Challenges to Democracy Grant Program

Ash Center Devotes $150,000 in Grants Exploring Democracy’s Challenges

HKS Faculty, Doctoral, and Post Doctoral Students Encouraged to Apply


The Ash Center's Challenges to Democracy Grant program is awarding $150,000 in funding support for HKS faculty workshops and doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships. Kennedy School doctoral students and faculty as well as post-doctoral students from the wider academic community were encouraged to apply by April 1, 2013. Award decisions will be made in late spring by a committee composed of the Ash Center director, the Democracy, Politics, and Institutions (DPI) Area chair, and senior DPI faculty.

The Center will grant awards for HKS faculty-led seminars or workshops, up to $10,000 each for a total of $40,000; doctoral fellowships for HKS and other Harvard graduate students, up to $30,000 per year for up to two fellowships; and post-doctoral fellowships, up to $50,000 per year for one fellowship. Awards will be given for work beginning in the summer of the current 2012-13 academic year or for the 2013-14 academic year. Funding preference is given to grant proposals that enhance one of the following key areas of Center research:

  • Democracy in Hard Places: In many regions of the world, democratic institutions and practices have not taken root. What causes democratic shifts and sustains them in countries that are new to democracy or have historical factors that pose challenges to democracy? What democratic practices and methods are most promising in these contexts?
  • Innovations in Democracy: Even in the oldest democracies, democratic practices fall far short of the ideals of political equality, inclusion, legitimacy, and popular sovereignty. What causes the institutions we have to fall short? What laws, politics, and practices can achieve democracy that is more true to its core ideals?
  • Public Sector Innovations: What are the most creative and promising local and regional innovations that solve urgent public problems such as unsustainable economic development, unfair distribution of resources, inadequate service delivery, poor quality of education, and weak physical and institutional infrastructure?

Started in the spring of 2012, the Challenges to Democracy Grant program is designed to foster research on the nature of democracy and bridge the gap between its ideals and often imperfect practice in the real world. Center funding supports studies in both mature and established democracies as well as those in the developing world.

Past Grantees at Work: Mass Movements, Getting to Yes, and More
As one of the five faculty grantees in the Challenges to Democracy’s 2012 inaugural year, Assistant Professor Stephen Kosack received funding for an ambitious project to create the world’s first comprehensive, cross-national data set of mass movements. This research explores the nature and characteristics of mass movements over the last two centuries in all of the nearly 200 countries in the world. Through the Ash Center grant, he has already completed coding of 10 out of 37 countries planned for this first phase of research. The outcomes of this project pave the way for a host of new academic research on the likelihood of movements to survive repression and ultimately impact public policy. The data also has the potential to empower citizens and policymakers to learn how mass movements have impacted government responsiveness to the provision of health care and education as well as a country’s overall democratization.

“At a time when mass movements are shaping policy and politics across the globe, from Europe and the Middle East to Asia, the study of mass movements—why and how they arise and create political change—has been hampered by a lack of comprehensive data,” said Professor Kosack. “The Challenges to Democracy Grant gave me the resources to develop and fine tune my methodology, providing invaluable evidence that will help me take the next steps to code movements in the rest of the world.”

In 2012, the Ash Center also awarded four faculty members grants to support structured time to meet and develop ideas around essential questions of democracy. Grantee Jane Mansbridge, HKS Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values, held the “Getting to Yes” workshop February 1-2, 2013. As the third workshop in a series started in the fall of 2012, this event brought together key scholars to examine the conditions that support a more cooperative environment in politics. Considering recent partisan divides, Mansbridge’s research is especially pertinent and will go beyond present news of gridlock on Capitol Hill to explore lessons from both American and European Union history and draw upon multidisciplinary research from psychology, international relations, rational choice analysis, and cultural studies. These workshops are part of a larger four-year project that will include other seminars and conferences as well as the publication of the book Breaking the Logjam.

Other faculty-led workshops scheduled later this year as part of the Challenges to Democracy Grant program include those of Pippa Norris, the Paul. F. McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics, and Muriel Rouyer, adjunct professor of public policy. Professor Norris’ “Concepts and Indices of Electoral Integrity” will convene international experts from both academic and public policy communities to discuss cutting-edge research to curb electoral malpractice and improve the integrity of elections. In late April, Muriel Rouyer will hold a workshop exploring the city of Nantes, winner of the 2013 European Green Capital award, as a case study on the nature of transnational democracy.

Additional HKS faculty that have received Challenges to Democracy Grants include Candelaria Garay, assistant professor of public policy; Asim Khwaja, professor of public policy; Tarek Masoud, associate professor of public policy; Ryan Sheely, assistant professor of public policy; and Kenneth Winston, lecturer in ethics. Lindsay Mayka, Ph.D. candidate at University of California, Berkeley, Emma Saunders-Hastings, and Shauna Shames, both Ph.D. candidates at Harvard University received fellowships in 2012.