One theme we discussed that bears emphasizing are questions of why we do the survey research we do, and how we decide what findings to publicize, where, how and for whom. Do we truly need poll data on the precise conditions under which Americans would tolerate war crimes? Is this truly a public good? Who does this serve? Who does it enable? When the results come out (if they include clues as to what policymakers must do to drum up support for war crimes), who is served or enabled by allowing journalists to run with findings, legitimized by major univeristies, that Americans would support terror bombing of foreign innocents? Who bears the risk of harm if such findings are misinterpreted – those in power or without it? Would it not be better to study the conditions under which Americans can be best inoculated from willingness to go along with terrible war crimes than to provide a recipe book for the powerful on how to chip that resistance away?
These kinds of questions form the motivation for a terrific new program at Sie Center at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies. According to their announcement at Political Violence at a Glance:
We plan to move beyond the mechanics of engagement to address the following types of questions: How and when should knowledge be shared with policy actors of different types, if at all? What are the promises and pitfalls of such policy engagement—for the academic, but also the policy community and other affected populations? What are the different ethical dilemmas that arise from engaging with government, versus civil society, versus private sector actors? How can scholars communicate findings most effectively (and what does that mean)? How might these findings be used by policy makers? Who has ownership over final research products? How do differing institutional pressures shape the types of engagement and the challenges that might arise? And many more.
We plan to start tackling these types of questions through activities that build both a knowledge base and network that can assist policy-interested academics when engaging with both governmental and nongovernmental policy actors. A key component of the program will be an “Issues in Responsible Engagement Institute” to help early career scholars navigate the challenges of engaging with different sets of policy actors at all stages of the research and dissemination process. Recognizing that PhD students and early career academics receive little formal mentorship on professional ethics and have few places to turn for advice, this multi-day institute will serve as a complement to existing Bridging the Gap training programs and provide a forum to discuss issues around responsible policy engagement as well as a support network for participants. Just last week the Sié Center faculty were fortunate enough to work alongside a group of invited scholars and practitioners with experience in this field to start planning the curriculum for the workshop. Stay tuned for more on the application process next year.
This looks like just the type of initiative our discipline needs, particularly with so many scholars conducting research that not only measures but interfaces with citizen attitudes just as our democracy is most fragile. I wish this had been around early in my career, and I commend the organizers.