Discover more from Statecraft
A newsletter about how policymakers actually get things done
Welcome to Statecraft! In this newsletter, we interview top appointees, civil servants, and policy entrepreneurs about how they managed to achieve a particular policy goal.
At Statecraft, we’re nerds for the procedural, the nitty-gritty. We won’t be lobbing softballs. Instead, we’ll push interviewees to explain exactly how the sausage gets made: How do successful government initiatives happen? Who did you have to win over to make them happen? And, just as importantly: What did you learn from failing? What would you have done differently?
We think these interviews can serve as roadmaps for readers trying to get big hairy things done in the public sector, and illuminate the inner workings of government for the policy-curious. We also think they’re tremendous stories.
We’ll be publishing a new interview every two weeks, and will be operating with support from the Institute for Progress and the Policy Entrepreneurs Network.
Here are some interviews you can look forward to:
How to remove weapons-grade uranium from post-Soviet states
How to save ~20 million lives through an AIDS program
How to salvage the Department of Veterans Affairs
How to acquire new technology for national security
How to fix a federal website
Why This Newsletter Exists
On both sides of the aisle, there’s been increased attention to the idea of state capacity, the government’s ability to do the things it sets out to do. There’s a shared sense that this ability has atrophied. The specific cases invoked vary, but they include the CDC’s slow response to COVID-19, housing shortages, multi-year backlogs for entry visas, the Obamacare website rollout, California’s failure to build high speed rail, and so on.
Liberals and conservatives disagree about the macro-level solutions to our lack of state capacity. Do we need more funding? Fewer regulations? We’ll interview folks of all ideological stripes, but we won’t be adjudicating those high-level debates. Instead, we’re after concrete lessons at the micro-level. In our view, these interviewees have lessons about getting stuff done that can help inform anyone trying to achieve results in the public sector. To build state capacity, we need to understand what that means to practitioners in their day-to-day.
The folks we’re interviewing are policy entrepreneurs: people who have worked on policy areas for a while and have built up implicit knowledge over time. They have the procedural and organizational chops to get stuff done in large, kludgy bureaucracies.
Often, their knowledge is contextual and hard to explain. How do I convince my agency to act? How do I work around the dreaded Paperwork Reduction Act? How do I establish a partnership with the private sector? Our goal with Statecraft is to make this insider knowledge explicit and public — demystifying how governance really works.
We expect there to be some similarities across interviews, like best practices for coalition-building, or who not to piss off. But government agencies are heterogeneous, and trying to improve USCIS looks different than trying to improve the DOE. Building state capacity isn’t about turning one dial in a particular direction: Each case study will tell us something novel.
An Ask For Readers
We’d love suggestions from readers about who we should interview, and what you’d like to hear them explain. If you have an idea, email email@example.com. We’re looking for interviewees who do some of the below:
Prioritized important but neglected problems.
Worked with the people tasked with implementing their solution (that is, they’re not just armchair generals).
Can reasonably claim ownership of a particular policy or its implementation.
Have important, relevant knowledge that hasn’t been publicized.
And lastly: Subscribe and tell your friends.
Santi Ruiz and Jake Leffew