SIS Faculty and Students Collaborate on International Research Projects

SIS Faculty and Students Collaborate on International Research Projects

The Research on International Policy Implementation Lab (RIPIL) launched at SIS in August 2020. RIPIL is an affiliate of the Bridging the Gap (BtG) project, which promotes scholarly contributions to public debate and decision-making on global challenges and US foreign policy. Since its launch, SIS professor and RIPIL director Susanna Campbell has spearheaded five new research projects—funded by the US National Science Foundation, Humanity United, the Folke Bernadotte Academy (Swedish Peace Ministry), and the United Nations—and hired SIS PhD and MA students to work on each of these projects.

These projects focus on the changing nature of international humanitarian and development aid, networks of influence and support in international peacebuilding, and bureaucratic innovation in international organizations. They provide a unique opportunity for students to utilize and further develop their research skills while building a network of professional relationships.

Campbell explains that RIPIL helps to bridge the research and policy divide: “When studying international policy implementation—whether peacekeeping or international aid or other ways in which the US, the UN, or another government is trying to actually create change abroad—one learns a lot more by engaging with policymakers, practitioners, and recipients throughout the research process.”

RIPIL aims to create fruitful partnerships between researchers, policymakers, and practitioners throughout the research process and to engage students and scholars from diverse backgrounds and academic disciplines. The lab aims to produce high-quality basic research on pressing topics in international peace, security, development, and humanitarian response through partnerships with other researchers, policymakers, and practitioners. RIPIL focuses on producing research that contributes to academic scholarship and provides valuable and relevant analysis to policymakers and practitioners.

Building on Skills Learned in the Classroom

Campbell hired SIS students with both quantitative and qualitative analysis skills to join the RIPIL team and is always looking for innovative and collaborative ways to engage more students in RIPIL’s research: “Working on a research project really requires being a self-starter, being motivated, and being willing to raise any issues that come up. All of the students working at RIPIL have very impressive skill sets, both analytical and methodological, but also the ability to understand and advance the research process.”

Mashal Shabbir, an SIS PhD candidate, had already developed robust research skills through her PhD training but joined the RIPIL team as the research manager to develop additional skills, including administration and management within a policy context. As a research manager, Shabbir provides administrative support, tracks project budgets, and ensures continued progress on all of RIPIL’s research projects.

Shabbir also works to implement the RIPIL model, which involves creating partnerships among researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to identify important questions, conduct rigorous research on these questions, and engage policymakers and practitioners in thinking through the implications for their own work: “A process of co-creation of knowledge is at the heart of RIPIL’s work. We look at how we can bring practitioners and policymakers into the process to identify new avenues of research and present findings that can be applied to improve policymaking. RIPIL’s aim is to produce research that has real world relevance and impact.”

Shabbir oversees the administrative and management side of all of RIPIL’s projects and grants. Other SIS students work as research assistants on specific projects that focus on questions of performance, accountability, and power in the implementation of international peace, security, development, and humanitarian policy.

“What I primarily teach to SIS students is the research process,” says Campbell. “In a class, one can learn what the research process should be; but one only actually learns how to do research by being involved in it. So that’s my primary goal in involving SIS students in RIPIL’s work: I want them to learn the research process by doing research. This is how they can develop fluency in the research process and refine the skills that they initially learned in class.”

Forming New Relationships

SIS students involved in RIPIL’s projects analyze data, draft syntheses, and work as core members of the team, using their research skills and developing important relationships in the process. Campbell also aims to help them build relationships with policymakers and practitioners and understand their reality: “It’s a way that SIS students can both apply their research skills and gain crucial understanding of the policy implementation process that only comes from interactions with policymakers and practitioners. These relationships should also serve them in their careers going forward.”

Marie Fares (SIS/MA ’21) joined the RIPIL team as a research assistant while a student in the International Affairs Policy and Analysis (IAPA) program. She was introduced to Professor Campbell by one of her classmates and was excited to join the RIPIL team to hone her skills in monitoring and evaluation.

Fares primarily worked on the “Peacebuilding in Challenging Contexts” project, studying the UN Peacebuilding Fund’s support to Burundi during a time of increased uncertainty in the country and the COVID-19 pandemic. She gained valuable experience in mixed-method research design and evaluation, building relationships and skills that will help her as she pursues a career in monitoring and evaluation.

“It’s great to be able to work with somebody like Professor Campbell, who’s a teacher working in the academic world but has so many close ties to policy,” explains Fares. “It’s really great to be able to go from theory to actual practical issues, like how can you make a difference in the peacebuilding world by doing evaluation and looking at projects that were implemented all over the world.”

Making an Impact on International Policy

Mayra Cuevas (SIS/MA ’21) also worked at RIPIL as a research assistant while a student in the IAPA program. The experience working at RIPIL equipped Cuevas with more skills and a different perspective to consider policy issues within international aid and development, and she gained new expertise in transcribing and coding interviews while working on the UN Peacebuilding Fund project in Burundi and by mapping peacebuilding networks in Colombia for the RIPIL project on networks of influence and support in international peacebuilding.

Cuevas enjoyed working closely with Professor Campbell and learning more about the nuances of the research process: “I think it’s fantastic that SIS has a partnership with RIPIL. For me, the experience with RIPIL has definitely made my experience at SIS more memorable.”

“For me, the whole point of RIPIL is that if we sit in our academic silos and don’t talk to policymakers, practitioners, or the recipients of international policymaking, we’re not going to learn very much,” says Campbell. “It’s when you are actually given an inside view into how these organizations work—the challenges that practitioners and policymakers face, their incentives, and how recipients feel about the aid they’re receiving or about their participation in the aid industry—that you learn. It’s only when you actually talk to people and engage directly with them that you can learn how things truly work.”

For more information about RIPIL’s ongoing research, please visit their website.