In anticipation of the 2019 Fall Research Conference in Denver, Colorado, APPAM interviewed President-Elect Maria Cancian on the role that diversity, in its many forms, plays in research and will play at the conference. Cancian details the origins of the conference's 'engaging diverse perspectives' theme, the unique definition of diversity at #2019APPAM, how and why her understanding of diversity has changed in the last year, and her vision for the conference's impact on the research community.
1. Tell us more about what Rising to the Challenge: Engaging Diverse Perspectives on Issues and Evidence means in terms of the goals for the APPAM 2019 Fall Research Conference. What were the life events and reflections that led you to that theme?
A host of factors make it particularly important for APPAM to provide a context for our members to engage with a range of perspectives. As our field grows, and much of our research becomes more specialized, the APPAM meetings need to balance opportunities for each of us to engage with others in our subfields, with opportunities to share our work more broadly, and exchange ideas with colleagues with different perspectives. I also feel that partisanship and divisiveness can undermine the impact of research and analysis. The APPAM meetings can be a place to think about how we talk to broader audiences and engage across divides to discuss important issues and evidence.
2. Can you share more about how and why “diverse” is defined as it is for #2019APPAM?
We are focused on a diversity of ideas and experience that may inform our perspective. This is not limited to, but includes, differences in perspective informed by discipline, methodology, ideology, experience as an academic, policymaker or practitioner, or personal identity—whether related to gender, gender identity, race and ethnicity, generation, or other factors.
3. How has your own understanding of diversity and the future of public policy as a field of study been impacted by observations you’ve made in transitioning between government and academia, and most recently, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison to Georgetown?
Moving from one setting to another—whether between academia and government, or across academic institutions or agencies—helped me appreciate how institutional structure and culture inform our understanding of the issues, of the questions that are worth asking, and sometimes even our answers to those questions. My time in government also highlighted the importance of policy implementation, and the critical role of public servants—many of them graduates of our policy programs—in shaping policy and practice. This underscores the importance of training a diverse set of future leaders who can build and use evidence from many sources and work across differences in developing solutions.
4. What advice would you offer #2019APPAM presenters hoping to optimize their work for relevancy to the conference’s theme?
Not just for this conference, or this theme, but more generally, I think we benefit from trying to take the perspective of our audience, and asking who we expect will be at the session, what we assume they already know, and what we assume they are interested in learning. Then, I think it is helpful to question our own assumptions. Who else might be there, or should be there? What can we do to make our session, or our paper, more interesting to someone interested in a different policy area, or using a different methodology? As I said, we need to find a balance. One thing that the APPAM meetings do is give us a chance to get together with the other top experts in our subfield and share, and improve, our latest research. But, another thing we should provide is a chance to share beyond that narrow group, and to engage other perspectives.
5. How do you hope #2019APPAM will impact dialogues, partnerships, and research strategies in ways that conferences before it haven’t?
I hope #2019APPAM builds on the strengths of past meetings. For example, I have attended some great APPAM sessions that have brought together academics and practitioners, different types of social scientists, young rising stars and old hands, and people with very different perspectives on the role of government. Often the best discussions come, not when everyone in the room agrees, but when presenters and members of the audience begin the discussion with different views of the issues or evidence. In the best sessions, I may change my view of the issue, or at least come away with a better understanding of the differences in perspective, or the weight put on different pieces of evidence, that accounts for the disagreement. I hope APPAM 2019 will provide a wealth of opportunities for a good—that is, cordial, substantive and productive -- argument!
Maria Cancian is President-Elect of APPAM and Dean of the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University. To learn more about her, visit her Georgetown bio.
#2019APPAM - our 41st Annual Fall Research Conference - will be presented at The Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel November 7 - 9, 2019. To learn about the conference, including community building, preconference and sponsorship opportunities, visit our #2019APPAM website.