This past Friday Policy Bridge held its third Policy Caucus meeting. The Policy Caucus is part of our effort to regularly convene researchers and policy practitioners to exchange ideas, updates, and best practices. The caucus is a growing collective of Duke faculty, researchers, administrators, and policy partners with strong policy engagement interests and duties across the university.
Last week’s guests included Leslie Winner, past NC Senator and former executive of the Z. Smith Reynold’s Foundation, and John Hood, President of the Pope Foundation and founder of the John Locke Foundation. The theme of the discussion focused on how academia can strengthen its relationship with policymakers and increase the accessibility subject experts and their research findings to public leaders.
The meeting began with Hood and Winner giving brief overviews of their political and public policymaking experience. This introduction was followed by a moderated discussion led by Fritz Mayer, Duke Policy Bridge Faculty Director and Sanford Dean for Strategy and Engagement. A summary of minutes and takeaways from the discussion session have been logged below.
Policy Bridge will reconvene the Policy Caucus Fall 2017. For more information on the Policy Caucus, contact us.
Leslie talked about the difficulty of finding the right people in academia. As Executive Director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, she largely tapped into preexisting networks to access faculty at Duke, UNC, and other institutions. An attendant suggested an in-depth database of academics and their corresponding areas of expertise as a possible solution; maintenance would be the biggest issue.
Leslie wondered how much advice is free from academics, i.e. at what point is one expected to pay for consulting? An participant distinguished “picking someone’s brain” vs. requesting a work product; the latter would require payment given its proprietary nature.
John described his background as a journalist, researcher, and state-level politician. He cautioned that policymakers and their staff are inundated with more information than they have time to digest. He recommends that academics establish a brand through op-eds, blog posts, podcasts or media interviews. Influencing public policy is about relationships, “a face and a person rather than a body of information.” He stressed the importance of persuasion and authority over strict evidence or argument.
Leslie posited that there should be a more centralized brand, for example one well-known person in healthcare who can refer policymakers to other academics. She compared this to an early job she had as a civil rights lawyer in the office of Julius Chambers; her clients trusted her because of her affiliation with him.
An attendant compared universities and think tanks, asserting that Duke works to promote a brand of non-ideological quality and integrity. John thinks universities are at a disadvantage in influencing policy; he prefers to assemble a diverse set of ideas through think tanks with easily identifiable biases. He believes that most people in politics do not consider universities as unbiased because individual scholars have opinions, and that is why we want to talk to them. Leslie would prefer a university to a progressive think tank if she were trying to persuade someone because they lend more credibility to someone on the other end of the political spectrum.
Regarding increasing political polarization, John said that many politicians are hesitant to work with people on the other side for fear of losing credibility with their base. Leslie agreed that politics have become more polarized since she was in the state senate in the 90’s. Her advice was to avoid becoming the tool of one side or the other. John cautioned not to start out too strong when arguing one’s point of view.