Fletcher School hosts Ideas Exchange bridging policy, academic research

Mariya Ilyas, a MALD candidate at the Fletcher School, speaks on "The Power of Blogs" at the Fletcher Ideas Exchange event in ASEAN Auditorium on Oct. 15. (Max Lalanne / The Tufts Daily)

The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy hosted the Fletcher Ideas Exchange last night in the ASEAN Auditorium. It featured a variety of academics, policy practitioners and students who gave brief speeches in a TED-style format in front of an audience of approximately 200 people. 

The event, themed “Bridging the Academic-Policy Gap,” opened with brief remarks from Communications Lecturer Mihir Mankad and Professor of Practice of International Conflict Management Eileen Babbitt, who both helped to organize the event.

Dean of the Fletcher School James Stavridis spoke first about his transition from the military to academia. He said that as the Supreme Allied Commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization, he had consulted the academic world on a number of occasions.

He warned that the world of policy and the world of academia are frequently divided, with academics becoming increasingly specialized and policymakers constantly focused on moving quickly. Nonetheless, he said that he has found that many policymakers are interested in research.

Neil Levine, director of the Center for Excellence on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance at United States Agency for International Development (USAID), discussed how he has worked to pair project teams at USAID with researchers.

According to Levine, one place for collaboration is in evaluating the effectiveness of foreign aid interventions. By enabling interactions and training between academics and teams of USAID staff, the USAID workers gain the skills to evaluate their work and the academics frequently get valuable data.

Fletcher student Mariya Ilyas followed with a speech about the value of blogging in the academic world. She argued that the catastrophe following Hurricane Katrina could have been controlled better if policymakers were more connected to the immense body of research about New Orleans’ levee system.

Ilyas contended that blogging is one way to bridge the gap between policy and research. She said that academics can use blogs to reach policymakers both through direct exchange of ideas and through citizen activism. Blogging platforms are powerful because they are widely accessible, she added.

International Economics Affairs Professor Michael Klein spoke about his experience as Chief Economist at the U.S. Treasury’s Office of International Affairs, a position which he said differed greatly from his position at the Fletcher School. He noted that his exposure to policymaking has been helpful to his career.

“A lot of my research that I’ve done since I returned from Treasury I can trace back to my experience there,” he said.

Thania Paffenholz, director of the Inclusive Peace and Transition Initiative at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, proposed a few conditions necessary for researchers to influence policy. She said that researchers should seek to understand what is important to the organizations that they are working with.

Dyan Mazurana, associate research professor at Fletcher, argued that researchers should strive to establish direct relationships with policy workers and that researchers should strive to make change in critical issues.

Rahul Chandran (F ’06), senior policy advisor at the United Nations University Centre for Policy Research, agreed that, in certain cases, researchers have a moral obligation to advocate certain ideas. He said that academics should try to understand individual organizations’ needs and interests.

Deborah Avant, professor from the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, spoke about her research into the determinants of violence in conflicts, which naturally includes many actors.

Matthew Merighi (F ’16), assistant director of Fletcher’s Maritime Studies Program, spoke about how academics can reach bureaucrats through accessibility, familiarity with the policy process and personal relationships.

Maria Stephan, senior policy fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace, spoke about how academic research helps advance policymakers’ understanding of grassroots political activism; she used the United States’ attempts to support activists in Syria as a template.

The event concluded with closing remarks from Mankad and was followed by a reception.