A project to develop a set of publicly available tools that will shed light on key areas of democratic functioning.
A project funded by the United Nations Democracy Fund
In January 2020, the Chicago Center on Democracy won a $220,000 grant from the United Nations Democracy Fund to embark upon a multi-year project to develop a set of publicly available tools that will shed light on key areas of democratic functioning.
This project, entitled “Developing a Global Early-Warning System for Democratic Erosion,” will create three publicly accessible tools to allow all interested parties to study, track, and predict democratic erosion in countries around the world. The tools in the system will cover three areas of democratic functioning: 1) tracking global democratic performance, 2) analyzing the rhetorical strategies of politicians, and 3) understanding the role of referendums in healthy democracies.
Why we are working on this topic
The popular image of how democratic governments fall includes tanks in the streets, military takeover of the press, and other overt signs of a coup d’état. Recently, however, democracies die far more commonly from the piecemeal erosion of democratic institutions by elected leaders themselves. This process of democratic erosion is subtle and often not understood by a citizenry until it’s too late.
Civil society organizations, journalists, academics, and others require reliable tools to understand the process by which democratic erosion takes place. Such tools must be cross-national, as democratic erosion processes follow common patterns across regions; indeed, authoritarian leaders seem to study each other’s playbooks.
In the short term, the desired impact of this project is to shed new light on the processes by which democracies decline and can be strengthened, by informing the reporting of journalists, the advocacy and policy work of civil society groups, and the research of academics. Over the longer term, CCD hopes to play a part in a broader renaissance of awareness among the citizenry of all countries about how democracies function, what healthy democracy looks like, and the path to democratic strength.
The UNDEF funding process for this grant
The United Nations Democracy Fund is a Trust Fund under the authority of the United Nations Secretary-General, which strengthens democratization efforts around the world by supporting projects that strengthen civil society, promote human rights, and encourage participation in democratic processes. It is the only UN entity solely dedicated to supporting democracy.
Out of more than 2,300 proposals from 141 countries submitted in this funding round, UNDEF funded just two percent of the projects, fewer than 50 projects in total. Each of these projects has gone through a rigorous vetting process. The 2,300+ proposal submissions are first reviewed by UNDEF’s Advisory Board, which is composed of representatives from 14 UN Member States. This board creates a longlist of about 300 of the most promising proposals. The board then consults with a variety of individuals and organizations. These include the UN Resident Coordinators (a position with the same rank as Ambassador within the UN system) and entities such as the UN Development Programme, UN Women, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Through this consultation process, the board arrives at a shortlist of proposals, which are then reviewed by the Permanent Missions of the relevant countries, and finally reviewed and approved by the UN Secretary-General.
Since its creation in 2006, UNDEF has disbursed more than $170 million through more than 800 projects across 140 countries. It is funded through contributions from governments, having been supported by more than 40 governments to date.