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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This week, my friend Doug Irvin-Erickson is off in Norway for a conference on genocide prevention, so I get to teach his class on the nature of conflict. Since he actually covered much of that topic the first session, I decided to cast a very broad net to set the analytical and political agenda for the course—and for the rest of the students’ lives.
This week begins a new school year in which I’ll be playing a small part in teaching an introductory course on conflict in our world at George Mason University. I’m not the lead instructor, and I’ll mostly be listening and learning, looking for material to use in the textbook I’m writing with Doug Irvin-Erickson, who is the actual instructor. Still, I can’t NOT worry about the challenges and responsibilities that come with teaching about peace and conflict studies now that we are almost two years into the Trump administration. Some of the questions I ask are the same ones that have been around since I was on the other side of the professorial desk in the 1960s. Some of them are new.
For the book Doug Irvin-Erickson and I are writing, I was looking for an example of a state of the art peacebuilding project we could build a chapter around. It didn't take us long to settle on a decade-long project that John Paul Lederach helped lead for the McConnell Foundation in Nepal.
What have I learned from years in the classroom? And as a public policy advocate? And as a peacebuilder? The answer runs counter to almost everything I was taught along the way. It has less to do with the quality of the argument I make and more to do with the relationships I build.
Hans Rosling's work using data and props from IKEA got me to rethink one of the core concepts in comparative politics which has implications for peacebuilding, too.
Leadership and Disruption I’ve been thinking even more about leadership than I usually do. And I’ve always done it a lot given the fact that I started out as a political scientist. It’s been on the top of mind since the 2016 election, but it has become even more important to me in the last weeks for four new reasons. First, I read Nik Gowing and Chris Langdon’s new book, Think the Unthinkable, whose red cover depicting blindfolded leaders seemingly aimlessly wandering around. Second, my friend Fred Krawchuk has spurred to think about the related field of design thinking. Third, AfP’s CEO, Melanie Greenberg, took a new job and we have to think about the kind of leader we would like to replace her. Finally, my colleagues at AfP did an intriguing report on using adaptive management in concrete peacebuilding programs which touched upon leadership issues especially as raised by thought leaders like Ron Heifetz and Lant Pritchett. After decades of reading about leadership, occasionally practicing it (not always all that well) myself, and taking these recent nudges into account, I ended up focusing on four leadership traits. None will be all that surprising to people who have read the literature on organizational behavior over the last thirty years. All, however, are practices that are in short supply these days because our leaders have not done all that good a job of fostering organizational cultures based on them. All apply, too, to the challenges of the last few [...]