2021 Democracy Initiative Lab Proposal Application

We welcome proposals that (1) identify challenges to and within democracy, (2) advance scholarship, (3) articulate promising solutions or important next steps, and (4) strive to have impact in and beyond the academy. The Lab Directors must be tenure-track faculty in the College of Arts & Sciences, but we encourage proposals that also include non-College faculty at UVA as Core Faculty.  

The successful proposal will be selected based on how well they address contemporary or enduring challenges to democracy; leverage existing faculty expertise; help train graduate students and serve the undergraduate population; and develop an actionable plan for public engagement. The proposals can do so through many different approaches, including a focus on important conceptual questions around the history, philosophy and culture of democracy that have implications for public policy and civic life.  


Proposals should include:

  • An abstract (250 words or less) summarizing the proposed Lab, including the challenge to or within democracy that it seeks to address.
  • A description of the project’s broad research, teaching, and public affairs/engagement objectives. Please be specific in describing which of the conditions for a healthy democracy the Lab intends to address (listed above). If the Lab doesn’t fall directly under one of the conditions, please describe its relevance to the Initiative.
  • A description of the importance of the project, particularly given the current environment, or anticipated challenges to or within democracy. 
  • A statement explaining how the project intervenes in current debates or generates new understandings relevant to scholars, practitioners, policy makers, and/or the private sector.
  • A discussion of how the Lab will achieve its objectives. There are many ways to make your case, including proof of concept, previous research, or relevant case studies.
  • A statement explaining how the project draws on contributions from more than one department or school and contributes to the strength of research and teaching programs in more than one unit.
  • A research, teaching, and public affairs/engagement plan that describes the proposed activities that will take place during each of the years that the Lab is funded. The research focus can take different forms, including one unified research project or a set of connected research nuclei. The project should be designed to formally run for three years, starting on 7/1/2022 and ending 6/30/2025, with a planning period during the Spring of 2022. The plan should include: 
    • A projected timeline (with a detailed schedule for the three-year window).
    • A list of current University of Virginia participants (e.g. faculty “fellows,” post-docs, and graduate students who may be involved in the project, and their potential roles). Because we seek to graduate education at the University of Virginia through our investment in these initiatives, please also list the names, departments, and academic backgrounds of two to four graduate students who will be formally affiliated with and partially funded by the proposed project.
    • The proposed contributions to undergraduate education, through formal classes, Forums or teaching Engagements, as well as through the research and public engagement activity.
    • Proposed partners based at the University of Virginia and in other sectors (for example, the private and NGO sectors; community organizations; local, state, and federal governments; cultural and/or international institutions).  Please share how and when partners will be engaged in the work of the Lab.
    • A description of communications objectives and strategies (both in terms of research dissemination and public engagement).
    • If relevant, plans to engage the greater Charlottesville community in the life of the Lab.
  • Short (2-3 page) CVs for all current UVA faculty that are part of the proposal.
  • Bibliography.
  • Letters of support from the Chair and/or Dean of all units contributing to the project.
  • Budget request and narrative. 
    • See additional details on budget requirements below.
  • Point of contact if there are additional questions from the selection committee.


The maximum budget is $1 million over the three-year period. In addition, a planning grant of $7500 will be granted to the newly selected lab in the Spring of 2022, to support initial work before the formal start date of 7/1/2022. 

Lab Directors may include in the budget up to one course release equal to 1/6th of their salary per year along with summer wages equal to 1/9th of their annual salary per year, OR summer wages equal to 2/9th of their annual salary per year, to support their work as directors. In addition, core faculty who are formally involved in the work of some aspect of the Lab on a continuous basis (including teaching one of the Lab's classes, leading a Lab-sponsored research or community-engagement project, mentoring graduate students or postdoctoral fellows, or other time-intensive activity) can receive one course release equal to 1/6th of their salary per year OR summer wages equal to 1/9th of their annual salary.    

The A&S Dean’s Office will provide a budget template. In addition to the budget items for Lab directors and core faculty, other items can include: 

  • Support for Visiting Scholar(s) (from outside UVA)
  • Faculty Fellows (from UVA)
  • Postdoctoral Research Associates (who normally teach one course per term in the relevant department in their area of expertise, but may also focus on a collaborative research project or community/public engagement project in lieu of teaching). The lab is responsible for the costs of recruitment (job search advertising) as well as any applicable visa expenses, and for providing post-docs with research funds and computer equipment.
  • Graduate fellowship(s) for current PhD students who will work in the Lab in lieu of serving as a TA for one or two years. Budgets for these students include a 20K stipend as well as health insurance and tuition. Alternatively, graduate students can be supported as hourly graduate research assistants through the academic year and summer, but these students would not be relieved of their TA responsibilities. Please coordinate with the department and the graduate school to confirm student availability.
  • Wages for a graduate student who provides administrative support
  • Support for practitioner Fellows (such as journalists, policy-makers, activists, writers, artists, etc.)
  • Wages for undergraduate students who work in the Lab
  • Additional staff positions (such as multimedia producers for podcasts or documentary film work or staff connected to community engagement projects)
  • The costs of supporting the Lab’s undergraduate teaching component 
    • If you plan to teach a Forum as part of your Lab’s undergraduate curricular component, list costs, including accurate backfill for departments.
  • Research expenses for collective lab projects
  • Convening and public engagement expenses
  • Administrative and travel expenses to support lab projects
  • Purchase of equipment directly related to lab projects

Note: After the new lab is selected, all requests for course buy-outs included in the proposal will still need to go through a formal review process by the relevant Department Chairs and Associate Deans before they are approved. 


Please contact the Democracy Initiative’s Finance & Administration Manager, Danni Scheffler, at [email protected] with any questions about the budget and/or budget template.

Lab Roles And Responsibilities

The Democracy Labs are a critical piece of the Initiative as a whole.  While the operation and research direction of the Lab will fall directly under the purview of the Lab faculty, there will be routine “update” meetings with Initiative leadership twice per semester. The meetings ensure that Labs are well-supported and facilitate collaboration and clear communication across the Initiative.

Labs will be required to provide year-end written evaluation of their work. In the reports, Labs should indicate their progress toward the objectives described in their proposals and provide a detailed assessment of the ways in which the Lab or Lab members have contributed to the Democracy Initiative’s three areas of impact: research, teaching, and public engagement. At the end of the three-year period of the lab, lab directors will submit a concluding narrative report that outlines contributions in research, teaching and public engagement. 

Labs will be held to their original yearly budgets unless adequate justification is provided in the annual report to carry-forward funds from a previous fiscal year and/or revise their budget for the upcoming fiscal year(s). Labs will not be permitted to carry-forward more than 50% of their budget from year one to year two, and no more than 25% of year two’s budget to year three. At the conclusion of its third year, all remaining funding from a lab’s budget will be reabsorbed by the Democracy Initiative.

Labs will be required to follow UVA branding guidelines. The Initiative works in concert with the UVA Arts & Sciences communications team to allow for appropriate individual Lab identities that simultaneously share a common look and feel with the Initiative as a whole.

In-Kind Support Provided For Labs

The Initiative will provide an “in kind” Lab manager to support the day-to-day operation of Lab work. The manager is an Initiative employee who will work with the Lab while also undertaking other special projects for the Democracy Initiative. The individual will serve as an advisor to Lab faculty leadership; advise and facilitate public programming; advise, coordinate, and facilitate communications support functions between A&S and Initiative marketing and communications teams; facilitate hiring and the HR relationship generally; manage the Lab budget, as well as process financial transactions via Initiative finance staff; and maintain clear communication between the Lab and the Initiative, as well as among other rotating Labs.

The Initiative will provide additional staff support including a Head of Communications, an Event Planner, and a Finance Generalist. These services do not relieve the Lab faculty’s responsibilities in these critical areas but are meant to serve as additional avenues of support.

Important To Know

  • Please limit proposals to 10 pages, plus letters of support, work cited, and CVs.
  • The written components of the proposal should be saved in one document (either Word or PDF). The budget should be submitted as in separate Excel file. 
  • When drafting the proposal, remember that the selection committee will be comprised of peers who may or may not be experts in your field. The proposal should be compelling and the challenge to democracy that the Lab will address clear and straightforward.
  • The selection committee may be in touch with more specific questions regarding the proposal.
  • Proposals not funded in this round of applications may be revised and re-submitted in subsequent years.
  • If you have a concept in mind for a Lab but are unsure if it meets the criteria above, please be proactive and ask for assistance. The goal is to bring as many ideas to the fore as possible.

For further information contact:

Ellen Ochs
Democracy Initiative Chief of Staff
[email protected]