01> What is New Vision?
New Vision is a new research institute that seeks to chart the next generation of progressive public policy. Started by a group of Harvard doctoral students, New Vision will create a hub of innovative thinking to modernize antiquated social policies and counter prevailing anti-government rhetoric. We aim to offer a forward-looking agenda that will create opportunities, protect freedoms, and provide security in health, housing, income, and retirement.
02> Why a new organization?
Amongst existing think tanks committed to a governmental role in empowering people, too few effectively fulfill an agenda-setting function. We arrived at our decision to build a new organization only after reviewing the prominent think tanks across the political spectrum. Our survey of the landscape, which included valuable interviews with many researchers and former policymakers, confirmed that a number of organizations skillfully pursue many of the goals we share. Nevertheless, among organizations committed to a governmental role in empowering people, we found a relative shortage of think tanks effectively fulfilling an affirmative and agenda-setting function, framing debates rather than simply reacting to conservative agendas.
Progressives need to better bridge the academic and policy communities in order to capitalize on available energy and expertise. Conservatives have focused for decades on institution-building, generating strong bonds between conservative academics and intellectuals and conservative politicians and policy-makers. The time has come for progressives to generate a similarly strong bridge between these two worlds in order to reap the benefits, and New Vision aims to be part of the construction of this bridge. In particular, New Vision aims to build career paths for young rising stars, linking the university and the policy communities for the next generation.
Washington needs fresh voices providing big ideas that reframe old political debates and energize new ones. We believe the current debate suffers from a dearth of new frameworks for understanding a broad range of emerging and/or changing domestic policy issues, and we aim to provide this injection of fresh thinking in order to adapt progressive values to address future challenges. The Right has won the war of ideas over the last generation, and New Vision aims to offer a new set of ideas that will help those with egalitarian values prevail over the next generation. We believe our combination of youthful energy and creativity, political savvy, and empirical training uniquely positions us to fill a badly-needed gap in the current policy landscape.
New Vision will provide politically-relevant products without sacrificing empirical rigor. Groups that have been most successful in playing an agenda-setting role in politics are perceived by some as privileging political expediency over empirical evidence. Other groups have sought to retain some distance from politics in order to retain legitimacy and credibility. New Vision seeks to achieve relevance without compromising rigor. We are scholars at some of the nation’s best universities and are committed to the highest standards of academic rigor, but we ultimately plan to locate in Washington and involve ourselves intimately in policy debates. We expect our academic origins and networks to keep our perspectives innovative, consistently infusing the political debates in Washington with fresh thinking.
03> Who comprises New Vision?
We are currently a team of approximately 20 doctoral students and professors in public policy, political science, sociology and economics at Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, and the University of California. Some of us have worked in Washington, D.C. think tanks, or as political staffers, advocates, or policy analysts before coming to graduate school. We intend to expand to young scholars at other top universities by the end of 2005. In the long term, we envision a national network of scholars, with some affiliates working full-time at an institute in Washington, and others contributing from within academia. We anticipate contributions to the next generation of progressive policy as coming from both emerging and established talent.
Early networking with researchers and former policymakers culminated in the creation of a small and highly-distinguished Board of Directors. Our current board includes Christopher Edley, the co-director of Harvard’s Civil Right Project and the Dean of Boalt Hall, the Law School at the University of California-Berkeley; Christopher Jencks, a Harvard sociologist and one of the most influential social scientists of the past quarter century; Elaine Kamarck, co-founder of the New Democrat movement and currently on faculty at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government; Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist and Nobel laureate Robert Solow; Eric Wanner, President of the Russell Sage Foundation, and William Julius Wilson, also a Harvard sociologist and a National Medal of Science winner. We are meeting actively with this group to plan fundraising and to expand the body into a broadly-based and diverse board.
New Vision will regularly convene ad-hoc cross-disciplinary, cross-generational working groups. We believe that many of America’s most complicated problems are most likely to be solved by teams rather than individuals. Each year, New Vision will identify several pressing areas in politics or policy needing rethinking, and assemble a team of cross-disciplinary scholars and political professionals to rigorously analyze the area and chart a new direction. We anticipate that these groups would be cross-generational, linking established scholars with newer voices. Our current working group is addressing an inter-related set of issues pertaining to higher education, with the goal of offering a set of empirically-grounded policy recommendations aimed at expanding opportunity to all Americans.
04> What Does New Vision Produce?
Policy briefs represent our most pragmatic attempts to articulate specific policy steps that could be taken to solve social problems. These policy briefs will often be tied in a timely fashion to on-going policy debates. They will make the case for why a given choice is preferable to alternatives, and will offer specific cost estimates for their proposals.
Vision briefs represent broader efforts to reshape the political debate. Much of the most influential work in shaping the policy agenda is done at this level; we will seek to develop the kind of broad frameworks that will shape more specific policy choices. For example, as our New Economy briefs suggest, seeing the politics of trade as less a choice between free trade and protectionism and more as a case of diffuse long-term benefits and concentrated short-term costs opens up a new set of policy alternatives.
Strategy briefs take on the task of thinking about how to create a political climate that is hospitable to progressive politics. Such briefs might analyze whether there are more efficacious ways for foundations to donate money to achieve progressive change, or examine the reasons for success or failure of efforts to get out the vote. In a time where those who share our values are mobilizing at all levels, we can play an important role by analyzing the efficacy of these efforts. We may also use these briefs to suggest new directions or language for political actors who share our values, or to suggest new institutional infrastructure that would advance the goals stated in our mission.