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Seeking Nominations for the Penn State Democracy Medal

Each year, the Penn State Democracy Institute is giving 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 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.

Nov 11, 2013


The first medal will be given in 2014 for the best innovation in the practice of democracy. Nominations will be accepted through December 10, 2013, and the awardee will be announced in the spring of 2014. The winner will give a talk at Penn State in September, 2014, 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 will provide the recipient with editorial assistance toward completing a short (20-25 page) essay describing the innovation for a general audience. The Institute will publish the essay electronically, possibly in collaboration with an independent press, and make it available to the general public at a very low price (e.g., $1-2), along with a similarly-affordable audio version. These print and audio distillations of the innovation are designed to aid its diffusion.

Award Review Process

All nomination letters must be emailed by December 10, 2013 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.

By January, 2014, 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 required 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 work, 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.

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. It 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 be able to change systematically 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 systematic, in that it can 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. 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. In practical terms, the nominees themselves may be partisan but their innovation should have nonpartisan or trans-partisan value.
  5. Recency. The award is intended to recognize recent accomplishments, which have occurred during the previous five years. The roots of an innovation could run deeper, but within the past five years, there must have been significant advances in the idea or practical reform.

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, Penn State alums or employees are also ineligible.

Questions and Further Information

Any questions or requests for more information should be sent to

The Pennsylvania State University Democracy Institute ( promotes rigorous scholarship and practical innovations to advance the democratic process in the United States and abroad. The Institute pursues this mission , in part, through supporting the work of 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. In practical terms. 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 for student research.

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