A Look at NSF’s Political Science Review Process

US Congressman Jeff Flake’s recently approved amendment to bar the National Science Foundation from spending money on political science research has drawn considerable attention (e.g., here, here, here, and here).  One thing that occurs to me is that those of us who pursue such funding (and have served on one or more NSF panels) have considerable private information.  I recently wrote about a project I have jointly undertaken to study National Human Rights Institutions.  Last week the NSF’s Political Science program declined to fund a proposal we had submitted (as did Law & Social Sciences, which apparently reviewed it as well).  In that semi-annual round of competition the program received 99 proposals and funded 10 of them.  Nine people reviewed the proposal, and then a dozen people discussed the 99 proposals and reviews of them, and rendered judgment.  Below is the proposal summary and the full set of reviews.  You can read the full proposal here.

Image

Context Statement

National Science Foundation
Political Science Program
Advisory Panel
General Information for Principal Investigators

The eleven-member advisory panel met at NSF on May 23 and 24, 2012, to evaluate 99 projects being considered by the Political Science Program for funding during the current cycle. All reviewers were instructed to use NSF’s merit criteria regarding both intellectual merit and broader impacts, as articulated in the Grant Proposal Guide. All reviewers were also encouraged to provide feedback on the data management plans to investigators. Written reviews were made available to panelists prior to the panel meeting. On the basis of written reviews and the discussion of the proposals that transpired during the meeting, the Advisory Panel made the following recommendations regarding program support for each proposal:

1. Competitive, High Priority (1 project)
2. Competitive (5 projects)
3. Competitive, Low Priority (3 projects)
4. Not Competitive (90 projects)

If you would like more information about the evaluation of your proposal, please contact:

Dr. Brian Humes, bhumes@nsf.gov, Program Director, (703) 292-7284
Dr. Erik Herron, eherron@nsf.gov, Program Director, (703) 292-7318

Political Science Program
National Science Foundation
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22230
Fax: (703) 292-9195

Review #1
Proposal Number: 1225368
NSF Program: Political Science
Principal Investigator: Moore, Will H
Proposal Title: Collaborative Research: National Human Rights Institutions: Impact of Institutions and Behavior upon Effectiveness
Rating: Fair

REVIEW:

What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

This project proposes to develop a new database on NHRIs, which would malke possible much new research on human rights, and permit the exploration of new questions. The PIs are experienced and accomplished, and the project has much to recommend it. I do have some concerns, mainly theoretical and about the ways human rights, their violations and NHRI effectiveness are being conceptualized and measured.

This project is framed as being about ‘constraining Leviathan’- that is, preventing the use of a state’s political authority and monopoly of the legitimate use of power against its own citizens, specifically focusing on violations of their human rights. The study focuses on the study of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) as possible constraints on state power vis-Ó-vis citizens, and whether and under what conditions they constrain governments from violating the human rights of their own citizens. Theoretically, the authors argue that political executives are strategic actors, seeking to retain power. There are three reasons a state might create NHRI institutions: to deepen existing commitments to HR; to superficially pretend to advance human rights while intending to continue abuses; and last in a transitions to tie the hands of future governments prevent the country from reverting to a past practice of abusing human rights (not sure these follow from the thesis that executives are strategic actors but leave that for now). These various motivations lead to diverse institutional designs (the authors examine variations in accountability to executive and independence from executive). The authors propose to collect data on NHRI from 1993 to 2010. They will gather data on NHRIs by coding data and other materials from these institutions; they will also gather data about violations of human rights based on reported complaints to these bodies. They have carried out an exploratory project to test the feasibility of the proposed research, and they conclude that it is feasible.

I am a bit unpersuaded about the theoretical contribution. The question the authors claim to answer is ‘how can we restrain Leviathan,’ by which they seem to mean ‘how can we prevent states from violating the rights of their own citizens’? This is a broader question than just about NHRIs, obviously. I agree that these new institutions are interesting and unexamined, but if the question is ‘how do we stop states from violating the human rights of citizens’ there is obviously a much broader set of possibilities than those cited here relating to NHRIs.

The ‘puzzle’ for the PIs is why states (equated here with political executives, which makes for some of the puzzles) would create NHRIs that constrain their own authority. (‘Why would a state subjugate its sovereignty by creating an institution with the power to monitor its own behavior?’) Of course, political authority is disaggregated in most modern states, so part of the so-called puzzle is solved by just recognizing that sometimes some parts of the state wish to have their counterparts restrained: When President Nixon was impeached, it was not some kind of self-restraint. Moreover, to the extent that the state (or legislators, or the executive) actually represents the public (as democratic theory supposes) its not at all a puzzle why the public would demand these policies and institutions. A bigger puzzle would be why citizens would ever obey a state that did not create these institutions of legitimacy. Indeed, we know that states that do not have legitimacy must spend much more money trying to obtain compliance, while those who accurately tap citizen values enjoy ‘overcompliance.’ So I’m not convinced this is a puzzle at all.

More practically, but relatedly, it is not clear that ‘The State’ is in fact restraining its own power (and ‘the state’ is equated with ‘the executive’ here). Institutions could be created by the legislature. Sometimes legislatures hold executives to account, and sometimes the legislature and executive are fused (as in Parliamentary systems). ‘The State’ is a collection of rival political actors in a variety of agencies and institutions that collectively hold political authority in most places (though to varying degrees- some states have very little authority and legitimacy internally, which the authors may wish to consider).

As Simmons and the authors note, such a policy can express or deepen an already existing commitment to human rights. In some thin but not very interesting sense this promoted the goals of the ‘executive’- Why do some states have these commitments and others do not? This does not seem to be the question of the proposed research.

The so-called puzzle is a bit more interesting in non-democracies without a tradition of human rights commitments. Why would these states adopt such policies? The obvious answer is to curry favor with international pressure/authorities, and its one the authors explore. More interesting is whether, in these cases, these institutions can make any difference to state violations of citizens rights. The proposed research does aim to answer this question, though it is not the primary focus, and even here I have questions about research design.

I also find the definition of human rights violations (which is at the core of the project) and institutions a bit old-fashioned and outdated, especially for a project that focusses on the period after 1993. Increasingly, HR violations perpetrated by private actors (ethnic conflict, gender violence (mass rape, genocide, domestic violence) are seen as central to human rights practice. The state is implicated here because states are obliged to protect citizens from these violations, but the state is not a perpetrator in the way this proposal suggests. The NHRIs and other agencies involved no doubt collect data on these kinds of violations that fall outside the theoretical interest of the scholars here. How will the authors take this into account, since I see no effort to distinguish those HR perpetrated from the state from those perpetrated by private actors?
Another measurement issue relates to the gathering of data on NHRIs and NHRI effectiveness: When one of the theoretical arguments being advanced by the authors is that NHRIs can be adopted to curry favor with the international community, is it really good enough to take at face value state’s own reports of their activities in this area? And of course there will be more complaints to more effective agencies, rendering the measure of effectiveness suspect.

So even though this is an important project, potentially, and the proposers are so accomplished, the theoretical and measurement issues seem to me to be too great to support this version of the proposal.

What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

I am convinced that greater knowledge about NHRIs, were it to be successful, would be very valuable. The students involved will also likely benefit from this project.

Summary Statement

Review #2
Proposal Number: 1225368
NSF Program: Political Science
Principal Investigator: Moore, Will H
Proposal Title: Collaborative Research: National Human Rights Institutions: Impact of Institutions and Behavior upon Effectiveness
Rating: Fair

REVIEW:
What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

National Human Rights Institutions: Impact of Institutions and Behavior upon Effectiveness
Intellectual Merit of the Proposed Activity

How Important is the Proposed Activity to Advancing Knowledge and Understanding Within its Own Field or Across Different Fields?

Research on national human rights institutions (NHRIs) has developed only in the past ten to fifteen years and there are still a relatively small number of scholars worldwide who focus on NHRI scholarship. These scholars are found mainly in the disciplines of law, political science and sociology. Given the nature of NHRIs and their role in the state and society, the work of NHRIs scholars is relevant across disciplines.
Accordingly, the proposal is an important project for the advancement of knowledge of and scholarship on NHRIs. In particular, there is little empirical research on NHRIs to date.

How Well Qualified in the Proposer (Team) to Conduct the Project? If Appropriate, Comment on Quality of Prior Work

The research team consists of one senior and two relatively junior investigators in the political science field. The senior investigator who has had university appointments since 1991 has 5 related publications in eminent refereed journals. The junior investigators each have several related publications in the same/similar well-respected journals. All three appear to have the empirical research expertise necessary for the project. Accordingly, the investigators have very good scholarly records for their respective career stages indicating that they are productive researchers.

None of the three investigators, however, have publications that focus on NHRIs. The lack of any strong grounding in NHRI scholarship has affected the quality of the background research in the proposal and the foundational understanding necessary to conduct the research project. For further details on this concern please see the following section.

The senior investigator has extensive graduate student supervisory experience, and one of the two junior investigators has started graduate supervisory work as a committee member while the other does not have any apparent experience to date. The senior investigator will have the expertise needed to supervise graduate students involved in this proposal and will need to mentor the junior investigators to assist them in developing graduate student supervisory expertise.

To What Extent Does the Proposed Activity Suggest and Explore Creative, Original or Potentially Transformative Concepts?

The proposal addresses the effectiveness of NHRIs. In addressing effectiveness, the proposal is not original or transformative given that NHRI effectiveness has been explored by a variety of scholars over more than a decade.

The proposal fails to recognize that there has been a growing body of theoretical work on NHRIs in the past decade and most of this work is not listed in the References section. See, for example, important work on NHRIs by Sonia Cardenas (political science), Brian Burdekin (law), Julie A. Mertus (political science, book on Human Rights Matters: Local Politics and National Human Rights Institutions 2009), Linda C. Reif (law, 2000 Harvard Human Rights Journal article, book on The Ombudsman, Good Governance and the International Human Rights System 2004), Thomas Pegram (political science) and Rachel Murray (law). While not available for the preparation of the proposal, see also Ryan Goodman and Thomas Pegram, eds., Human Rights, State Compliance, and Social Change: Assessing National Human Rights Institutions (Cambridge University Press, 2012). Also, the proposal’s literature references for ombudsman scholarship include only older scholarship on classical ombudsman institutions that predated the development of human rights ombudsman institutions with express human rights powers. There is much more recent, relevant literature on human rights ombudsman institutions, see for example, work by Reif and various journal articles in volumes 1 to 10 of The International Ombudsman Yearbook.

A number of the authors listed above have already investigated aspects of NHRI effectiveness that go beyond the legal architecture of the institution, looking e.g. the democratic and political context, the perception of the public about the NHRI, the interaction of the NHRI with the international human rights system and the character of the NHRI leader and his/her interaction with various actors in the state. See, for example, the work by Murray, Reif, Pegram and Mertus as well as Carver. For a proposal that addresses NHRI effectiveness, this literature needs to be included and addressed.

This proposal, however, does have the potential to add extensive empirical research to the scholarship on NHRI effectiveness and in this sense it can contribute new research approaches and potentially new concepts and knowledge.

How Well Conceived and Organized is the Proposed Activity?

The proposal has a solid organizational plan for obtaining and processing large amounts of information in a timely, organized fashion. However, (i) the proposal demonstrates some weaknesses in the foundational understanding of NHRIs, their development and structures, (ii) the choices for NHRI inclusion in/exclusion from the study raise some issues concerning comprehensiveness and consistency of institutions to be examined and (iii) there needs to be further clarification whether and how the effectiveness of a NHRI can be gauged simply or easily from quantitative data generally and quantitative data obtained from internet sources in particular.

(i) Weaknesses in the foundational understanding of NHRIs
The project proposal states that “NHRIs are an outgrowth of domestic Ombudsman offices” and that “classical Ombudsmen are a subset of NHRIs”, and includes classical ombudsman institutions in the data collection. It is more accurate to look to human rights commissions as the “source” institution for NHRIs and, for example, the UN Paris Principles (PPs) are based on an advisory human rights commission model. While “classical” ombudsman institutions (those without an express human rights protection and promotion mandate) played a role in the evolution of NHRIs, it was through their adaptation into hybrid human rights ombudsman. Human rights ombudsman institutions first appeared in the mid-1970s to early 1980s. Currently, under the International Coordinating Committee of NHRIs (ICC) Sub-Committee on Accreditation’s rules (General Observations), while human rights ombudsman institutions can be considered fully PP-compliant, it is high unlikely that classical ombudsman institutions will ever be considered to be fully PP-compliant and most classical ombudsman have not applied for ICC accreditation.
The proposal indicates that under New Quantitative Data to be obtained, the Behavioral Data will fall into two categories with one covering the hearing of a complaint by a NHRI. The proposers will have to recognize and account for the fact that not all NHRIs have powers to investigate complaints. Indeed, the PPs are based on the advisory human rights commission model and do not require NHRIs to have a complaint-investigation mandate.

Under Concepts and Indicators, the proposal needs to be reconsidered in specific areas. For example, the proposers intend to measure financial autonomy, stating that funds from government will evidence decreased independence from government while money from other sources is a proxy for increased independence. However, all NHRIs are state sector institutions and receive all or most of their financial resources from “government”. Better indicators of financial independence are whether the funds come directly to the NHRI from the legislature vs. from a government ministry and the degree to which the NHRI can set its budgetary requirements independent of the executive branch. NHRIs receiving funds from other sources are usually those in developing states that receive insufficient funds from governments (i.e. have small budgets in relation to their functions), and international organizations and/donor states step in to provide financial resources for specific projects or activities.

The proposal states that “if the NHRI is required to submit violations of rights to the executive rather than (or in addition to) the legislature, we also find the NHRI to be more accountable” to the government in terms of the state’s ability to ensure that the NHRI carries out its mandate. This conflicts with existing literature on NHRIs and ombudsman institutions: the prevailing view is that NHRIs and ombudsman should report to the legislature and not the executive branch for optimal independence and the ability to accomplish its work effectively because it is the executive/administrative branch that has the self-interest and power to ignore/not implement the recommendations and advice of the NHRI thereby frustrating the NHRI’s mandate.

The proposal plans to use Behavioral Data to measure public accountability (the perception of responsiveness of the NHRI to the public) through coding data on the proportion of complaints that lead to “judgments, remuneration, punitive actions, and changes in legislation.” The team will have to broaden the possible results ensuing from NHRI work. For example, some NHRIs do not have the power to launch actions that lead to court judgments, some can launch public inquiries and/or can submit amicus curiae briefs in actions started by other parties and many make recommendations for changes in government policy and practice rather than law.

(ii) NHRI Inclusion/Exclusion
The team indicates that they will include in their study NHRIs that have received an accreditation grade from the ICC Sub-Committee on Accreditation. As of December 2011, there are 99 NHRIs accredited as either Paris Principles-compliant, partially compliant or non-compliant. The list includes mainly human rights commissions and human rights ombudsman institutions, but there are a few thematic institutions (e.g. women’s rights, racism) and only 4 classical ombudsman institutions. According to current ICC rules, thematic and classical ombudsman institutions will get PP partial or non-compliant status. As applications for accreditation are voluntary, some human rights ombudsman institutions and human rights commissions have not applied nor have most classical ombudsman and thematic institutions, and so will not be included in the study. As a result, if the team only uses ICC accredited institutions they will not include a number of NHRIs (e.g. ICC rules allow only one NHRI accredited per state and some states have more than 1 NHRI). In addition, they will include a few classical ombudsman and thematic institutions that have much weaker claims to NHRI status and exclude the vast majority. This mix of inclusion/exclusion may distort the database results. It would be more accurate to do an independent survey of national institutions worldwide, including those that are human rights commissions and human rights ombudsman institutions (i.e. those with an express human rights mandate) and excluding all classical ombudsman and thematic institutions.

Further, the proposal indicates that only English language annual reports available on-line will be used. However, not all institutions on a global basis will have English-language reports and not all reports are available on-line: the poorer nations may not have the resources to have English translations and/or a web presence. This will potentially result in a skewed survey that tends to include NHRIs with more resources and exclude those with less.

(iii) Use of Quantitative Data Available on the Internet to Determine NHRI Effectiveness
The proposal aims to determine the impact of the work of NHRIs on constraining government, their effectiveness in preventing/stopping human rights abuses and their ability to enhance the constraining power of other institutions such as domestic and international courts. The proposal indicates this is to be achieved by examining NHRI reports and other sources that will generate quantitative and descriptive data.

There is insufficient information in the proposal as to what the “other sources” are and how they can provide relevant information. Will these other sources be able to provide relevant quantitative data on effectiveness? Will the undergraduate student coders have the knowledge to extract relevant data on effectiveness from other sources? Will some of this data require more advanced analysis and judgment to extract information on effectiveness factors?

Further, it is difficult to make direct and measurable connections between NHRI activity and changes in government behavior and human rights protection in the state given that there will always be other state and non-state actors in the nation also working to accomplish the same objectives, e.g. courts, constitutional courts, other human rights institutions that may be present in the state (e.g. a second NHRI, thematic institutions, sub-national level human rights institutions in federal states) and human rights NGOs. It is unclear how the proposal will be able to determine which changes in government behavior and human rights protection are due to the NHRI(s) rather than these other actors, especially when there is a strong reliance on quantitative data. These kinds of links often can be drawn out only by looking at qualitative data.

The proposal also addresses “supranational human rights courts and commissions” with hypotheses that NHRI activities may heighten the effect of these international court decisions on the government’s respect for human rights. This section of the proposal moves way from the central focus of the project and will be even more difficult to isolate. Only three regionsùEurope, Latin America/Caribbean and Africaùhave operative international human rights courts (and the African Court has only recently started), and international criminal court decisions are addressed to individuals not states. This makes it difficult to make generalized arguments about NHRIs across the study. It would be more feasible to focus on the human rights treaty obligations of the state and the extent to which the NHRI activities can increase the state’s compliance with its treaty obligations. This is also easier to accomplish on the basis of quantitative data because some NHRIs comment on periodic state reports to UN human rights treaty committees, are involved in Human Right Council periodic reviews of the state etc.

Is There Sufficient Access to Resources?
There is sufficient access to qualified student researchers given all three investigators are located at universities. The budget indicates that 15 undergraduate students with high GPAs will be employed as coders, 4 of them with prior coding experience. The budget indicates that 1 graduate student researcher will be employed to manage the coding project. The three universities will provide the computer, internet access, office and related infrastructure for the project.

What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

National Human Rights Institutions: Impact of Institutions and Behavior upon Effectiveness
Broader Impacts of Proposed Activity

How Well Does Activity Advance Discovery and Understanding While Promoting Teaching, Training and Learning?

One graduate student (PhD level) and 15 undergraduate university students will be employed in the project. The undergraduate students will be coders and the graduate student will oversee the coding project. The proposal could be improved by use of a greater number of graduate students. Given the complexity of some of the information being reviewed, undergraduate students may have difficulty in classifying some of the information. It does not appear that the graduate student has any input into the substantive elements of the project. Graduate student(s) would be given greater learning and research development opportunities if they were also involved, or more deeply involved, in the research and writing stages of the project.

Howe Well Does Proposed Activity Broaden Participation of Underrepresented Groups (Gender, Disability, Ethnicity, Geography?

In terms of the students employed on the project, there is insufficient information to answer this question. Two of the three principal investigators are female.

The focus of the research is on NHRIs, institutions which work to protect and promote human rights across a spectrum of rights. Research results that provide insights into improving the effectiveness of NHRIs can ultimately lead to improved human rights protection if the information is implemented by governments, NHRIs etc.

To What Extent Will it Enhance Infrastructure for Research and Education e.g. Facilities, Networks, Partnerships?

The research will improve research networks and partnerships among the three universities where the investigators are located. In addition, the provision of the data bases on a web site for free public access should also facilitate broader networking of specialists working in the NHRI field.

Will Results Be Disseminated Broadly to Enhance Scientific Etc, Understanding?

The results will be disseminated broadly to enhance understanding of NHRIs. The two quantitative data bases will be made available for free download on the internet available to all interested persons ù this will provide valuable information to researchers, governments, NHRIs, NGO officials etc. In addition, the team plans to publish a minimum of three academic articles in refereed journals and possibly a book to be submitted to a university press. This scholarship, as published, will disseminate information and analysis to researchers and others.

Summary Statement

I placed slightly more emphasis on the Intellectual Merit elements of the evaluation rather than the Broader Impacts element. There is a need for broad empirical research into NHRIs, including NHRI effectiveness. The investigators have the expertise to conduct empirical research and have already demonstrated productive scholarly records. However, this proposal contains deficiencies, as follows: 1) failure to recognize existing literature on NHRIs and on NHRI effectiveness, 2) inaccuracies or omissions in understanding the foundational aspects of NHRIs, e.g. development, structures, mandates, powers, 3) use of ICC-accredited NHRIs leads to possible distortion of results given nature of institutions that have not applied for accreditation and those that have been accredited, 4) use of only English language documents available on the Internet may further skew results, 5) insufficient information on what other data will be relied on in addition to NHRI reports, 6) investigators need to address how direct connections can be made between NHRI activity and changes in government behavior and human rights protection in the nation given the presence of other state institutions and non-state actors working to the same ends, 7) connections between international human rights courts and NHRI effect on government behavior difficult to make. The broader impacts of the proposed activity are all very good. However, consideration should be given to employing a higher ratio of graduate students compared to undergraduate students.

Review #3
Proposal Number: 1225368
NSF Program: Political Science
Principal Investigator: Moore, Will H
Proposal Title: Collaborative Research: National Human Rights Institutions: Impact of Institutions and Behavior upon Effectiveness
Rating: (Very Good/Good)

REVIEW:

What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

PIs seek to explore the effects of a new domestic political institution on human rights: the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI). NHRI, which grew out of a UNGA Resolution in 1993 that encouraged member states to create such institutions to protect human rights of citizens in the nation-state where the NHRI are created and established principles for the institutions to follow. The UN encourages the establishment of NHRIs as well as annual reporting.

PIs from three institutions seek to conduct a content analysis on NHRI annual reports and other sources in order to generate both descriptive and quantitative data on (1) the structure of the institutions, and (2) their human rights activities.

In the summer of 2011, PIs began conducted a preliminary coding project to collect information about NHRIs from their annual reports.

PIs aim to produce two datasets: cross-sectional Institutional Data on the institutional structure, origins, and other characteristics of the population of national NHRIs. From this data, PIs seek to test hypotheses about NHRI emergence. PIs also aim to produce Behavioral Data that record information on the functions and activities of NHRIs. These data will be used to test hypotheses about NHRI accountability and expectations about the public’s relationship with the institution.

PIs will advance knowledge on a little known or studied institution on human rights enforcement.

Research design fits well with the aims. PIs will gather data, with the help of research assistants, and code the data then allow for empirically testing their 15 hypotheses. This reviewer is not an expert in quantitative methods, so I will defer to other reviewers to evaluate this portion of the proposal. While it appears that important contributions will emerge, I wonder if some of the suggested findings are do not need to be narrowed. For instance, PIs state that Behavioral Data will shed light on “public accountability” or the extent to which the public perceives the NHRI to be responsive to it. PIs will measure this by coding data on “the proportion of complaints that lead to judgments, renumeration, punitive actions, and changes in legislation. The higher the value of each of these proxy indicators, the higher will be our measure of public accountability.” It seems that these data will not be measures of public perception, just the proportion of complaints that lead to some kind of remedy.

Similarly, PIs state that they will use Behavioral Data to measure “public credibility, defined as the extent to which the general public views the NHRI as a trustworthy and believable institution.” To do this, PIs will code “two indicators of this concept: (1) the number of complaints registered with the NHRI by individuals, and (2) the extent to which the state complies with NHRI.” Again, I would not see this as data about public views or NHRI’s credibility, but more about its ability to influence human rights compliance. It may be interesting to measure the kinds of claims and responses, then there may be something to be said about the kinds of human rights violations that states respond to and ones to which they do not.

PIs have conducted a feasibility study, which is useful in understanding how they will gather the necessary data to create the empirical tests. The section on data collection is more clear with regard to data on institutional behavior but how they will come up with the data on behavior to test some of the hypotheses about general public behavior and acceptance is unclear. For instance, where is the data on the extent to which states comply? Is this in the annual reports?

What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

PIs will produce original scholarship on an understudied domestic HR institution. PIs will also generate two new databases that will be made available for free download upon completion of the project.

This data will be made available on the internet will be of use to the general public, government officials, NGO staffers, and researchers who aim to understand the institutions and behavior of these new institutions.

Data Management Plan: PIs will publish the results of their study and will make the raw data available on the internet.

Summary Statement

I think this is an interesting project which can make an original contribution. The claims need to be narrowed with hypotheses more narrowly tailored to the scope of the available data.

Review #4
Proposal Number: 1225368
NSF Program: Political Science
Principal Investigator: Moore, Will H
Proposal Title: Collaborative Research: National Human Rights Institutions: Impact of Institutions and Behavior upon Effectiveness
Rating: Fair

REVIEW:

What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

The critique of formal (‘parchment’) institutions in constraining states’ actions, including governments’ human rights abuses, is as old as the practice of instituting them. Yet, states continue to write constitutions, enact human rights laws, join treaties, and establish human rights agencies. Furthermore, a number of prominent studies of the impact of formal institutions on states’ human rights practices seem to suggest that under certain conditions de jure rights get translated into de facto practices and parchment can limit the power of government through a number of mechanisms.

In light of the scarcity of academic research looking at the relationship of parchment institutions and state repression and given the continued dominance of the ‘institutionalist’ perspective in domestic and foreign policy making, the proposed study of the role of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in promoting human rights within their home countries is a fresh, timely, and promising undertaking. I concur with the project’s PIs that there has been no empirical research on the activities and effects of NHRIs carried out in a systematic manner up-to-date.

I, however, have several reservations with regard to whether research activities proposed in the study can sufficiently advance our knowledge and understanding of the ability of parchment institutions constrain states, in general, or whether the NHRIs improve human rights outcomes, in particular. This conclusion stems from what I identified as theoretical/conceptual ambiguities and methodological limitations of the project.

The proposal begins with a brief summary of the conditions under which states violate human rights. This overview is not connected to the hypotheses derived in the following sections. Aside from listing several seminal works, which established the impact of various parchment institutions on human rights outcomes, the proposal does not engage with the literature discussing the nexus of formal institutions and human rights. Since the crux of the study lies with the examination of the impact of parchment institutions on human rights outcomes, I believe it is important to place the proposed study in the context of the existing research on formal institutions, rather than general discussion of state repression. As a result, micro-foundations for the long list of hypotheses suggested for investigation are lacking. This is not to suggest that hypotheses are not logically sound or counterintuitive. Rather, they are not grounded in any theoretical assumptions or overarching theoretical narrative. Some of the concepts and arguments used in the proposal narrative are emblematic of Principal/Agent (Institutional Delegation) framework widely used in American politics and studies of international organizations. However, no explicit connections to this framework are made.

The ambiguity with regard to the overarching theoretical framework gives rise to a series of other questions concerning the PIs’ decisions about concepts and their attributes. For example, the applicants’ choice of ‘independence’ and ‘accountability’ as two dimensions of institutional design warrants further explanation just like why other attributes of institutional design are excluded. One of those attributes is the year of creation or how long the NHRI has been in existence. Some of the NHRIs, which were accredited after the adoption of the Paris Principles, were created before the seminal meeting of the United Nations, while others û after the date.

There is also another ambiguity with regard to the utilization of the concept of ‘parchment’. In the literature, in a strict sense, it refers to written official rules, which are often juxtaposed to structures and institutions, which can strengthen the power of the constitutions. It seems that the proposal uses the notion of ‘parchment’ in a broader sense, but this needs to be clarified by means of engagement with the existing literature on formal institutions.

I was also concerned with the lack of discussion about the ways to ensure conceptual uniformity across the outcomes of interest. One of the outcomes of interest in the proposed study is the effectiveness of NHRIs (see, for example, hypothesis 10 through 12). First, it is not clear what NHRI effectiveness entails. Conceptually it can mean attaining the goals or mission of the NHRI. If this is the case, I don’t think that this outcome can be measured by using the existing human rights indices. The problem, as I see it, is that the NHRIs have different mandates. Some are concerned with the issues of discrimination, while others û with the protection of civil liberties. Some have very broad mandates encompassing virtually every human right enshrined in states’ constitutions, while others oversee a narrow set of liberties. The mandates of some NHRIs may include protection of human rights only, while others may include research, training, and education on human rights. Thus, it is not clear how and why the same index used for measuring the dependent variable û the effectiveness of NHRI û is appropriate for a very diverse population of NHRIs with different mandates. In other words, what are the theoretical or other explanations for why an NHRI tasked, for instance, with overseeing anti-discriminatory policies should affect outcomes on general personal integrity rights?

The proposed study suggests exploring a new institution û National Human Rights Institution û and a new eponymous concept. I wish, however, that the PIs dedicated more attention to the discussion of this concept, particularly, how it is sufficiently different from Ombudsman. In one part of the proposal, the narrative describes NHRIs as an ‘outgrowth of domestic Ombudsman offices’, but Ombudsmen are still included among NHRIs. Therefore, it is unclear how NHRIs are different from the traditional Ombudsman offices.

In addition to theoretical/conceptual ambiguities, I thought that the proposal did not make a compelling case for its methodological choices. For example, the proposal states that the proposed research will focus on the post-Paris principles period and collect data on only those NHRIs, which received accreditation from the UN’s International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human rights. Based on my understanding, the accreditation is given to those NHRIs, which meet the five Paris Principles. Among those principles are: the NHRI must be tasked with monitoring any situation of violation of human rights that falls within its purview; the NHRI shall be able to advice the government on human rights violations and legislation; the NHRI shall cooperate with regional and international organizations; the NHRI shall have a mandate to educate and inform in the field of human rights; and it may have some judicial competence. Since all of the accredited NHRIs, supposedly, meet these criteria, what is the usefulness of coding NHRIs on some of the dimensions that are conceptually similar to various indicators that the PIs intend to collect for their Institutional and Behavioral Datasets? This point is not clarified in the proposal, just like the rationale for excluding non-accredited NHRIs.

I was challenged to identify the sources of data for content analysis. Throughout the proposal, the PIs refer to NHRIs’ reports and various English-language articles available on the Internet. I would have liked to see more discussion about the nature of those articles and how they will be identified. It is also my understanding that NHRI’s are peer-reviewed on whether they are compliant with the UN standards. These kinds of reports are not mentioned in the proposal, but the peer-review assessment seems to be a less biased evaluation of NHRIs’ performance, than their self-reports. The quality of NHRI’s self-reports also needs to be addressed.

Lastly, I need to be further convinced that the database created on the basis of English-based reports will be either comprehensive or entirely useful. As the PIs explain, because of their choice of using English-based sources, their sample of cases for one of the data sets shrinks considerably. The findings of studies using this database will also be somewhat biased due to the omitted variable bias. I believe that there is something common to all those states, which opt for publishing their reports in English. It can be their desire for further integration into/recognition by/receipt of benefits from the West. In other words, these states are united by either greater ‘proximity’ to the English speaking (Western countries) or they are, on average, more advanced.

Despite these critical remarks, I think that the team of PIs for the project is well qualified to carry out the envisioned research activities. The leading PI is an established scholar in the field of human rights with international reputation. All PIs have very strong record of research on human rights, experiences with collaborative projects, and the requisite methodological credentials.

What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

According to the proposal, its broader impact lies with contributing to existing research on how institutions constrain Leviathan, in general, and how NHRIs limit state repression, in particular. I agree that the ideas underlying the proposed research have the potential to make the declared broader impact, but the PIs should not limit their research activities to data coding, but also include case studies of NHRI’s working. While the proposal puts forth a number of researchable hypotheses that can indeed be tested using the collected data, the ‘how’ questions (i.e., ‘How institutions constrain Leviathan’) can be sufficiently answered by closer engagement with individual NHRIs through process tracing of their activities. This will add a thick explanatory narrative to the existing hypotheses of the study.
By adding case studies of NHRIs, the project’s outcomes will also be amenable to incorporation into teaching. They can be turned into ‘case studies’ or ‘cases in point’ for the monograph that the PIs intend to produce.

I would have also liked the proposal speak to its policy implications, namely, how its findings can be utilized in the working of the UN agencies or individual governments and NHRIs.

In my comments on intellectual merit of the proposal, I expressed wariness about using English-based sources cautioning against biases that such a language-based selection may produce in the dataset. This problem can be ameliorated by hiring undergraduate research assistants with language proficiency in the main language groups. Not only will this strengthen the data, but also diversify the pool of undergraduate assistants. It will also ensure that countries, which are typically underrepresented in research due the lack of translated materials, are also included into the study.

The result of the project will be broadly disseminated through the publically available website and academic publications.

Summary Statement

Most of the concerns raised in my commentary are not terminal. I would support this proposal for funding if the PIs make an effort at addressing theoretical/methodological issues identified in my review.

Review #5
Proposal Number: 1225368
NSF Program: Political Science
Principal Investigator: Moore, Will H
Proposal Title: Collaborative Research: National Human Rights Institutions: Impact of Institutions and Behavior upon Effectiveness
Rating: Fair

REVIEW:

What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

On face value, I think this proposal represents a solid research question on something without much political science research. I would like to see articles in line with much of the proposed research design. However, I have three critiques that, at the very least, need much more attention before the NSF should fund this data collection project.

First, I am unclear as to whether most of the institutional hypotheses actually require NSF funding for data collection; a previous NSF project by Ramirez et al in sociology collected much of the National Human Rights Institution data for what seems like a longer time period (1964-2003). This is according to the Kim and Ramirez (2009) paper that is cited in a FOOTNOTE but never actually addressed in the body of this proposal. Although that data may need updating to 2012, I don’t know why a separate, new NSF proposal from different authors is necessary to complete the task. At the very least, the authors of this proposal need to adequately acknowledge that this institutional data exists and, unlike the Weeks data described in section 3.2 of the project, cover more than just the classical ombudsman, as Kim and Ramirez (2009) address on page 1325 of their Social Forces article. In fact, Kim and Ramirez (2009) have already tested many of the same hypotheses, among others, laid out in Hypotheses 1-3 of this proposal. Hypotheses 7-9 would be a good paper that could make use of Kim and Ramirez (2009)’s data. To me, not adequately acknowledging the work of Kim and Ramirez (2009) and Ramirez et al’s previous NSF funded proposal to collect much of this same data are big omissions on the part of the proposers.

Second, and of less importance, I don’t as of yet see a clear cut theoretical explanation for the why NHRIs should rent-seek. Does this expectation come from the literature at all? Do we have anecdotal evidence of this? The conceptual discussion concerns “skimming budgets” but the proposed measure concerns executive accountability. I would like either more discussion on why this is a valuable proxy, couched in the literature, or a more concrete way to actually capture “skimming budget.” Why wouldn’t I just want to rely on established measures of control of corruption, for example?

Finally, I applaud the effort at public awareness and credibility data but the proposed measures seem dubious. Couldn’t a credible NHRI in a very well established democratic state have very few complaints, simply because other institutionalized channels exist through which to funnel human rights complaints? Similarly, wouldn’t an aware public need fewer outreach initiatives? Actually capturing this concept ideally would require public opinion data of some sort. I would very much welcome such a proposal.

What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

The broader impacts on graduate and undergraduate support are always great.

Also, this data may be useful to some practitioners but, to be blunt, practitioners already have access to publically available, detailed data on NHRI, including surveys of the NHRIs themselves, through the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights. In fact, there is a coordinating body for NHRIs that even accredits the institutions, giving them a grade periodically. Why isn’t the proposed project interested in this data to measure accountability/credibility?

See: http://nhri.ohchr.org/EN/Documents/Chart%20of%20the%20Status%20of%20NHRIs%20%28DIC%202011%29.pdf and http://nhri.ohchr.org/EN/National/DirectoryOfInstitutions/Pages/default.aspx

Summary Statement

Although I would very much like to see articles that deal with the issues discussed in this proposal, I don’t think NSF funding is needed to carry out this research. Much of it already exists thanks to previous NSF funded projects in the social sciences. I hope that the proposers take this criticism as constructive and submit an even stronger proposal on this topic in the future.

Review #6
Proposal Number: 1225368
NSF Program: Political Science
Principal Investigator: Moore, Will H
Proposal Title: Collaborative Research: National Human Rights Institutions: Impact of Institutions and Behavior upon Effectiveness
Rating: Good

REVIEW:

What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

This prpposal seeks to explain cross-national variation in human rights outcomes as a function of the existence and structure of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs). NHRIs have received very little academic attention thus far; the PIs will collect and code data on NHRIs around the world, which will facilitate large-N analysis of their causes and effects.

What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

Human rights abuses persist in many parts of the world. Scholars have devoted significant attention to understanding the impact of various international and domestic factors on governments’ propensities to respect the rights of their citizens. This research project adds to this general literature. It also involves undergraduate research assistants in the research process.

Summary Statement

The PIs are correct to point out that very little attention has been devoted to NHRIs. I would like to see more of a discussion, though, of why — beyond the fact that they exist in many countries and yet have not been analyzed systemtically — attention to their causes and effects is justified. Perhaps a single country’s experience with its NHRI could be used to illustrate the ways in which they could function (and the causal pathways by which they can lead to changes in government behavior; or how they interact with international governmental and nongovernmental actors).

More generally, the PIs present a large number of hypotheses, covering both the causes and the effects of NHRIs. They devote less time to considering how these hypotheses might relate to one another (for instance, internatioal pressure in H8 may be more effective during times of democratic transitions, as in H9). The effort to consider both causes and effects also means that each hypothesized relationship receives less attention in the proposal. So one is left with the sense that many factors contribute to the causes of NHRIs; and many other factors condition their effects; but that it’s hard to know about the relative importance of these various factors. Granted, the PIs need to do the analysis in order to test claims about what matters; but a stronger a priori set of predictions would make for a more compelling project. Alternatively, perhaps the PIs should initially focus on the reasons NHRIs are put in place (the selection side), and then later consider (with these selection mechanisms conditioning the effect) the impact of NHRIs on outcomes.

On the side of the dependent variable, is there any reason to expect that some types of human rights violations — for instance, those in which the government and its agents are violating rights, versus those in which private citizens or firms are violating the rights of other citizens — are more likely to be affected by the presence of NHRIs? When various measures of human rights are discussed, they are treated as largely the same phenomenon; but I would expect some variation in country-level outcomes across types of rights (for instance, physical integrity rights may be well protected, while women’s rights lag behind international standards).

Finally, the results from the pilot study are based on a very small number of cases (by the PIs’ admission), and on some possible weak operationalizations of key indicators (such as international pressure; I wonder if sanctions threats or involvement of transnational advocacy groups or preferetial trade agreements with human rights conditions also are part of international pressure). I would find the case for building a larger data set more compelling if some initial coding had been completed already. This also might help to address the concern that the NHRI annual reports are available (or available in English?) for only a limited set of nations that have NHRIs.

Review #7
Proposal Number: 1225368
NSF Program: Political Science
Principal Investigator: Moore, Will H
Proposal Title: Collaborative Research: National Human Rights Institutions: Impact of Institutions and Behavior upon Effectiveness
Rating: (Very Good/Good)

REVIEW:

What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

The proposal seeks funding for a study of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), 1993-2010. NHRIs are independent organizations charged with protecting human rights of citizens of the state in which they are established. The UN, under the Paris Principles established in 1993, encourages the growth of such institutions. Examples are ombuds offices (some of which existed prior to 1993), human rights commissions, etc. Several hypotheses are advanced regarding the emergence, structure, and behavior of NHRIs. To test their hypothesesPIs will produce two data sets based on content analysis of various print and Internet sources, and English-language annual reports issued by NHRIs: (1) an institutional data set on the structure, origins and other characteristics of NHRIs and (2) a behavioral data on the functions and activities that focus on the hearing of complaints and the execution of initiatives.

The proposal has several merits: (1) it is well organized and systematically argued; (2) the proposal addresses important theoretical questions regarding how contemporary states can be constrained by their citizens via “parchment” institutions (constitutions, treaties, legislation, etc.); (3) NHRIs represent a new form of parchment institution that has grown precipitously and there is not broad-based, quantifiable data available on them; (4) the study is carefully embedded in a theoretical literature with testable hypotheses; (5) the PIs have conducted careful exploratory research to pilot the feasibility of coding the constructs from the hypotheses; (6) multiple sources of data will be used in the research; and (7) the researchers are well-versed in the style of research they propose to conduct and it is expected that they would publish their findings in visible venues.

Some concerns: First, the pilot project establishes the feasibility of the coding procedures but only finds mixed support (at best) for many of the hypotheses. Of course, these results are based on limited data and so perhaps should not cast aspersions on the theoretical logic guiding the project. But it does give pause as to what the substantive results of the full project might be. Second, the measures of NHRI public awareness and credibility are weak. Rather than measuring these concepts directly, the project would rely on increases in modes of complaint filing (e.g., email, telephone, walk-in), complaint volume, and compliance by the state with NHRIs orders. These do suggest semblance of credibility and awareness, but it seems overreaching to assume that they are strong indicators of citizen perceptions of credibility and public awareness of NHRIs. Indeed, recent experiences with domestic police departments, for example, would suggest otherwise. The NYPD’s experience in the 1990s (see Harcourt 2001) suggests that the number of complaints filed against police officers and increases in the types of channels for filing them does not increase a department’s credibility. And if public awareness increases with complaint filing, it may be centrally organized around the complaints rather than the totality of functions that a department performs (thus decreasing credibility of the institution). Third, I recognize why the authors might want to limit their more fine-graned coding to English-language NHRI annual reports, but this leaves a small sample of annual reports (32% of all the countries that adopted NHRIs during the study period). How similar are countries that produced English-language annual reports to those that produced reports in other languages? What biases does this sampling strategy potentially introduce into the analyses? Are English-language reports correlated with other factors for which it would be important to control? Finally, the data management plan is quite careful with respect to how the data will be handled internal to the project and mentions the public availability (via free download) of the two data via a project website. No details are given on who or what organization will maintain the website over time.

What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

The project will produce original scholarship that will aid in understanding how states can be constrained in their handling of human rights issues, specifically on NHRIs; two valuable data sets will be produced and made publicly available; and graduate and undergraduate students will be trained in the service of the project.

Summary Statement

This is an interesting, timely and systematically crafted project. Some attention to the concerns mentioned above is needed, but researchers seem well-positioned to conduct this study.

Review #8
Proposal Number: 1225368
NSF Program: Political Science
Principal Investigator: Moore, Will H
Proposal Title: Collaborative Research: National Human Rights Institutions: Impact of Institutions and Behavior upon Effectiveness
Rating: Very Good

REVIEW:

What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

The international human rights system continues to expand, and research on human rights has been growing at least as fast. Despite the development of human rights standards and monitoring, enforcement remains highly problematic. National Human Rights Institutions have the potential to help by creating institutions dedicated to human rights that have official status yet are connected to human rights activists. However, states have often found ways to neutralize human rights institutions in the past, so it is important to study NHRIs systematically to understand whether they work and, if so, under what conditions. Thus, there are important practical reasons to pursue this study. This also has relevance to broader theoretical debates about political repression, political institutions, and post-conflict settlements.

The proposers are well qualified to conduct this project. I am familiar with the Ill Treatment and Torture data project, which provides the most detailed data on torture in an accessible format.

The multifaceted conceptualization of autonomy and public awareness of NHRIs is original and interesting. The connection with supranational courts is also creative.

The proposal is well conceived, mixing sound and pilot-tested schemes for coding original variables with well-established variables coded by other authors. There is access to a great deal of information for this project. My main suggestion is to explore translating NHRI Annual Reports that are not in English. Perhaps translating a couple of additional languages would expand the sample quite a bit. However, this must be weighed against cost.

What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

This project promises to advance undertanding of an important and little-studied topic while also providing valuable experience to the undergraduates who would be involved as coders. The variables coded in this project would be widely available on a website, and I am confident that they would be used by many scholars who are not associated with the project. This project would allow the first broad, systematic study of NHRIs, and if the study can find particular aspects of models of NHRIs that have real benefits on limiting human rights abuses, then the benefits to society are potentially enormous.

Summary Statement

Overall, this is a well conceived proposal on an important topic by authors who have successfully carried out comparable projects in the past. I encourage the NSF support for the request.

Review #9
Proposal Number: 1225368
NSF Program: Political Science
Principal Investigator: Moore, Will H
Proposal Title: Collaborative Research: National Human Rights Institutions: Impact of Institutions and Behavior upon Effectiveness
Rating: Very Good

REVIEW:

What is the intellectual merit of the proposed activity?

This project, National Human Rights Institutions: Impact of Institutions and Behavior upon Effectiveness, is unique and ambitious. I know of no other study, either theoretical or empirical, that attempts to determine the effect of National Human Rights Institutions to restrain state behavior. The project will certainly advance our knowledge and understanding of NHRIs’ effectiveness at preventing or stopping human rights violations and constrain the power of the sovereign state. The research design is well-structured, detailed, and thorough. There are 9 hypotheses regarding the creation and characteristics of NHRIs, followed by 3 hypotheses concerning NHRIs independence, accountability and effectiveness, and, finally, 3 hypotheses referencing NHRIs’ relationship with supranational courts. The researchers are correct in that they believe there are at least 3 separate papers within this project.

The researchers are well-qualified to accomplish their goals with the project. Dr. Moore is an eminent and highly respected scholar known for his methodological expertise, theoretical aptitude and empirical proficiency. Drs. Conrad and DeMeritt are rising stars in the human rights field and are earning solid reputations for their methodological proficiency–thanks in no small part to the training and mentoring of Dr. Moore. Furthermore, Drs. Moore and Conrad have past experience with administering NSF funding with the success of the Ill Treatment and Torture project.

Beyond the research projects outlined by the researchers, the importance of this endeavor is the development of two quantitative data sets on the structure of the NHRIs and their activities. The institutional data will record information on the institutional structures, origins, and other characteristics on NHRIs. The behavioral data will code the functions and activities of NHRIs. These two datasets will prove invaluable for human rights research. The researchers have already run an efficacious pilot project to determine the quality and feasibility of gathering data from the NHRI Annual Reports. They established that the Annual Reports can provide reliable and valid information to test their hypotheses.

What are the broader impacts of the proposed activity?

The project is also exceptional in that it will provide a team of 15 undergraduates the opportunity to learn the intricacies of data collection and coding. This will certainly increase their attractiveness for graduate programs at prestigious universities. In addition, the project will employ a graduate student for the day to day management of the coding project. The chance to take a leadership role in a research project will prepare the graduate student for a successful future as a teacher and mentor. However, I do not see how the proposed activity will broaden the participation of underrepresented groups.
An increased understanding of the development and use of NHRIs for the protection of human rights can greatly benefit the citizens by restraining state’s ability to abuse or victimize populations.
I am also impressed that the project involves researchers and students from 3 different universities: Florida State University, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and the University of North Texas. Each of these universities has the necessary facilities, equipment and other resources needed for the successful completion of the project. The data will be disseminated broadly as the researchers will make the data available on their website.

Summary Statement

The Political Science Advisory Panel Summary
Proposal Number: 1225368

Panel Summary:
The Political Science Advisory Panel extensively discussed the proposal. The PI plans to study National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI) and to build a large dataset about NHRIs to study the causes and effects. In particular, the project would focus on how states violate citizens’ rights. The PIs claim that there is not much existing research on NHRIs, which is a value of proposal. However, some panelists noted a concern whether there is any a priori reason to assume that NHRIs matter at all. The proposal would be stronger if the PIs could start off with some examples of NHRIs that matter.

The proposal does not present a coherent theoretical argument. Also, theory seems to be focused on state violations of human rights, whereas much recent scholarship focuses on other types of violations. Panelists noted concerns about integration between (a) theoretical rationale, (b) hypotheses, and (c) data. For example, the theory addresses state violations of human rights, but the data may also be coding human rights violations by non-state actors. It is difficult to measure effectiveness, and the measurement strategy seems flawed: they are relying on self-reports from the NHRIs of their own effectiveness. Panelists were further concerned that the PIs are only using reports written in English.

After discussion, panelists reached consensus that the project should be placed in the Not Competitive category.

Panel Recommendation: Not Competitive

Law & Social Science Panel Summary
Proposal Number: 1225368

The thirteen-member advisory panel met at NSF on April 19 and 20, 2012, to evaluate 97 proposals being considered by the Law and Social Sciences Program for funding during the current cycle. This included 14 proposals co-reviewed by the Law and Social Sciences Program but submitted to another programs at the NSF. All reviewers were instructed to use NSF’s merit criteria regarding both intellectual merit and broader impacts, as articulated in the Grant Proposal Guide. All reviewers were also encouraged to provide feedback on the data management plans to investigators. Written reviews were made available to panelists prior to the panel meeting. On the basis of written reviews and the discussion of the proposals that transpired during the meeting, the Advisory Panel made the following recommendations regarding program support for each proposal:

1. Competitive, High Priority (8 proposals)
2. Competitive, Mid Priority (4 proposals)
3. Competitive, Low Priority (8 proposals)
4. Not Competitive, Encourage Resubmission (3 proposals)
5. Not Competitive (74 proposals)

Panel Recommendation: Not Competitive

Project Summary:

This research proposals seeks to understand National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI) from 1993 through 2010. NHRIs are charged with protecting the civil rights of the citizens who live in the areas where they are established. There are several clearly stated hypotheses. The project will produce two databases. One dataset will be a content analysis of printed and internet sources of materials available in English including NHRI reports. The second dataset will include the behavioral data complied of complaints filed against NHRI and the execution of initiatives.

Intellectual Merit:

This research is well organized and articulated in that it addresses how states can be constrained by their own citizens by parchment institutions (NHRI). The proposal is embedded in the theoretical literature. The research team has already conducted exploratory research and are well qualified to conduct the proposed research.

It was unclear on whether or not there is existing research on this topic with some suggesting yes and others suggesting no.

This is an interesting idea that looks at the way these quasi-international organizations operate and to see how states respond to NHRIs.

There were some concerns raised that some of the outlined aims may not be able to be addressed by the proposed methods and the data they will collect.

An additional concern was raised about the coding of English language reports only. Are these reports similar or different from the non-English reports?

Another concern was raised regarding the measurement of perceptions of creditability and legitimacy given that this will be measured by the number of complaints that are handled by these institutions. The concern is that just because people are complaining doesn’t mean they think its credible and legitimate institution.

There was an additional concern regarding the causal mechanism. Why do we trust that the NHRIs are the causal mechanism for constraint?

Broader Impacts:

This is original scholarship that will aid in the understanding of how states can be restrained by NHRIs. It will provide a valuable dataset and provides training of both graduate and undergraduate students. The results offer the potential to add insights into policy and intervention. However, policy makers already have access to this information. Some raised the concern that this data has already been collected. It would be helpful for the proposal to distinguish how this proposed research is different from research that has already been conducted.

Data Management Plan:

There is a strong data management plan. The all raw data from both datasets will be made available for free download off the internet.

Panel Recommendation: Not Competitive

Advertisements

About Will H. Moore

I am a political science professor who also contributes to Political Violence @ a Glance and sometimes to Mobilizing Ideas . Twitter: @WilHMoo
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Look at NSF’s Political Science Review Process

  1. Emily says:

    Thanks, very much, for posting this in full, Will.

  2. Pingback: Revised Grant to NSF | Will Opines

  3. Pingback: Nyet! No Tax Dollars for your Project | Will Opines

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s