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Brown Democracy Medal

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.

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 to democracyinst@psu.edu. 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.
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