Making a Policy Impact

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This is part four of six in which Director Michael McFaul talks about his vision for the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, the accomplishments he's most proud of so far, and why he keeps returning to the Farm.

FSI isn’t the world’s largest policy think tank but we offer a generous home, not just to our community but to some of the foremost experts on international affairs in the world today. I don’t think people realize just how big, and how much intellectual firepower we have. There are over 50 tenured faculty here, 150 researchers, and about $50 million in annual revenue, and all those numbers continue to grow.

My friends in D.C. should know that FSI is a premier policy institute comparable to any of the biggest think tanks in Washington, but we’re actually much more diverse in terms of the topics we tackle – we have people working on global health, cyber policy, food security and the environment, in addition to regional focuses, democracy development and rule of law, and many others. And actively training the policy makers of the future is a core part of our mission.

Of course, when it comes to policy impact it’s about implementation. It's not good enough to have an idea about policy. You've got to find somebody in the policy world that might be interested in listening to you. Then they have to try to implement it in what we recognize is a very complex policy environment.

In the next five years, as I move forward, we’ll pursue a diversified strategy for how we push our ideas into the policy world. There are multiple modalities for doing that. Sometimes it means being on TV, sometime it means joining the government. When FSI people join the government, they take all their intellectual ideas with them when they show up at the Pentagon, or the White House or the State Department.

But in between those two extremes, one being very ephemeral and one being much more concrete, there are all kinds of different ways of trying to shape the policy environment. I want to make sure that we're focused on policy makers, but also societal attitudes more broadly. I think it needs to be both, and we will not achieve progress on our policy goals if we don't have a multi-pronged approach.

There is a benefit to studying policy here at Stanford – it affords us a unique perspective because of the distance from D.C., and allows us to take a longer view on current world affairs. We’re now building the bridges to ensure our research will flow naturally to policy professionals wherever they are in the world.

Read part five in this series, Impact Through Education, or return to the Meet the Director page.