David T. Ellwood, Dean of Harvard Kennedy School, on Public Policy Education

02/11/2011 06:24 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In a wide-ranging interview with David T. Ellwood, Dean of Harvard Kennedy School and Professor of Political Economy, we discussed the past, present and future of public policy education at the institution and broader issues of leadership and international affairs. Dr. Ellwood has served as Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government since July 1, 2004. As Dean, he sets the strategic direction of the Kennedy School and leads its efforts to advance the public interest.

Below is an excerpt of the transcript, while the full interview can be found here.

Rahim Kanani: What have been some of the major milestones of Harvard Kennedy School over the last decade?

Dean Ellwood: I want to emphasize that the Kennedy School's mission really is to make the world a better place. We seek to train outstanding public leaders and provide the ideas that help solve critical public problems. That doesn't mean just public sector leaders or public sector problems -- we seek to educate people across all sectors who advance the public interest.

One of the most remarkable things that has happened in recent years has been the internationalization of the Kennedy School -- in terms of its mission, its students, alumni, and research. Roughly 45 percent of our degree program students and almost 50 percent of our executive education students are international, representing some 120 countries.

The School has also formed important partnerships with institutions and governments in some very critical countries and regions. For example, we are engaged in a number of collaborative programs with China where we have major executive education programming and a close involvement with Tsinghua University. Similarly, the Kennedy School has also been quite involved with Singapore; both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore are graduates of the Kennedy School. We have a close connection with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and were instrumental in its founding and early development. There are many examples of these kinds of relationships involving the Kennedy School -- from Mexico to Dubai.

We are also very proud of the fact that some of our most prominent graduates now serve as heads of state in Colombia, Liberia, Mexico, and Mongolia, and as Secretary General of the United Nations. Our impact as an institution now reaches across the world.

A second major milestone over the past decade is the evolution of cross-sectoral thought and action relative to the solution of public problems. This is of critical importance because so many of the interesting problems facing citizens and governments -- from health care to financial regulation to making democracies work -- cross boundaries, not only across geographic and political boundaries, but also across sectors - business, government and civil society. This phenomenon also manifests itself in the ways in which the Kennedy School collaborates with the law school, the business school and other institutions within Harvard. One of the reasons I'm so fond of our joint degree program with Harvard Business School is because it responds to the fact that governments and business must work together to solve many public problems in today's world. As a result, all of us in both institutions are learning to think and to act in new and different ways.

There are several other milestones worth mentioning. One is the greater emphasis in our curriculum on very specific substantive areas of study. For example, we now have a master's degree program devoted entirely to international development. Another is the expanding scope and impact of our executive education programs. We have learned that one of the most powerful ways to reach very senior people, real emerging public leaders, is through executive education. Many of them cannot devote a full year or two to study at Harvard, but they can be part of a program for two or four really intensive weeks. One great example is a program we run for young global leaders, supported by one of our distinguished alumni Klaus Schwab, who founded the World Economic Forum. Outstanding leaders under the age of 40 are selected from across the globe and come to the Kennedy School for an intensive eight to ten day program focusing on leadership. These are people from business, government, and civil society, some of whom are very senior leaders, and many of whom have called this a transformative experience in their lives.

And lastly, I want to mention the continuing innovation in important areas of scholarship going on at the Kennedy School. You see some of that taking place at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, the Center for International Development, and elsewhere across the School. Examples include a new decision science laboratory, the growth development lab at CID, our cutting edge work in areas of energy and environmental policy, and the exciting research on international security and the securing of nuclear material taking place in the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Another example is our Acting in Time Initiative, which examines the ways in which citizens and governments can overcome roadblocks and inertia in order to respond to policy challenges before they reach the crisis stage. So our footprint is expanding in the world as we make a larger impact on the development of policy in the U.S. and abroad.

Rahim Kanani: How does Harvard Kennedy School bridge its research to practice?

Dean Ellwood: One of the greatest challenges for every professional school is balancing the desire for careful, rigorous, scholarly work with the world of practice. The Kennedy School has many scholars who work on critical public policy programs as well as practitioners that are remarkably effective at drawing out larger intellectual insights. Moreover, the Kennedy School has twelve research centers and these centers are the place where our scholarship has direct engagement with the real world. Part of our mission is to come up with the ideas that solve the world's most pressing public problems. The research centers can convene people, create critical mass, and find ways to connect leaders in Washington or capitals around the globe with the world of research and ideas.

Our executive education programs also seek to bridge the worlds of scholarship and practice. These programs often enroll very senior officials and expose them to the latest research and thinking around the issues that confront them as public servants. An example would be the executive education program we've developed and tailored for senior officials in India.

And we've been investing heavily in new pedagogical techniques to help people learn more effectively. We want to be sure our students can go beyond solving problem sets, and actually learn to solve real problems and to integrate ideas. That requires more field work, new teaching methods, and closer linkages to practice...more.

The full interview can be found here.