Archive for the 'Francisca Stewart' Category

Interview: Steven Rathgeb Smith

By Saskia Kok, on 3 February 2014

By Harriet Bradley and Francisca Stewart

SRSmithProfessor Steven Rathgeb Smith is the new Executive Director of the American Political Science Association (APSA), of which he has been a member for over 30 years. He holds a PhD in Political Science from MIT and has taught at a number of major American universities, including Duke and Georgetown. Steven is a leading scholar on non-profit organisations, public management and social policy.

He is currently co-researching a comparative project into the welfare-state regimes of Canada, the US, the UK and Australia. Looking at the relationship between the voluntary sector and the state, Smith’s research asks to what extent there is convergence or change amongst these countries, in their provision of public services. He argues that there is convergence with regard to a move towards a more market-orientated approach to public service provision. On the other hand, Smith argues that the UK is distinct from the US in the emphasis that David Cameron has placed on the ‘Big Society’ meaning the provision of services by the voluntary sector is more pronounced in the UK than in the US.

During Smith’s visit to UCL, we asked him about the implications of his research and also to share with us some insights into his professional development, and as Executive Director of the APSA his ambitions for political science.

Q: Are there any experiences or reasons that you can highlight for your interest in public management, non-profits and the voluntary sector?

A: That’s an interesting question. Certainly my formative experience was working in the voluntary sector after university- in child welfare- and then got a Masters in social work. I initially thought I might work in direct services, but then I changed focus while I was in graduate school to policy administration and that led me to a research career in policy administration.

Q: Was that based at all on a feeling that you could have more impact by going into research and the policy side of things?

A: Well, it’s a different kind of impact. I got very interested in doing research and I was attracted to learning about different voluntary organisations and how they are managed. By writing on the topic, I did feel that I could have a broader impact on how people manage these organisations and manage their relationship with the government. I like the teaching part of being a faculty member, too. Certainly if you’re working in a direct service role you can have a profound influence on people’s lives, but it’s different kind of influence.

Q: What do you think the voluntary sectors’ future role will be, especially in the context of the economic crisis?

A: I think there will continue to be a role for community-based organizations, and if anything their role will grow as the public services continue to be restructured. But in certain policy areas that lend themselves to routinisation and standardisation, such as home-care for the elderly or disabled, across the world you’re seeing a growing role for for-profit organisations and a declining role for the voluntary sector. The remaining kind of voluntary organisations in those kind of services tend to be large. One of the big issues in Sweden these days is the growing role of for-profit healthcare companies. Sweden is a little different in that they have an important role for the state sector and a small role for the voluntary sector in the area of social health services, where service delivery which has mostly been controlled by local government.

So I think that the voluntary sector will remain important, particularly at the community level, but I do think that in some of the other service categories for-profits will continue to play a prominent role.

Q: You spoke about decentralisation of the provision of ‘human services’ in the US- if provision is based more on market demand, will there be less continuity in the kind of services provided?

A: I was just writing an article about this. I do think that the environment for the voluntary sector is more turbulent than it used to be. Before, some of these large voluntary organisations in the US and the UK could depend on government funding- they had a kind of market niche that was quite stable. Now it’s quite a turbulent environment, which is prone to disruptions- whether it’s budgetary disruptions that might be influenced by the economy, or political change.

The similarity that you have between the US and the UK is that the national government has historically provided some way of ensuring that there’s more equitable delivery of services around the country. To the extent that you get more decentralization and national government cuts back on its role, you’re going to get more variation at the local level. And it seems to me that’s what’s occurring in the UK as well.

Q: So access to services is becoming more of a post-code lottery?

A: Yes, for the users it’s very insecure absolutely, and in the US it also means that the voluntary organisation itself is in a more uncertain environment. There’s been a big discussion in the voluntary sector about the role of business models and how that affects the way you manage these organisations. The argument would be that voluntary sector organisations faced with uncertainty are more risk-averse, and so are more likely to adopt various kinds of business models or financial measures and financial management tools from the business sector. The interest in social enterprises and social innovation also means that it’s attractive to adopt these more commercial business-oriented models in the sector as well.

Colleague and friend Dr. Sarabajaya Kumar: You also get very high-profile business people who say they don’t think certain organisations should be funded if they’re not efficient and run in a business-like way, which has an influence.

Q: Do you think governments who encourage voluntarism as a replacement for public service provision are shirking their responsibilities?

A: I do think what’s happened in the UK and to a certain extent in the US as well, is that the public sector just cuts back and leaves it essentially to the local community by saying do it on your own without any money and on a volunteer basis. I don’t think that’s fair, and in this way I do think that the public sector is shirking their responsibilities. If the public sector said we’re not going to provide it through the public sector anymore, we’re going to shift it to the voluntary sector organizations, and we’re going to give them some money to do it, then that’s something different. You see some of that transfer in the U.S. [from the public sector to the voluntary sector], particularly with things like public parks and recreation. And it has had the effect of engaging a lot of community members in a kind of co-production activity and mobilizing community members in volunteering and donating money. And I think that it can work sometimes.

I think that the drawback in volunteering is there are also differences in class and education. Also, different communities and different service categories are more likely to have volunteers than others. Over the years I’ve done quite a bit on substance abuse and treatment services, which historically in the United States get very little philanthropy. It’s very difficult to generate donations and they get very few volunteers. Some of the services for the chronically mentally ill also have difficulty generating philanthropic dollars. So in those cases for the public sector to say we’re not going to provide these services, we’re going to depend on volunteers, even with some public funding, seems like an abdication of responsibility because you know they are going to have great difficulty generating philanthropy.

Q: Do you think there are weaknesses in the field of political science that need strengthening? And how do you think APSA could help with this right now?

A: Well, political science is a very diverse field. You have people with very different approaches to the study of political science; they have very different substantive interests. Some are interested in theory, some are interested in comparative politics, some in international relations or in citizenship. Political science as an association has responded by saying, well, we’re an association that any political scientist can join but we have subfields that people with similar interests can join. I think in many ways it reflects the dynamics of any large membership association as it evolves and changes. But the challenge of course, and I think that this is something that the APSA faces today, is to say what the relationship between these subfields is to the larger association.

I think that academic associations are facing many of the same challenges that are affecting other institutions in society. There’s a disaggregating impulse going on. Academic associations used to have to join academic associations because you needed the journal and you had to go to the conference. But now you can get the journal online. So now people individually become more powerful in terms of the kind of information they have access to and have control over. It’s changed the role of academic associations.

I think political science is facing more questions about the value of political science, such as how do you become a better person by studying political science in a university, or do you become a better citizen if you study political science? And then it’s a question about the value of political science research, which I think we’re delving into in the United States. APSA is a part of that conversation. A lot of political scientists study elections, and you can kind of see where that might have some important impact in terms of promoting transparency and good elections, and less corruption and fairness and things like that. But I think for some things in political science it’s a little more complicated to see what the point is. I think that’s going to be a big challenge for us, to communicate the value of political science.

A New Idea of War, And I Like It

By Saskia Kok, on 21 January 2014

By Francisca Stewart

Emile SimpsonEmile Simpson, a genuine war veteran with 3 tours in Southern Afghanistan under his belt, stands before us at University College London waiting for his introductions to conclude. He launches enthusiastically into a 40-minute talk on his conception of contemporary war. His parents are both Cambridge academics and he attended Oxford University before deciding to join the British Army. His choice to join the British Army was fueled by his interest in history and his fondness for adventure. During his time in the military, he first was a platoon commander, then a military intelligence officer, and finally worked in the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). From his experiences he authored a book, War From the Ground Up: 21st Century Combat as Politics, which offers a theory on war today, as well as a possible solution for the future of wars. Now retired from the army, Simpson is completing a PhD in International Law at King’s College.

His talk on military strategy and theory is laced with personal accounts. He comes across as as quite business like as well as serious when talking about what he saw first hand, getting quickly to the important matters at hand and the underlying issues. He also has moments where he breaks away from the script and recounts funny and light-hearted moments of his time in Afghanistan. Simpson discusses the traditional understanding of war as being binary, ending with a victor and a loser, and where political and military activities do not mix. According to Simpson, the problem with the Afghanistan war is that it does not fit into this traditional model, as we have formerly understood it to be. It is a war with no clear-cut goals and no obvious end in sight. There are many open-ended questions such as who the enemy is in any given situation and what winning the war would actually look like. To these questions, there appears to be no apparent answers. Adding to this, the United States’ perceived poor choice to coin the war in Afghanistan “the war on terror” has made it that much more ambiguous.

Simpson describes the ongoing conflict as kaleidoscopic and fragmented as opposed to polarized with a “them” and an “us”, since the war is not just about a straightforward two-sided battle. Every action taken has a political consequence attached to it. Plans are created with political considerations in mind, and because of this there are violent as well as non-violent acts of persuasion taking place. Simpson did point out that there was a marked improvement from his first tour in 2007 to his last tour in 2011 as far as better targeting the genuine enemy. But the drawn out war has shown that we must recondition our expectations of the traditional formulation of war, because at this point there will be no clear cut victory and defeat.

During the talk, one student asked him if he feels the British army’s presence in Afghanistan was at this point still beneficial. While he didn’t say 100% one way or the other, he did admit that the democracy that had been promised to the Afghans had not been delivered, indicating the British army was not benefitting the Afghan population. Simpson concludes his talk with his take on modern war, claiming that while he believes that the traditional paradigm of war still exists, there is now a trend toward armed politics and strategic narratives. These narratives give meaning to actions taken by connecting the actions to important policies, which in the Afghanistan war have focused mainly on women’s rights, democracy, and the eradication of drugs.

In all, Simpson argues that a clear policy aim must be provided from the start as well as identifying the perceived enemy. He also believes in the idea of persuasion through “winning the enemies’ hearts and minds,” as this will positively change the atmosphere when trying to negotiate and solve problems. Simpson’s conclusions are thoughtful and logical and could potentially save a lot of wasteful time and effort in the future if they are actually applied. Whether this will happen in our increasingly bureaucratic societies remains to be seen, but it would do a world of good for the excruciatingly long and drawn out Afghanistan war. In the meantime, I will not be holding my breath.

IPPR Careers Event: Think Tanks and International Organisations

By Olivia Robinson, on 4 January 2014

By Francisca Stewart

At IPPR’s December Careers Event, three professionals working at think tanks and an international organization gave students a look into what qualities were regarded highly in the application process, what it would be like work in this field, and how these organizations are making an impact on policy and change.

The first speaker was Christiane Andersen, who currently works at the European Council on Foreign Relations as the programme officer of the Asia Programme.  In 2012 she received her M. Sc. in International Public Policy at UCL.  Christiane stressed the importance of transferable skills such as communication skills, specifically having the ability to write various types of texts that are engaging.  She also brought up that knowing multiple languages would be very helpful.  In addition, she emphasized that feeling at home in the world of economics would be useful, as well as brushing up on basic office skills like how to use PowerPoint and create a spreadsheet.  A few more interesting points she made were that most people do not stay at a think tank for more than about five years, and because of this it is necessary to make connections while there, because this may lead to another job down the line.

Next up was Matt Honeyman, a research assistant at the King’s Fund, an independent charitable organization working on improvements in UK healthcare.  He was previously a research intern at the Constitution Unit.  Matt provided a lot of detail on what it was like to be a research assistant and also gave information on the King’s Fund.  He noted that he spent a lot of time spent sifting through data, but also spent time writing literature reviews, doing qualitative data programming, and attending relevant conferences.  He was passionate about the health care field, and this enthusiasm seemed to be what made the work worth it, especially when he got to see results of the project.  He mentioned that there were intermittently staff development seminars held by the senior staff members for those that were newer like him.  A valuable tip he offered was to contact individuals working in fields of personal relevance and request to work with them for a day in order to gain experience and perhaps an important networking connection.

Kerry Stares was the last speaker of the event.  She had recently completed her MA in Human Rights.  However, before deciding to work in the advocacy sector, Kerry had been a city lawyer who had sued hedge funds on behalf of banks.  She decided to switch career as she was no longer happy with the work that she was doing.  She began her new job as the private sector advocacy adviser for ActionAid about six weeks ago, an international organization working to promote human rights and bring an end to poverty.  Because she is so new to the position, she was not able to provide a lot of information on what her job entails on a day-to-day basis.  However, she did explain that the overarching aim of her job was to direct advocacy to the private sector and foster accountability within private companies.  This role is  a fairly new one because the private sector’s increasing influence politically is still a novel matter.  There is still plenty of discussion and debate on how much or how little non-governmental organizations should become involved with the private sector.

The best part of Kerry’s talk was her 5 tips.  First, she believes it is most valuable to make sure the modules one chooses are pertinent to what one wants to pursue after graduating.  Second, make sure the CV is done well and done right.  Find someone who works in this field who is willing to look at it, if possible.  Third, make the most of Twitter.  Follow all significant organizations and staff, and tweet anything that could stand out to them, such as a public policy article you have written.  Fourth, network, network, network!  She bought coffee for anyone and everyone in the field in order to shamelessly pick their brain and get advice.  There was not one set way that any of the speakers attained their current jobs.  However, Christiane also highlighted the significance of networking as a way of either getting a job or making connections for a future switch in jobs.  It was obvious that personal connections they had made by linking up with people in their fields helped them get where they are today.  Fifth, if necessary, work for free and fill up any holes in your CV.  No experience campaigning?  Go out and find a place where you can pick this knowledge up.  Make sure to be proactive and not just reactive.

All three speakers made it clear that one should not follow this career path if wanting to earn a very high salary.  None of the three speakers seemed to have a clear cut set of tasks that they did on a daily basis.  Instead, their jobs seemed to include a bit of everything from research, analysis, and outreach.  Therefore, it seems vital that someone wishing to go into this field does have a broad background of experiences so that they are more likely to be well suited and prepared for a job at a think tank or international organization.  The three speakers all had one thing in common: they all believed that the work that think tanks and international organizations did by way of generating and processing ideas, inserting advocacy into governments, and bringing a public aspect to politics, had a positive impact on governments.