FSI's International Policy Implementation Lab

FSI’s International Policy Implementation Lab supports impact-oriented international research, problem-based teaching and long-term engagement with urgent dilemmas around the world.

These projects are being supported by the initiative. A Concept Note follows.


Improving Vision for China’s Poorest Children (Scott Rozelle)

In October 2013, the Chinese State Council approved, in principle, a plan to improve vision care for impoverished, rural, elementary school and junior high school students as a way to enhance educational performance. The new policy initiative was based on three years of research conducted by Stanford’s Rural Education Action Program (REAP), headed by economist Scott Rozelle, the Helen S. Farnsworth Senior Fellow at FSI, and guided by a policy brief REAP had produced. 

But, in China’s decentralized system of government, policy change requires more than directives from above. REAP’s work in one province in China’s poor northwest region is moving vision care one step closer to becoming a reality in China’s schools. In March 2014, the Shaanxi Province Department of Education issued a new, more concrete policy directive on vision care in China's schools. Using a policy statement written by REAP, and based on REAP research in the province, the head of the Shaanxi Department of Education committed to making high-quality vision care a more integral part of every public school’s mandated activities. Step one in this effort is the provincial government’s decision to establish a state-of-the-art vision care model county in the province. The aim is to learn from the model county’s experiences and, if successful, roll out vision care to all 1,800,000 million rural students in the province as well as to all 30,000,000 students in rural China. Shaanxi Province has asked REAP to set up and run (jointly with the local county school district and eye care hospital) the vision care model county pilot, which will be officially launched in the 2014-2015 academic year. REAP will also evaluate the vision care model county pilot project.

The Stanford International Policy Implementation Lab funds will enable REAP to continue to engage with policy makers in China and to build a set of activities—with aid from both REAP’s academic and implementation partners inside China and faculty and students from Stanford—that will convert REAP's evidence-based, policy research into policy action. Hence, the funds will not only support change in the field that will potentially affect the lives of millions of children in China’s poor western province, it will also facilitate learning and research opportunities for students and faculty from Stanford and Stanford’s partners in China.

Measuring Public Opinion on Nuclear Weapons and War (Scott Sagan)

FSI Senior Fellow Scott Sagan, in collaboration with Benjamin Valentino (a former visiting scholar at FSI’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, and now an associate professor of political science at Dartmouth), is leading an international project entitled "Atomic Aversion-- Public Opinion, Nuclear Weapons, and Just War Doctrine."  The project first identifies specific scenarios in which, according to Washington and New Delhi nuclear doctrine statements, the U.S. and Indian military have contingency plans to use nuclear weapons. The authors then use public opinion survey experiments to assess the degree to which just war doctrine principles of non-combatant immunity and proportionality influence public attitudes toward potential uses of nuclear weapons.  

Sagan, the Caroline S.G. Munro Professor of Political Science, plans to use the FSI funds both to involve Stanford students in the project, as they will help run trial opinion surveys, and to brief the findings of the study at think tanks, universities, and government agencies in Washington, D.C. and in New Delhi, India.  Sagan and Valentino hope that the briefings will encourage officials in both governments to address just war doctrine principles more thoroughly and consistently in policy statements and nuclear doctrine in the future.

Leadership Academy for Development (Frank Fukuyama)

The Leadership Academy for Development (LAD) trains government officials and business leaders from developing countries to help the private sector be a constructive force for economic growth and development. Led by Professor Frank Fukuyama, the Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at FSI, the Academy teaches carefully selected participants how to be effective reform leaders, promoting sound public policies in complex and contentious settings. A driving principle of the LAD curriculum is that policy reform is not like engineering or other technical fields that have discrete skills and clear, optimal solutions. Instead, successful reformers must be nimble and weigh a broad range of factors that influence policy outcomes. They must have a solid grasp of country-specific economic, financial, political and cultural realities. Most importantly, they must have a sense of how to set priorities, sequence actions and build coalitions. LAD provides participants with an analytical framework to build these abilities and operate effectively under adverse conditions.

The Academy has developed a unique, multidisciplinary curriculum. It uses case studies that are tailor-made to illuminate the challenges associated with enhancing private sector performance in emerging economies. The cases are ultimately rooted in real-world stories: specific policy reforms that have taken place in developing countries. Rather than serve as examples of “best practices” or “how-to” guides, the cases are designed to encourage participants to think critically about the key decisions that have led to policy reforms.

LAD operates through partnerships with academic institutions in developing countries, which recruit students and share in the research and teaching of the program.  So far, LAD programs have been run in Costa Rica, South Africa, Kenya, Burma, and Singapore.  With support from the Policy Implementation Lab, the project hopes to expand its range of partner institutions around the world, as well as to make use of FSI to expand its curriculum, faculty, and teaching opportunities.

Reducing Brick Kiln Pollution in Bangladesh (Stephen Luby)

Stephen Luby, a professor of medicine and senior fellow at FSI and the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, aims to develop interventions to reduce the air pollution generated by brick kilns in Bangladesh and ultimately across South Asia. Traditional small coal-fired brick kilns, which produce the vast majority of bricks in South Asia, generate substantial air pollution. Small particulate products of combustion are particularly dangerous to human health because they are absorbed deep in the lung and lead to cardiovascular and respiratory disease and mortality. Efforts to introduce modern brick kilns in Bangladesh that generate less pollution have failed to displace the dominant small producers, because the modern kilns require high capital investment, skilled labor, and produce bricks that cost 40 percent more than traditionally fired bricks.

With colleagues, Professor Luby is advancing three lines of technical research to develop interventions that have the potential to reset the equilibrium that would allow brick manufacturers to remain profitable, but would produce bricks with much reduced environmental and health consequences. These interventions include low-cost strategies to improve combustion efficiency of current kilns; converting a low-cost device developed by Dennis Grahn, a Stanford biological researcher, to reduce particulate matter generated by wood stoves to brick kilns in Bangladesh;  and developing low-cost practical approaches to monitoring brick kiln emissions. 

Support from the Stanford International Policy Implementation Lab will allow the project to engage students in this effort and advance the conversation regarding the development and testing of these innovations in Bangladesh with key stakeholders including the Bangladesh Brickmakers Association, and the Department of Environment of the Government of Bangladesh. These conversations are crucial to shape technical efforts so they are appropriate to the local environment and also to build the support for associated policy change required for successful deployment.

Stanford India Health Policy Initiative (Grant Miller)

The Stanford India Health Policy Initiative aims to identify institutional and behavioral obstacles that prevent health policies and programs from reaching their full potential. Headed by Grant Miller, an associate professor of medicine and a senior fellow at FSI, the new initiative joins Stanford with Indian health policymakers and professionals, and creates a protected space to discuss common successes and failures in health delivery from which an India-led agenda investigating the social, behavioral, and institutional obstacles to health policy success is generated. From this foundation, the initiative designs collaborative projects in India focused on generating new intelligence about the realities that distinguish health delivery success and failure in practice.  Currently, Miller’s team is applying this approach to the question of why women in rural India are not giving birth in hospitals, despite the existence of government incentives for institutional deliveries.

Importantly, these projects create collaborative opportunities for students in India and the US to develop new skills and acquire new perspectives on the challenges of developing and deploying new health care delivery mechanisms. The initiative’s insights and relationships will also pave the way for larger, longer-term, extramurally funded research projects on the most pressing contemporary policy challenges for health care in India. The initiative ultimately aims to serve as a catalyst for advancing the health care sector in India, in times when reaching vulnerable and marginalized populations is increasingly prioritized.  

The Implementation Lab funding will enhance ongoing policy engagement in India and the training of Stanford students, and will enable the initiative to engage a wider and more diverse community of India policymakers and health care practitioners than would otherwise be possible. 

Curbing Violence in Latin America (Beatriz Magaloni and Alberto Diaz-Cayeros)

Political scientists Beatriz Magaloni and Alberto Diaz-Cayeros are working with local and national government entities and nongovernmental organizations in Mexico and Brazil to study and develop programs that will curb violence and spur economic development.

The FSI senior fellows collaborate closely with Stanford students to create experiments, collect information and analyze data that delves into policies affecting the provision of public services. In particular, they are studying policing techniques in the favelas of Rio and educational interventions in Mexico that are aimed at keeping children out of gangs.

The Implementation Lab will support their research and collaborations with community groups, police organizations, government officials and other scholars.


Concept Note 

International Policy Implementation Lab  

at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

March 2014 

Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) is building an “International Policy Implementation Lab” – a unique institution that will collaborate with faculty to develop, drive, and support international, impact-oriented research, problem-based teaching, and long-term engagement with applied policy implementation problems around the world.

Understanding Policy Implementation in Different Countries, Organizations, and Cultures

At FSI and elsewhere, Stanford faculty and students are deeply engaged in international policy analysis on health, security, education, governance, and other issues.  They use a variety of analytical tools to ask critical questions about the motivations, efficacy, and outcomes of policy choices.  But there is a distinction between engaging in that important form of policy analysis and understanding how policymakers and organizations change longstanding practices and actually execute policy, often in the face of enormous institutional inertia. 

Faculty who want to examine and inform the implementation of policy periodically seek to create and maintain relationships with organizations capable of affecting or implementing policy around the world – relationships that endure long enough to produce mutual trust and afford faculty the opportunity to witness and inform the execution of policy.  In other cases, partnerships with policymaking organizations may be beneficial to a research project, but not essential to it.  Researchers also need to consider how a variety of policy problems involving issues such as food security, migration, and development play out differently across a variety of national, regional, organizational, and cultural settings.

The value of increasing our understanding of how implementation works – involving issues ranging from access to health care for the poor to managing arms control agreements – is substantial.  An appreciation for how policy is implemented enables faculty to extend the scope of their research, enrich their teaching, and ideally, achieve a greater impact on the ground.  

Concept and Functions

FSI leadership and staff have consulted with the majority of FSI faculty across its eleven centers and programs, seeking guidance and ideas as the Implementation Lab is being developed.   These conversations have had a powerful effect in shaping the concept behind the Lab and determining how it will function.

Based on the advice received from FSI faculty, the Implementation Lab will support ventures that are grounded in cutting-edge, policy-oriented research on a specific topic of international relevance (e.g., arms control, refugee protection, global health, or education in rural China) and which share at least one of two characteristics:  (1) They involve long-term engagement with the implementation of policy, either through appropriate external partnerships or through other channels that have an impact on how policies are implemented, and (2) They connect their research agenda to interdisciplinary, problem-based education opportunities (including interdisciplinary classes and mentored student research), giving students an opportunity to work closely on a relevant policy problem and its implementation dimensions.

The fact that these characteristics can be complementary but also occasionally in some tension with each other is an important premise for the Lab.  For example, a problem-based class connected to an applied research project with a government partner could yield unique pedagogical benefits. At the same time, engaging students in faculty research projects and external relationships may increase the cost of a venture in terms of time, resources, and complexity.  Among other things, we expect the Implementation Lab to act as a means to achieve synergies across these characteristics where possible.

Pursuing ventures involving cutting-edge research, lasting external relationships, and innovative pedagogy entails a major commitment on the part of faculty members.  Demands for time, specialized resources, customized student engagement, a long-term horizon, and an appreciation for the often opaque policy formulation and implementation process pose a set of considerable challenges for researchers seeking to enhance their capacity for policy-oriented research to achieve on-the-ground impact.

For example, research on the delivery of health care in rural India, government reform in China, or the planning and administration of refugee camps all pose this set of serious challenges.  One of the more notable challenges is that external organizations, whether health NGOs in India, local governments in China, or a United Nations agency, each have their own unique culture, institutional practices, and set of motivations.   But the rewards of understanding and working effectively with those organizations are potentially invaluable to Stanford teaching and research. 

To encourage and support these ventures, the Implementation Lab will provide targeted funding and a variety of support functions.  The plan is for these activities to be phased in during the course of 2014 and 2015, based on the advice and feedback of faculty and others who are early participants in the Lab.

Spring and Summer 2014: Initial Phase

The Lab staff will start work with a cohort of faculty participants whose projects reflect the Lab’s interest in policy implementation integrated with student engagement and research.  Together, they will develop a Lab that best supports the needs of FSI faculty and others interested in working with the Lab from across campus.

In spring and summer 2014, the Implementation Lab will test out different ideas and services with faculty.  The resulting lessons will yield a prioritization among the different functions and a timeline for their rollout.

Based on initial interviews, the Lab is exploring the development of the following functions: 

  • Facilitating ties with selected external organizations, helping to manage ongoing relationships with external organizations, conducting research on appropriate partners, and connecting partners to different entities within FSI and Stanford. 
  • Connecting faculty with Stanford resources for practical advice and help in dealing with on-the-ground challenges encountered in working in developing countries. 
  • Analyzing and articulating the characteristics that breed the most successful external relationships and partnerships.
  • Assisting with data visualization and analysis (which could be useful not only in studying the implementation process, but in exploring the rationale behind particular policy changes in a manner that can help policymakers understand the stakes of their decisions). 
  • Helping faculty to design distinctive (graduate/professional or upper division undergraduate) interdisciplinary classes focused on concrete policy problemsrelated to faculty research projects and partnerships. 
  • Identifying and facilitating opportunities for enhanced student learning on international policy implementation through internships, fellowships, or other activities.
  • Creating, cultivating and sustaining a Lab identity and community among all participants that facilitates the exchange of ideas, best practices, and data across Lab projects.
  • Playing a convening role by identifying and gathering faculty from across FSI and across campus who have intersecting interests and who might benefit from collaboration.
  • Developing a campus-wide network of Lab allies and experts who help advance the Lab’s goals with key colleagues at Stanford and provide technical expertise needed for Lab projects.
  • Writing cases on projects and the policy implementation process.
  • Providing assistance with external communications to help draw attention and new resources to specific Lab projects.
  • Assisting with identifying and obtaining new sources of funding.

Other Programs at Stanford

The entity FSI is seeking to forge is different from other action-oriented programs at Stanford, most notably the Hasso Plattner Institute for Design (the d.school) and the Law School’s new Policy Lab, but is likely to be complementary to them. The Law School Policy Lab, for example, has the laudable goal of helping students learn through conducting policy analysis or regulatory drafting for policymakers and others seeking to influence public policy. 

While the Implementation Lab will share some elements of the two programs (such as the d.school’s model for interdisciplinary, problem-based courses and the Law School’s interest in generating useful, policy-relevant research), it will be specifically focused on supporting long-term projects that involve close study of specific international settings and engaging students and faculty in the study of policy implementation in different national, organizational, and cultural contexts.

The Implementation Lab is still taking shape and will require further consultation and careful thinking about logistics and resources.  That said, this venture appears exceptionally promising in light of consultations with faculty and other potential stakeholders, both because of the likely contribution to Stanford and the impact beyond our campus.