Research and Development
The original Polity scheme was designed to track transitions from autocratic patterns of regime authority to more democratic patterns of authority in a world dominated by autocratic regimes. With greater globalization and the transformations of the Euro-centric and Cold War global systems in the latter part of the 20th Century, the emerging "new order" global system has shifted toward greater democratic authority. As autocratic authority grows obsolete, forward-looking research will require better information on processes of "democratization." Recognizing this need, the Center for Systemic Peace and Societal-Systems Research embarked on a major effort to upgrade the Polity Project and data series to better serve researchers in the Era of Globalization.
The Polity 5 phase of the project was initiated in 2008 with the major "finding" in research conducted by the Political Instability Task Force (see AJPS 2010, Virtual Library) that the Polity coded condition of "polar factionalism" (PARCOMP=3) is the strongest "predictor" of the onset of political instability. As a necessary part of our systematic investigation into the issue of polar factionalism, we began to systematically re-examine the regime characteristics of every country that experienced an episode of factionalism at any time since 1946 using far more-detailed and systematic information than had been available when the original Polity data series was coded. The Polity 5 Country Reports that have resulted from these re-examinations include full "process tracing" for each country over the entire contemporary period, 1946-present and a full, chronological record of every coded Polity change for that country. This transparency will improve analytic comprehension and increase data reliability. The recoding of regime characteristics has allowed us to enhance the codings of democratic authority traits so that the Polity series will continue to inform systematic, macro-comparative analyses of regimes and regime changes for the future, democratic global system. The complete re-examination of the regime histories for 167 countries is an enormous undertaking; we are about two-thirds of the way to completion as of early 2014. The Polity 5 data series will also be enhanced by the addition of several "plug-in" data series with information critical to a better understanding of regimes, such as the COUP data series that is currently available on the INSCR Data Page and future data series now in development and described below.
As mentioned above, the PITF finding regarding the importance of "polar factionalism" as a dynamic precursor to the onset of political instability and state failure is profound for our understanding of the process of and prospects for democratization and the consolidation of democratic patterns of authority. Researchers at the Center for Systemic Peace and Societal-Systems Research have been engaged in primary research and the analysis of the issue of polar factionalism since 2006; presenting preliminary papers on this topic at APSA and ISA conferences and in Global Report 2014. The completion of the Polity 5 data series will allow our researchers to finalize these studies for publication.
As part of our effort to enhance understanding of democratization and democratic consolidation processes, our researchers have been developing a new data series, Executive and Party Structure (EPS), with more detailed information on the chief executive and the legislative/parliamentary party structures of regimes for all countries covered by the Polity data series over the contemporary period, 1946-present. This annual data series includes information on elections, type of executive, party of the executive, ruling party/coalition and main opposition party share of assembly seats, and other related topics. The EPS data series is complete and is now undergoing data verification procedures to ensure accuracy and consistency with the Polity 5 data series.
Elections are an integral part of democratic procedures and the democratization process; however, elections must be free and fair and openly contested as a show of public support for and acceptance of the precepts of democratic authority, as well as a means for the broader public to choose, or remove, its political representatives and executive leadership. Public petition, protest, and demonstration are common modes of contentious political action that challenge public policies and/or authorities. Election boycotts (and post-election, or procedural, boycotts challenge the very foundation of democratic authority by rejecting electoral procedure as the basis for regime authority. Our researchers have identified cases of election and procedural boycotts in all countries covered by the Polity 5 data series over the contemporary period, 1946-present, and coded basic information on those cases. This data series is complete and is awaiting analysis by CSP and SSR researchers; it will be released at a future date as a "plug-in" to the Polity 5 data series.
Data collection is a tedious and painstaking effort, not to mention costly and time-consuming, when it is done well. and, once created and found useful, transforms into a perpetual task. Data collection provides a foundation for scientific study and the accumulation of knowledge and, as such, the professional data collection enterprise is worthy of the investment. However, the material result of the data collection effort, the data series, records and holds only a very small portion of the value created by that effort. Data removes "facts" from their context in order to preserve key "bytes" of information to "cue" recollection and, thus, critically inform broader and more complicated modes of inquiry. What links inquiry to knowledge is understanding, especially when dealing with complex systems. Knowing how the system works is key both to managing complex information flows and understanding the diverse relationships between and among observable phenomena in reiterative schemes involving strategic behavior. Without a strong theoretical grounding and a thorough understanding of context , "facts" and "bytes" are little more than random points in a limitless and endless space perpetuating a Sisyphean task. Rational systems organize otherwise random points into structured regularities that can be created, maintained, and amended by purposeful action and, because of these commonalities and regularities, rational systems can be comprehended, managed, sustained, and transformed; forging greater order out of boundless chaos.
The Center for Systemic Peace collects data as a by-product of a insatiable desire to better understand societal-systems and, thereby, better inform public policy in order to reduce the frequency and magnitude of system failures. Systematic investigation imposes discipline on inquiry and increases confidence by allowing the analyst to derive findings and base conclusions on a preponderance of evidence. The true value of the data collection enterprise is contained in the capacity to "re-contextualize" the evidence in a more complete and useful understanding of complex societal-systems and their effect on the human condition. To this end, the Center for Systemic Peace and Societal-Systems Research are producing a "video book" titled, Managing Complexity in Modern Societal-Systems. The video format allows for the use of conceptual visualization and dynamic modeling to better illustrate and explain how organic, complex, societal-systems work and how they can be managed to optimize performance.
The Video Book is halfway to completion; the first half of the book is now posted on our YouTube site; it consists of thirteen video segments of between ten and fifty minutes in length (about 4 1/2 hours total time). The complete "storyboard" (PDF document) by which the video book has been organized provides a brief synopsis of the theoretical arguments and an introduction to the conceptual visualization models that constitute the methodological approach. The second half of the video book sequence is scheduled to be produced in 2014.
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