31st January 2012: Public Policy Stars

From an email to Harvard’s Stephen M. Walt in reply to a blog post on public policy stars:


1.     Scholars like Anthony Giddens, John Lewis Gaddis and Clayton M. Christensen had a research program with attention to research design/methods. Gaddis’s 1968 PhD, Strategies of Containment (1982) and We Now Know (1997) were hallmarks of Cold War strategy, historical methods, and multi-archival research. Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma (1997) based on his PhD was more robust than other dotcom era theories on market change. All of these authors could transition their research program into commercial publishing which then had an impact on broader audiences. Publisher selection was important — such as in the HarperBusiness’  branding of Jim Collins’ management work. Paul Krugman, Robert Putnam, Joseph Stiglitz, Charles Perrow and Herbert Simon also fit this mould. Robert K. Merton, Aaron Wildavsky, James March and Anthony Downs continue to have an impact in emerging sub-fields such as strategic foresight and sustainability.

2.       Each of the scholars mentioned above had a supportive Faculty. This created a ‘success to the successful’ dynamic which means we remember the contribution of these scholars over others. It meant they could combine  basic research in academia, and more applied research in consulting,  publishing, and spin-out ventures. For instance, Gaddis is well-known for  Yale’s grand strategy program, whilst Christensen has the consulting firm  Innosight and a network of collaborative co-authors on recent books.

3.       Media involvement (Krugman and Stiglitz in ‘quality’ media  outlets); collaborative research projects (Gaddis and the Cold War  International History Project); and event-based serendipity (the Cold War’s  end and Francis Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ thesis) can all act as  amplifiers of their ideas.