Welcome to my blog! Every week, I will post at least one article on something involving wicked problems either in peacebuilding or comparative politics. I define those fields very broadly, so you’ll probably be surprised by some of the topics I end up covering.
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Shared Mobility Principles During the course of my career, I’ve met and worked with some amazing people. None of them holds a candle to Robin Chase. I use the term force of nature in describing her to other people. If anything, that’s an understatement. She cofounded ZipCar and Veniam, has been on the boards of a number of environmental organizations, and gives some of the most inspirational talks I've ever heard. Now, she has combined a lot of those interests involving cities, transportation, the environment, and socioeconomic equality. You can get a glimpse of what Robin's all about in general by thinking about the statement from her that accompanies the photo to the right. A few weeks ago, Robin and her colleagues introduced a movement around what they call Shared Mobility Principles. Building off of her work on using technology platforms as jumping off point for building large scale social change, Robin has put together a formidable coalition of partners who have committed themselves to ten principles for developing transportation systems in the cities of the future. We will have to do so, because the promise of driverless cars, new residency patterns, shared work, and more will force us to redesign urban areas not just in the United States but around the world. Rather than listing all ten of them which, of course, you can read with just one mouse click here, let me focus on the ones that are most germane for my work. Prioritizing people over [...]
Rethinking Power It’s about time for us to rethink what power means. I’ve felt that way for some time especially when I’ve had to think about the ways in which my work as a peacebuilder and as a political scientist do not mesh. It took reading Dacher Keltner’s The Power Paradox to have the pieces begin to fall into place. Keltner is a social psychologist who understands the traditional definition of power we political scientists have used at least since the time of Machiavelli. As Robert Dahl put it in the 1950s: A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do. In other words, power implies at least the threat of force. That force need not be violent. It could be economic or psychological, but if I’m B, why would I do what you (A) want me to do otherwise? Keltner understands that the world has changed to the point that the social center have gravity has shifted toward networks in what professors at the Army War College started calling a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world in the late 1990s. In that kind of a world, the kind of power Machiavelli and Dahl (and most political experts in between) talk about tends to be counterproductive in the long run. Because everything I do affects you and vice versa, what I do “today” comes back and affects me “tomorrow.” What goes around literally [...]
Venture Peacebuilding Last week, I attended the first of what I hope will be plenty of conferences on Venture Peacebuilding. It’s a topic I’ve been interested in since I first joined the Beyond War movement in the 1980s and started working with business executives whose commitment to peace grew out of their work in the corporate sector. In the thirty years since then, interest in the link between business and peace has grown in three main ways, each of which was discussed at the conference. First, for the most part, leaders in the field have gone beyond viewing the link through the lens of corporate social responsibility. To be sure, most major companies have a charitable wing that supports non-profits in dozens of areas, not just peacebuilding. However, the key here is that some companies see working for peace (or other social justice causes) as critical to their bottom line. Although we didn’t spend much time on this subject, we did get to see how the Away luggage company is increasingly integrating its own work with Peace Direct’s support for local peacebuilders. Second, we spent a lot more time on the ways peacebuilders and entrepreneurs can create companies that have peace in their corporate DNA. We learned about some fairly flashy initiatives in Africa, but spent more of our time exploring how the University of Waterloo (Canada) and San Diego, among others, have created incubators to jump start precisely those kinds of initiatives. In particular, I was lucky [...]
Peacebuilding and Democracy Until last Thursday afternoon, I was planning to write about what comparative politics research can do to help peacebuilders. Then, I ran into my friend Jim Pfiffner of George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government. Jim is a scholar of the presidency who has written books on judging the character of our chief executive--among many other things. Jim is also one of the most thoughtful people I know. And since we hadn't seen each other in ages and since we are both political scientists, our discussion immediately turned to the Trump presidency--even before we mentioned our grandkids. I had just finished reviewing Steven Levitsky and Danie Ziblatt's How Democracies Die. As we discussed their concerns as well as those of other analysts whose work we've read, I realized that I to flip the focus of my blog post away from what comparative politics researchers can tell peacebuilders to the insights we peacebuilders have that could lessen the threats to democracy here and elsewhere. I don't remember which exact issues Jim and I talked about in the ten minutes before his sandwich got toasted, but I suspect I mentioned at least some of these common principles we peacebuilders focus on: Don't demonize the people you disagree with. Treat them with dignity and respect. Then disagree. Do things that enhance trust between you and the people you disagree with. Try to reframe the issues so that you and your opponent can begin to see the [...]
A Map of American Peacebuilding For the last few years, my colleagues at the Alliance for Peacebuilding and I have increasingly paid attention to peacebuilding challenges here in the United States. We are pleased to announce a first step in doing something about dangers we face at home with the publication of the first iteration of a map of American peacebuilding that we did under the leadership of Bridget Moix of Peace Direct. The map and its underlying data can be found on Peace Direct’s Insights on Peace web site. This was a huge step for AfP and Peace Direact. Initially, AfP was a coalition of U.S. based peacebuilding NGOs that worked abroad. Peace Direct has done remarkable work mapping and convening peacebuilders in the Global South. In the light of all the turmoil and tension in the United States and Europe in the last few years, we both realized that we could not focus only on events in the Global South. If nothing else, how can we claim to help people in Burundi or Bangladesh or Bolivia build peace there if we can’t do the same in Baltimore or Boston or Butte. We know it is incomplete. Our research team (including my wife, more on her in the next paragraph) drew on a data base of American non-profits and used the categories Peace Direct uses in other countries to identify American peacebuilders. After assembling a list of nearly a thousand organizations we began reaching out to those [...]
Are We Family? I recently read AJ Jacobs’ It’s All Relative and reviewed it on my web site. It made me think a lot (as well as laugh a lot), so I thought I would spend this week’s blog post reflecting on what I take to be his implications for the work I do as a peacebuilder and a student of comparative politics. The book traces the way Jacobs used his global family reunion and its meme, “I am a cousin,” to help people see that we are all connected and, indeed, (distantly) related. Jacobs is a writer, not an activist. So, it is hardly surprising that he didn’t take some of the implications of “we are family” in the same directions I would. I think there are at least four of them that we should pay attention to whether "we" are peacebuilders or students of comparative politics. Narrative not science. Plenty of people have made the same point about our interconnectedness. In fact, one of my friends sent me an email after reading my review questioning some of the scientific bases for Jacobs’ work. Jacobs’ genius, however, comes in the fact that he found a way to bring the science down to earth. That’s something my colleagues don’t always do all that well—especially those of us with academic backgrounds. At AfP, we’re currently working on new narratives that would connect with people who don’t do peacebuilding for a living and don’t speak our language. Make it [...]