Department of Political Science


Dean's Strategic Funds Awards 2021

4 February 2021

Congratulations to our colleagues who have been awarded bids by the Dean’s Strategic Funds Awards to support research projects within the Faculty.


The Dean’s Strategic Funds Award have awarded funding of up to £2,500 to ten research projects within the Department of Political Science. 

EDI in Politics & Beyond: Student-Led Lunch & Learn Discussion Series

Name: Dr Julie Norman

Aim of the project: The aim of the project is to offer a student-led speaker and discussion series on themes of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), led by the School of Public Policy (SPP) Student EDI Committee, but open to students and staff across the Faculty. The SPP students organised a pilot ‘Lunch and Learn’ series in the fall, with six virtual lunchtime speakers and discussions on themes such as decolonising the curriculum, the politics of renaming buildings, eugenics, othering, and modern slavery. This grant would 1) provide modest stipends/salaries for the three students organising the spring series; 2) provide a budget for offering small honoraria to speakers for their time. Staff and undergraduate and graduate students, including but not limited to those who identify as BAME, LGBTQ, or as members of underrepresented groups, will be invited to participate and engage in the series.

Desired outcome: The desired outcome will be a successful student-led speaker series on EDI issues. This outcome will be evaluated by participant numbers at each event; anonymous feedback surveys sent to participants; and qualitative reflections from student organisers, including oral check-ins throughout the process, and a short written report or blog at the end of the project. The optional feedback survey sent to participants will consist of a simple Google Doc rating the content and style of each event, with room for comments and feedback. The student committee will collate this data to inform the direction of the series and contribute to their final report.

Greta's Generation: A Podcast Journey

Name: Dr Kyle Herman

Aim of the project:  The project is student facing. Greta's Generation podcast season two  will continue the journey that began in season 1, which was sponsored by the Dean's strategic grant. We will bring onto the show inspiring climate change leaders from policy, academia, business, and government in order to demonstrate to the students and the younger generations how, if they are interested in climate change, they can tailor their careers accordingly. A related aim, therefore, is to encourage, inspire, and inform a younger audience, but also other generations, about climate change-oriented careers.

Desired outcome: The highest aim of the project is to become the pre-eminent climate change podcast in the world. I have identified a major gap in the podcast community with this podcast series. Surprisingly, there are only a few competing podcasts, and none offer the diversity of people interviewed on the show as I do. I am able to leverage my previous decade experience working in the United Nations Climate Change Conferences as well as within the European Parliament to obtain interviews with some of the most knowledgeable and experienced individuals in the world working on climate change issues.

How can we avoid a ‘dirty’ recovery from Covid-19?

Name: Dr Tom Pegram (and students on the MSc in Global Governance and Ethics)

Aim of the project: The implications of the Covid-19 pandemic for climate governance are hotly debated. While some fear that the economic fallout from the pandemic will crowd out climate-related concerns, others hope that the crisis will prompt more ambitious action. This faculty-student collaborative project will table this important debate through a series of online interviews, placing the topic in its global context – the pandemic serving as a stark reminder that human wellbeing is tied to the health of the planet.  The Global Governance Institute podcast will serve as the platform for this initiative. The podcast is co-hosted and produced by MSc in Global Governance and Ethics (GGE) students and the initiative will also feature ‘podclasses’ (small-group GGE student discussions) to accompany podcast interview content and subsequently to be embedded into the GGE online learning environment for 2021-22. Funds will also assist in enhancing multimedia visibility to external partners, as well as prospective students.

Desired outcome: The project will directly enhance student education and experience (evaluation: participation in podclasses, student feedback). project output content will be integrated into the online learning environment for AY2021-22 (evaluation: embedding of content in course materials for the MSc module in Global Governance in 2021-22).  New collaborations will be initiated with colleagues across the department and faculty (evaluation: participation in podcast episodes). There will be an expansion of global academic networks (evaluation: participation of colleagues based at institutions in UK, Europe and in LMICs).  The project will contribute to promoting informed public debate and knowledge exchange (evaluation: number of people who attend online activities, traffic on website, traffic on various platforms). The project content will be widely disseminated for impact (evaluation: blog posts, news items on various media outlets, including UCL media).  

UCL Political Science Virtual Campus (29-31 TaVIRstock Squared)

Name: Dr Melanie Garson

Aim of the project: This is a forward-thinking project that aims to trial the use of a Virtual world mini-campus for the Department of Political Science using the Virbela open campus platform for a series of experiential activities for current students and alumni. The project aims to 1) Provide alternative fun and engaging interactive learning and social activities platform for our current postgraduate students who may never set foot in our campus in London and who are suffering chronic zoom fatigue. 2) Create exciting alternatives for social interaction, networking between students, alumni and staff that allow for better emotional connections. 3) Develop students’ key skills and familiarity of operating in alternative environments that are now being used in recruitment such as for PWC. 4) Understand the advantages and challenges to teaching or presenting in new virtual environments. 5) Extend research from negotiation course on the nature of negotiation in virtual reality.

Desired outcome: 1) Increased student satisfaction with provision for fun social interaction and networking in an online world.  This will be evaluated through post-activity participant surveys and form the basis of a report on the project. 2) Publicly disseminated work on teaching approaches and experiences teaching on virtual platforms including through informal channels such as blog posts, presentation to department, and peer-reviewed journals. 3) Publicly disseminated work on negotiating as an avatar in publications on international negotiation.

Public Assessments of the COVID-19 Economic Response Survey Experiment

Name: Dr Jack Blumenau, Dr Tom O'Grady, and Dr Tim Hicks

Aim of the project: Our project aims to understand whether the remarkable innovations in economic and social policy in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic – such as the furlough scheme, and public health measures – have shifted people’s views on what the government can and should do in terms of policy. In April 2020 we partnered with the British Election Study (BES) team to track ideological change in the British public during the pandemic. Previous crises of this magnitude, such as wars, permanently altered the way that citizens think about public policy. By following individuals from the BES over time, we are learning whether this crisis fits that pattern, and are providing a crucial resource for historians and other scholars. To extend this research, we are seeking further funding to field novel survey experiments investigating the factors that link individual experience of the economic dimensions of the COVID-19 crisis to voters’ ideological beliefs. 

Desired outcome: The primary desired outcome of the grant is a high-impact journal article in a leading international political science journal (targets: American Political Science Review; American Journal of Political Science; Journal of Politics). Beyond the academic output, we also hope to make a lasting contribution to debates in the media and amongst policymakers about the likely political legacy of the pandemic. To achieve this, and to maximise the impact of the grant funds, we will use our existing project website to publish easy-to-understand summaries of the results from our experiment. We will also write pieces explaining our results for widely-read analysis and blogging sites (such as Tortoise Media, The Conversation, VoxEU, and the LSE’s British Politics and Policy site) and aim to publish commentary on our results in newspapers such as The Times and The Guardian. 

The Shadow Curriculum Project

Name: Dr Cathy Elliott

Aim of the project:  To develop a 'shadow curriculum'. An activist group of our students would like a decolonised curriculum but do not really know yet what exactly that would look like. This is understandable as they haven't been taught about the theories and ideas underpinning campaigns for decolonisation and this is precisely why they would like curriculum reform. The aim of the project is therefore threefold: 1) To support those students in learning what a decolonised curriculum might concretely look like. 2) To develop a series of resources open to staff and students such as suggested readings/reading lists/modules that students would like to engage with as part of their regular curriculum. 3) To develop our understanding of whether/to what extent the wider student body would welcome such reforms/opt to take new elective modules if offered. 

Desired outcome: A series of recommendations and resources that current and future students can draw on for their own learning and to bring to programme leaders, module tutors, SSCCs and departmental leadership to advocate for the curriculum they would like to see in future. Over time, the ultimate desired outcome is a more decolonised curriculum. Improvements to the diversity of the current curriculum can be evaluated when we repeat the Inclusive Curriculum project (an diversity audit of the curriculum jointly run by staff and students) in 2 years' time to see how well things have improved in the interim.

Communicating Economics in a Fake News World

Name: Dr Anna Killick

Aim of the project: Post COVID, economic conditions will be unpredictable and people will continue to need to understand trade offs, for instance between health and economy, which require improved trust in economics. This project will be under the aegis of the Policy Lab. It will explore how UCL economists view the importance of communicating with the public about their work. Currently there is very little qualitative research on this subject. This project is of merit on its own, but it has an additional aim to act as a pilot study to help ensure the success of a planned UCL Policy Lab bid for a three year grant, from ESRC. Partnering with the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), the larger bid proposes workshops where small groups of members of the public from a full range of social backgrounds engage with individual economists, to improve mutual understanding and communication about economics.

Desired outcome: The desired outcomes are: 1) A short report analysing how five UCL economists view engaging with the public, disseminated among interested partners within and outside UCL, starting some debate about public/economists engagement. 2) An improved research design in the ESRC bid and any future bids. 3) A small scale activity to help launch the UCL Policy Lab.

Covid-19 and protest dynamics in polarized societies

Name: Dr Nils Metternich

Aim of the project: The key objective if this project is to initiate an authoritative data collection effort of protest in the UK during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Covid-19 pandemic has seen unprecedented restrictions to individual freedoms around the world within the context of highly polarized societies, contestation of scientific `truth’, and social media enabling effective mobilization. The Covid-19 pandemic has been characterized by two protest movements in particular: Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest after the killing of George Floyd and anti-lockdown and anti-vaccination protests (ALAV). In fact, while BLM and ALAV protests defied the health risks of collective action during the pandemic and thereby sending a strong signal of resolve, other protest movements (e.g. Fridays for Future/Extinction Rebellion) moved their protest off the street and thereby receiving less attention in the public debate. We seek to collect data for Q1 of 2020, develop computer assisted methodology of data collection, and seek further grant income to a) continue collecting protest data in the UK and b) expand this project to other countries. 

Desired outcome: The project will provide two key deliveries: a) Publicly available (through R Shiny Application) Completed data collection for Q1 2020. b) Grant proposal for further funding to extend data collection in time (pre-pandemic) and space (other countries). 

Nonviolence, Violence, and Protests in Electoral Autocracies 

Name: Dr Katerina Tertytchnaya

Aim of the project: While legal restrictions on protests are rising around the world, we know little about the relationship between protest restrictions, protest policing, and arrests in contemporary electoral autocracies. Do these regimes use strategies of non-violent and violent protest repression as strategic complements or as substitutes? In my ongoing book project, I argue that far from substituting coercion, strategies of nonviolent repression such as protest restrictions are used to facilitate, and even justify, the arrest of peaceful demonstrators. I tested this argument using data on protest permits and opposition arrests in Russia. The key aim of this project is to test the applicability of the argument beyond Russia, by collecting original data on the relationship between protest permits and opposition arrests in Turkey, Kazakhstan, Hong Kong and Singapore. This project will advance scholarship on authoritarian politics and repression and contribute to the training and professionalisation of student research assistants involved in it.

Desired outcome: The project’s key output will be a comparative empirical chapter to be included in my book manuscript titled ‘Nonviolent repression in electoral autocracies’. The book, which explores how nonviolent repression contributes to the stability of contemporary nondemocratic regimes, synthesises theoretical insights and empirical findings from Russia and beyond. The manuscript will be submitted for review to Cambridge University Press in August 2021. Insights generated from this grant, on the relationship between protest permits and arrests across four countries, will also inform a stand-alone article to be submitted for review to the Journal of Peace Research in the summer. New protest-event data will be deposited on Harvard’s Dataverse upon the paper’s publication to facilitate additional analysis and extensions. Findings will also be communicated to NGOs and the public through a short-blog post (e.g. at the Monkey Cage), the Department’s Uncovering Politics podcast, the UCL Festival of Culture, and other non-academic presentations. 

Role of innovation and technology in the Covid crisis: a study of Italian SMEs 

Name: Dr Valentina Amuso

Aim of the project: We aim to explore how SMEs’ approach to innovation has been shaped in the context of Covid-19 in Italy. More specifically, the aim is to analyse how the pandemic and policy initiatives such as “Digital Solidarity” have affected (and continue to affect) SMEs’ approach to innovation and digitalisation. The research will distinguish between basic digitalisation and more complex innovative processes such as Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence. The project focuses on SMEs in Italy for three main reasons: 1.) the pace of technological innovation has been slow in the country as compared to other EU countries (see Digital Intensity Index); 2.) Italy was the first in Europe to implement strict measures to address the situation (see Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker, 2020); 3.) SMEs have been significantly affected by the pandemic in Italy due to the early diffusion of the virus as compared to other countries in Europe (OECD, 2020). 

Desired outcome: The desired outcomes of such a project are to uncover new paths triggered by Covid-19, explore how the path to innovation has changed in SMEs, and the impact on business relations among different firms operating in Italy. We will produce a report to be presented in an initiative with Italian policymakers to engage in policy conversations and perform an evaluation of the findings. We will also use the finding to publish the study in academic journals.