previous five years. The innovation will likely build on or draw on past ideas and practices, but its novelty must be obvious.
  2. Systemic Change. The idea, theory, or practical reform should represent significant change in how we think about and practice democracy. Ideas should be of the highest clarity and quality, empirical studies should be rigorous and grounded in evidence, and practical reforms must have proof of their effectiveness. The change the innovation brings about should be able to alter the larger functioning of a democratic system over a long time frame.
  3. Potential for Diffusion. The idea or reform 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.
  4. Democratic Quality. In practical terms, while the nominees themselves may well be partisan, 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.


Individuals or organizations who are Penn State alums or employees, or who have worked closely with the Institute, are not eligible.

Questions and Further Information

Any questions or requests for more information should be sent to .
The McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State (http://democracyinstitute.la.psu.edu) promotes rigorous scholarship and practical innovations to advance the democratic process in the United States and abroad.

Democracy Roundtable: September 12

Sep 07, 2016

Deliberation and Bioethics Education: Developing Competence for Public Problem-Solving

Lisa M. Lee (Ph.D. Johns Hopkins), is the Executive Director of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. Lee will address the Commission's new report: Bioethics for Every Generation: Deliberation and Education in Health, Science, and Technology. 

Monday, September 12, 10:30 a.m.
131 Sparks

Michael Berkman appointed Director of the McCourtney Institute

Jul 22, 2016

Michael Berkman appointed Director of the McCourtney Institute

Michael Berkman has been named director of the MCourtney Institute for Democracy effective July 1.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Michael Berkman, professor of political science and director of the Center for American Political Responsiveness (CAPR), has been named director of Penn State’s McCourtney Institute for Democracy.

Berkman assumed the helm of the McCourtney Institute on July 1. He succeeds former director John Gastil, professor of communication arts and political science, who is currently on sabbatical. Gastil will remain with the McCourtney Institute as a senior scholar upon his return.

Based in the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts, the McCourtney Institute is an interdisciplinary center dedicated to understanding and improving democracy and the democratic process through research, teaching and outreach. The center pursues this mission independently and by supporting the work of CAPR and the Center for Democratic Deliberation.

Read the full story here!

McCourtney Institute announces 2016 Brown Democracy Medal winner

May 05, 2016

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State is pleased to announce that the Electoral Integrity Project has been selected as the winner of the 2016 Brown Democracy Medal.

The Electoral Integrity Project has established a set of criteria with which to evaluate the integrity of elections. Employing scholars and observers, both international and domestic, it shows precisely where a nation is falling short of international standards, and what it needs to do to improve its elections, and thereby its democracy.

There were three finalists this year for the Brown Medal. In addition to the EIP, the other finalists were the Accountability Lab and the Public Mapping Project. The Accountability Lab works primarily in fledgling democracies, engaging young people and helping them develop ways to hold those in power accountable. The Public Mapping Project has developed open source software that allows anyone to take on the problem of redistricting at virtually any level of government (city, county or state).

Read the full story here!

McCourtney Institute for Democracy spring speaker series continues exploration of 2016 campaign

Feb 03, 2016

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State will offer a spring speaker series featuring national journalists and political science scholars examining issues related to the 2016 presidential campaign.  All of the events are free and open to the public.

David Karol, co-author of The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform, will deliver the Center for American Political Responsiveness keynote address in Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library at 4:00 p.m. on Friday, February 26.  Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight calls The Party Decides “probably…the most-cited and the most-maligned…also the most misunderstood book of the 2016 campaign.”  The book presents evidence that party elites continue to exert influence on the nomination process.  Karol’s talk will take up these arguments in light of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Conservative commentator, columnist and author Reihan Salam, executive editor of National Review, will discuss “Donald Trump and the Future of the GOP” in his presentation in the HUB’s Freeman Auditorium at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, February 29.  National Review recently published an entire issue dedicated to making the case why Donald Trump should not be the Republican presidential standard bearer.  His speech will provide an updated analysis of Trump and the Republican Party following the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary.

Mary E. Stuckey, professor and director of graduate studies in the Georgia State University Department of Communication, will deliver the 2016 Kenneth Burke Lecture in the Life Sciences Building Auditorium at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 31.  Stuckey, who is the author of nine books focusing on presidential communication and rhetoric, will discuss the use of anger as a tactic for political candidates.

Based in Penn State's College of the Liberal Arts, The McCourtney Institute for Democracy promotes rigorous scholarship and practical innovations to advance the democratic process in the United States and abroad. The Institute pursues this mission independently, and through supporting the work of the Center for Democratic Deliberation and the Center for American Political Responsiveness.

To learn more, go to http://democracyinstitute.la.psu.edu or email the Institute’s Managing Director, Chris Beem.