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Building Blocks of Democracy: Now in Your Web Browser

The Constitute Project, developed by government professor Zachary Elkins, brings constitutions from all over the world into one handy, online resource.

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detail of the U.S. Constitution

Associate professor Zachary Elkins helped build an online resource for countries that are working to develop a constitution. 

You’ve been given the daunting task of drafting a new constitution completely from scratch for a budding democracy. You’re gonna need some help.

That’s where Zachary Elkins, associate professor of government, and The Constitute Project come in.

With a grant from Google Ideas to The University of Texas at Austin, Elkins and his colleagues Tom Ginsburg (University of Chicago) and James Melton (University College London) created Constitute, a free online resource that offers a growing set of constitutional texts that users can compare systematically across a broad set of topics.

Government professor Zachary Elkins

Associate professor Zachary Elkins helped build an online resource for countries that are working to develop a constitution. 

“Writing anything is difficult. Writing a document that’s supposed to be the framework and the bulwark for democracy for generations is even harder,” Elkins says. “If Constitute can help that in even a marginal way, it will be a success.”

A major goal of the project is to assist those in countries revising or replacing their constitutions.

“A basic step in constitutional design is the search and analysis of different models,” Elkins explains. “Constitute allows drafters to explore a more representative set of options, more systematically, and in a clean and beautiful reading environment. This site will help drafters get their work done and could also lead to some intriguing discoveries by scholars and educators who analyze and explore the data.”

The Constitute site launched in 2013 at the United Nations General Assembly in New York and is built with data from the team’s Comparative Constitutions Project, a National Science Foundationfunded project that catalogs text and analysis from more than 900 current and historical constitutions since 1789.

This digital library in dozens of languages provides the most comprehensive resource in existence for countries drafting their own constitutions. Not only is The Constitute Project useful for drafters, it also gives ordinary citizens access to the process, creating a sense of ownership in shaping the direction of their country.

“Constitutions are very symbolic and they’re very important. In many ways they establish the principles and the ideals that countries aspire to,” Elkins says.

Zachary Elkins, he’s a Longhorn Game Changer.

That’s how we change the world.

Read more about the Constitute Project (Alcalde).

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This story is part of our “Finding Solutions” series, which explores how UT Austin faculty, staff and students are putting their big ideas to work.