Our hosts speak with leading experts in public policy, media, and international affairs about their experiences confronting the world's most pressing public problems.
Two peoples. Two states. Why U.S. diplomacy in Israel and Palestine needs vision, partners, and a backbone
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Ed Djerejian says Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin once told him “There is no military solution to this conflict, only a political one.” Rabin was assassinated a few years later and today bullets are flying, bombs are falling, and 1,200 Israelis are dead after the Hamas terrorist attacks of October 7 and nearly 30,000 Gazans have been killed in the Israeli response. Yet Djerejain still believes that a breakthrough is possible even in the current moment, as horrible as it is. Djerejian, a senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Relations, says the crisis has shaken the regional status quo to the point where—if the United States pursues diplomacy that includes principled pragmatism, coalition-building, and good old- fashioned backbone—a breakthrough may finally be possible. But in a recent paper he argues that any breakthrough will have to be built around a two-state solution, which he says is the only path to peace and stability not only in Israel and Palestine, but the wider Middle East. Djerejian’s career as a diplomat spanned eight U.S. presidential administrations beginning with John F. Kennedy’s, and he also served as U.S. Ambassador to Syria and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.
We can productively discuss even the toughest topics—here’s how
As our discourse and our politics have become both more polarized and paralyzed, Harvard Kennedy School faculty members Erica Chenoweth and Julia Minson say we need to refocus on listening to understand, instead of talking to win. In mid-2022, the School launched the Candid and Constructive Conversations initiative, based on the idea that frank yet productive discussions over differences are not only vital to democracy and a functioning society, but that the ability to have them was also an essential skill for students, staff, and faculty in the Harvard community and beyond to learn. The effort—which uses techniques and principles based on surveys and decision science—took on even greater urgency after the recent events in Israel and Gaza and their fallout in the U.S., including at Harvard and other universities. Erica Chenoweth is the Frank Stanton Professor of the First Amendment and the academic dean for faculty Engagement at HKS, as well as one of the world’s leading authorities on conflict and alternatives to political violence. Associate Professor of Public Policy Julia Minson is a decision scientist who studies the psychology of disagreement, and has developed research-based, practical methods that nearly anyone can use to make difficult conversations into productive ones.
The document that redefined humanity: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 75
Harvard Kennedy School Professor Kathryn Sikkink and former longtime Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth have spent years studying the transformational effects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and have worked on the ground to make its vision of a more just, equal world a reality. On December 10th, the world celebrated not only the annual Human Rights Day, but also the 75th anniversary of the UDHR, which some historians and social scientists consider to be the greatest achievement in the history of humankind. It was the first time representatives of the world community declared that every human person on earth was entitled to the same rights as every other, without discrimination, and no matter the circumstances.
It was an achievement that was both historically radical—legal slavery in the United States had ended just 80 years earlier—and yet one which made perfect, urgent sense in the post-World-War-II context of a humanity whose collective conscience was still reeling at the horrors and inhumanity of conflict. Appalled by the dehumanization and mass slaughter of human beings in the Holocaust, where 6 million Jews were exterminated by the Nazis along with Poles, Roma, homosexuals and other groups, by Japanese atrocities including 2.7 million people murdered in Northern China alone, by the first use of atomic weapons, and by other acts of mass civilian killing, the world’s nations gathered to write a new definition of what it means to be human.
The result was the UDHR, which was drafted by a committee led by former U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. It was radical not just because it was so universal, but also because it was remarkably comprehensive—going far beyond basics like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to enumerating human rights to privacy, health, adequate housing, freedom from torture and slavery, the right to nationality, to take part in government, to work for equal pay, to have protection against unemployment, to unionize, to a decent standard of living, to rest and leisure, to enjoy culture, art, and science, and finally to a social and international order where the rights in the Declaration could be fully realized. ikkink is a faculty affiliate of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at HKS, where Roth just finished a senior fellowship. They join PolicyCast host Ralph Ranalli to explain how the UDHR has forever changed the way we think about our fellow human beings, and to suggest policies that will keep pushing the global community toward a more just, fair, and compassionate world.
Legacy of privilege: David Deming and Raj Chetty on how elite college admissions policies affect who gains power and prestige
Legacy admissions, particularly at elite colleges and universities, were thrust into the spotlight this summer when the U.S. Supreme Court effectively ended affirmative action in admissions. The ruling raised many questions, and fortunately, Harvard Kennedy School Professor David Deming and Harvard University Professor Raj Chetty were there with some important answers—having just wrapped up a 6-year study of the impact of legacy admissions at so-called “Ivy-plus” schools. Students spend years preparing to face judgment by colleges and universities as a worthy potential applicant. They strive for report cards filled with A’s in advanced placement courses. They volunteer for service projects and participate in extracurricular activities. They cram furiously high-stakes standardized tests. They do all that only to find a big question many top colleges have is effectively: “Who’s your daddy? And/or your mommy?” Using data from more than 400 colleges and universities and about three and a half million undergraduate students per year, the two economists found that legacy and other elite school admissions practices significantly favor students from wealthy families and serve a gate-keeping function to positions of power and prestige in society.
Need to solve an intractable problem? Try collaborative governing
Harvard Kennedy School faculty member Jorrit de Jong and Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson say the big, intractable problems challenges facing city leaders today are too complex to be addressed by any one agency or government department. Complex challenges like the shortage of economic opportunity and affordable housing, homelessness, the effects of the climate crisis, crime—and can only be solved by multiple organizations working together. But that’s easier said than done. Bringing together government agencies, nonprofits, private business, academia, and the public into successful collaborations can be a huge challenge. Different people bring different agendas and goals. They don’t necessarily trust each other. Sometimes they can’t even agree on what the problem actually is and they fail before even getting started. In a recent study, de Jong and Edmondson found that the most successful problem-solving collaborations have a number of things in common, including building a culture of safety and trust and being empowered to try, fail, and learn from mistakes. Sometimes, they say, the key can be just finding a place to start. Jorrit de Jong is the director of the Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University and academic director of the Innovations in Government Program at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at HKS. Amy Edmondson is the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at the Harvard Business School, whose books and writings on teamwork in successful organizations have been translated into 15 languages.
How to keep "TLDR" syndrome from killing your policy proposal
Harvard Kennedy School Professor Todd Rogers and Lecturer in Public Policy Lauren Brodsky say trying too hard to sound intelligent—even when communicating complex or nuanced ideas—isn't a smart strategy. Because today’s overburdened information consumers are as much skimmers as readers, Rogers and Brodsky teach people how to put readers first and use tools like simplification, formatting, and storytelling for maximum engagement. They say you can have the most brilliant, well-researched ideas in the policy world, but you can’t communicate them, they’ll never reach the ultimate goal—making an impact. Rogers is the faculty chair of the Behavioral Insights Group at the Kennedy School and the author of “Writing for Busy Readers: The Science of Writing Better.” Brodsky is senior director of the HKS Communications Program and the author of “Because Data Can’t Speak for Itself,” a book about how to more effectively communicate the data that supports groundbreaking research and evidence-based policy proposals. They say snarky millennials may be to something when they dismissively mocked your wordy social posts and text messages by replying “TLDR”—"too long; didn’t read”—because that’s how many busy readers feel about a lot of the writing that researchers, academics, and policy wonks do.
variety of topics and thoughtfully crafted
Just what I was in search of! Thanks
The interviewer is exceptional and the content is timely. Love the “Fixing ourselves is hard” with Iris. Please keep them coming.