Conflicts and Confluences of Interest

I occasionally engage in consulting and advisory relationships with organizations outside Harvard University. I receive monetary compensation for some of those. I also sometimes receive fees and honoraria for speaking engagements and for writing articles and reports. Such relationships pose a potential conflict of interest.

Why engage in such relationships? There are three main reasons.

First, as someone who seeks to understand the worlds of democratic reform and public policy, it is important to see things from the perspective of practitioners which is very different from the perspective of scholars. Working closely with practitioners is one way — the best way I know of — to gain that understanding.

Second, I got into this business not just to study the world, but to make it a better place. Therefore, I try to make my scholarship relevant to the challenges that practitioners face and I try to present some of that work in forms that are useful to such audiences. Relationships with practitioners of different kinds helps me to increase the relevance of my scholarship and communicate it to various worlds of practice.

Third, I think that some organizations are doing important work to improve the quality of democracy and transparency in America and abroad. I sometimes support such organizations by providing advice and working on projects with them.

My work is of value to scholars and practitioners when it is fair minded, unbiased, and critical even of those whose work I support. As a scholar, my job is not to cheer-lead, but to offer constructive and critical insight. That is what I try to do. It should go without saying, but I am never paid to advocate any specific position. I do research, and then I make up my own mind.

So, efforts to be engaged and to be independent can conflict. For those who work in the worlds of policy and social change, that tension is fundamental.

I believe that I should disclose my relationships with various organizations for two reasons. First, those who read my work should be aware of these relationships and potential conflicts of interest. Second, public disclosure creates an occasion for me to reflect tensions between engagement and independence and to de-bias myself.

Here is a list of those organizations and my relationship to each of them: