Category: Policy Caucus

Policy Caucus April Meeting


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.

Policy Caucus March Meeting



This past Friday Policy Bridge held its second Policy Caucus meeting. The Policy Caucus is a growing collective of Duke faculty, researchers, administrators, and policy partners with strong policy engagement interests and duties across the university.


Last Friday’s convening was led by Doug Heron, Assistant Vice President of Duke Health and State Government Relations, and Jenni Owen, Policy Director for NC Governor Roy Cooper and prior Director of Duke Policy Bridge. The overarching theme of the discussion centered on connecting academics with policymakers in Raleigh. Speaking to the heart of building connections between policymakers and researchers, a key tenet of Duke Policy Bridge’s mission, Heron and Owen provided perceptive analysis and suggestions for caucus members’ inquiries.


The group had the opportunity to pose questions on navigating the state legislation process and communicating with state legislators and administrators at state agencies. A transcription of key takeaways from the question and answer segment of the session have been logged below along with a list of resources recommended by Heron and Chris Simmons, Associate Vice President of Duke’s Office of Government Relations.


Policy Bridge will hold its next Policy Caucus meeting Friday, April 7th during Leslie Winner and John Hood’s Kenan Institute for Ethics’ Residency week. For more information on the Policy Caucus, contact us.



Q: How do we learn early enough what the agenda is to be nimble/proactive in responding?

Doug: Figure out which intermediary organizations monitor the legislature. Read through the governor’s budget to see where resources are flowing. Check out end of session reports to preview upcoming session content and learn about the legislature’s announced interim study committees.

Q: What is the best way to get conversations going with policymakers in Raleigh to shape new research questions?

Jenni: Form informal groups of issue-area experts to meet periodically and be on call as needed. Hold morning meetings in Raleigh, invite key people from relevant agencies, and present it as a forum to formulate research questions.

Q: What do the deputy chief of staff and legislative directors read every morning?

Jenni: Twitter, news clip compilations, The News & Observer, The NC Insider, smaller news outlets like the Fayetteville Observer. Depending on the policy, getting content in a smaller newspaper may be most effective. Get to know lobbyists, they act as both educators and advocates…and sometimes they even write legislation.




Policy Caucus Facilitates Important Policy Engagement Conversation


The Policy Bridge convened the first Duke University Policy Caucus meeting on November 11, 2016. The motivation for the Policy Caucus stems from an increasing interest in engaged scholarship among faculty and researchers as well as increase in commitment by policy officials to use research in their decisionmaking.

The Caucus intends to develop goals and a plan of work over the next several months, with a focus on strengthening the university’s policy engagement strategies at the local, state, federal, and international levels. Participants at this first meeting discussed how policy engagement is a dynamic process that requires effective communication, relationship building, and an ongoing, two-way dialogue between individuals and organizations representing the research and policy realms. Also highlighted was the importance of including policy engagement as a component of students’ educational and professional pursuits.

Upcoming administration changes at the federal level and elsewhere in government highlight the critical importance to Duke – and universities broadly – of evaluating approaches to policy engagement and determining the optimal strategies for interacting with, learning from and informing policy and practice. Looking ahead, the Policy Caucus will provide opportunities for faculty, researchers, government relation leaders, administrators, and others to assess both opportunities for and challenges to engagement.

Participants discussed the need to further assess and understand policymakers’ demand for research and partnerships with Duke as well as to determine the capacity at Duke for responding to changes in political leadership.

At this first meeting, the Policy Caucus and Policy Bridge benefitted from the insight of of professors, research scientists, administrators, student liaisons, and others representing a range of Duke entities including the Office of the Provost, Public Affairs and Government Relations, the Sanford School, POLIS, the Science and Society Initiative, the Center for International Development, the Regeneration Next Initiative, and Scholars@Duke.

Interested in joining the Policy Caucus? Please contact the Policy Bridge.

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