By Harrison W. Brooks
The Department of State and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs launched the Learning Agenda, an effort to institutionalize evidence-based learning and use data to enhance U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance, June 30. The Learning Agenda closely aligns with the four-year Department and USAID Joint Strategic Plan and poses eight policy-relevant learning questions that cover the range of the Department’s activities—from the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ citizen services to multilateral diplomacy, and from questions on how best to counter disinformation to questions of how to conduct climate diplomacy. A recording of the launch—which drew nearly 500 viewers from the U.S. government, think tanks, industry, and academia—can be accessed online.
Ambassador Victoria Nuland, under secretary for political affairs, delivered keynote remarks emphasizing the importance of data in making evidence-based policy decisions. She described lessons from the Balkans in the 1990s, Afghanistan and Iraq in the 2000s, and Kenya in 2012-2013.
Dr. Dafna Rand, director of the Office of Foreign Assistance, moderated a panel during the event, on the opportunities and challenges of using evidence to evaluate the effectiveness of U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance.
Retired-Ambassador Barbara Bodine, director and distinguished professor in the Practice of Diplomacy of the Georgetown Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, said data should complement—not replace—qualitative diplomatic experience. Director of the Bureau of Budget and Planning and the Department’s Performance Improvement Officer Doug Pitkin tied the Learning Agenda to the Secretary’s Modernization Agenda, noting that building capacity and expertise to address critical missions will “shift our decision culture towards decisive leadership and agility rather than risk avoidance.”
Harrison Brooks is a consultant in the Office of Foreign Assistance.