Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation Devotes $350,000 in Annual Grants to Exploring Democracy’s Challenges

Contact: Kate Hoagland
Phone: 617 495-4347
Date: February 08, 2012

From exploring citizen participation in rural China to assessing how public deliberations in California can engage citizens, Harvard Kennedy School's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation continues to be at the forefront of understanding democracy’s challenges.

Today, the Ash Center announced a deepened commitment to studying democracy by devoting $350,000 each year to faculty and student research that aims to bridge the wide gulf that separates the ideal of democracy from its imperfect practice in the real world. Called the “Challenges to Democracy,” this grant program will fund HKS faculty-led research projects and seminars as well as post-doctoral and doctoral fellowships for students throughout the Harvard community.

“We are pleased to offer such a substantial amount of funding to support research on strengthening democratic practices and the institutional innovation that is necessary to maintain and expand democratic participation and engagement around the world” said Tony Saich, director of the Ash Center. “We hope that this support will engage Harvard’s vibrant intellectual community in the exploration of key challenges in these areas and that it will also push ahead not just our thinking, but also our curriculum design.”

Challenges to Democracy: In Detail

Within this broad mandate, the Ash Center will give priority to grant proposals that contribute to the intellectual life of the Center including its seminars, workshops, and working groups of faculty, staff, and visiting scholars, and that strengthens the following existing areas of 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?

The Ash Center will award grants in four categories:

While all proposals are welcome, those that combine one or more forms of support will be particularly welcomed, such as a faculty research project that includes support for a post-doctoral scholar, or a faculty seminar intended to lead to a substantive research project.

The deadline for all grant proposals is April 1, 2012. Awards will be given for work beginning in the summer of the current 2011-12 academic year or for the 2012-13 academic year beginning next fall.

Award decisions will be made by late April 2012 by a committee composed of the Ash Center director, the Democracy, Politics, and Institutions (DPI) Area chair, and senior DPI faculty.


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