Democracy Fellows Detail their Research while at IFES

Publication Date: 
6 Aug 2015

News Type:

Recognizing that academic research provides democracy practitioners with valuable perspectives on the effectiveness of their interventions and approaches, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) annually awards two to four Democracy Studies Fellowships to bring outstanding graduate students to Washington, D.C. to engage in democracy development research. On August 4, IFES’ 2015 Hybl Fellow Tanya Kelley and 2015 Manatt Fellow Alexandra Castillo presented their research to IFES staff and Board members.

Kelley, a Ph.D. candidate at Arizona State University, began the presentations by detailing her research on “Open Data Use by Global Electoral Management Boards: An evolving open government practice,” which was conducted in collaboration with IFES Program Development and Innovation Director Staffan Darnolf, Information and Communications Technology Program Manager Sarah Moulton and Program Coordinator Ritika Bhasker. Open data, noted Kelley, helps make governments more transparent, participatory and collaborative. With colleagues at IFES, Kelley has worked on developing a survey of election administrators to cull perspectives on the adoption and management of open data practices. Ultimately, Kelly’s research aims to address what can be done with open data to improve the conduct of elections and advance democracy.

Funded by William Hybl, a former Chair and current member of IFES’ Board of Directors, and wife Kathy,  the William and Kathy Hybl Fellowship, awards one grant to bring an outstanding U.S. or international graduate student from a university in the Rocky Mountain region to Washington to conduct research in democracy-building. Reflecting on her time as the 2015 Hybl Fellow, Kelley noted, “The 2015 William and Kathy Hybl Democracy Fellowship at IFES provided the best opportunity for my favorite practice of collaborative scholarship. That is research that combines theoretical and grounded field expertise to empower informed enhancements of democratic governance.”

In the last 20 years, Latin America has seen marked political advancements for previously marginalized communities, with increasing voter turnout, a growth in targeted social programs and the election of indigenous leaders like Bolivia’s President, Evo Morales. Yet, after more than 20 years of experience, there is extreme variation of support and satisfaction with democracy in the region. A Ph.D. student at the Ohio State University, Castillo’s research at IFES sought to address why views on democracy vary so widely throughout the region, with particular focus on Bolivia, where she found that wealthier groups were more inclined to express democratic dissatisfaction than poorer and indigenous Bolivians. However, her results also found that wealth is not consistently related to support for or satifisfaction with democracy across the region. Moreover, her preliminary evidence suggests that satisfaction with and support for democracy is stratified by racial and ethnic concerns as well.

“IFES has provided me the unique opportunity to learn, engage, and collaborate with practitioners of democracy and elections. The Manatt Fellowship has allowed me to build meaningful relationships and bridge the gap between academia and practitioners to work toward a common research agenda,” Castillo said. The Charles and Kathleen Manatt Fellowship, funded by the late U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic and former Chair of IFES' Board of Directors, Charles Manatt, and his wife Kathleen awards a student from the American Midwest the opportunity to work with IFES experts and conduct research on democracy and governance.

Based at IFES’ Center for Applied Research and Learning, fellows have access to IFES experts and conduct independent research with IFES mentors for 6 to 8 weeks. Scholars working with IFES receive current, primary source data from IFES’ global programs and support from seasoned election professionals. Both fellowships help integrate learning throughout IFES, which can lead to more rigorous and targeted electoral support. Such rigorous, evidence-based programming carries the potential to transform political and electoral processes, and impact the lives of individuals around the world. “This fellowship opened my eyes to an amazing community of people struggling to address the issues we study in the real world, and provided an outlet for my research to reach its intended goal, of actually influencing real actions and work towards fixing real problems,” 2014 Manatt Fellow Gregory Wallsworth said upon the completion of his fellowship last year.

Both Democracy Fellows will release the full findings of their research when completed, which will be published on IFES.org. The research of Hybl and Manatt fellows has helped shape learning at IFES, as well as in the wider democracy and governance community, and Kelley and Castillo’s research adds to that legacy. To learn more about IFES’ Democracy Studies Fellowships, click here