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Incentivizing Discourse: Bringing Scholars and Policy Makers to the Table

Incentives direct behavior because people act in response to them. Successful systems provide incentives that direct people to act so as to bring about the desired outcomes of the systems’ creators and implementors. Systems sometimes break down because of an internal misalignment of incentives. Other times, breakdowns or other undesirable results happen when two interacting systems have internal incentives inconsistent with the desired nature of the external interaction between the two.

The relationship between the scholarly world and the policy world has a problem of the latter variety. The academy incentivizes scholars to publish and publish often, job security and advancement depending upon publication. These bright minds produce volumes of material that are themselves voluminous, but, beyond satisfying publication editors, they have little incentive to ground their work in any semblance of reality. Meanwhile, policy makers (legislators and their advisors) need the latest and best scholarship, but the growth of government has put them in a position in which they have very little time to peruse the wide array of scholarly journals and publications. When they believe that the bulk of  the material is not helpful to the high-pressure, results-oriented world of legislation, they may be even less likely to seek out this information. In short, both groups need to channel Siddhartha Gautama and leave their pleasure palaces and come in contact with the nitty gritty of the real world. Aside from the possibility of communitarian nirvana, however, they have little incentive to do so.

Professor Michael Vandenbergh identified the environment as an area in particular need of functioning interaction between academics and policy makers and sought to create a new set of incentives that would bridge the described gap between the two. The result is the Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review (ELPAR), a once-a-year publication that republishes condensed versions of the best articles in environmental law and policy, along with short, responsive commentaries from governmental, industry, legal, and academic voices. By providing a prestigious venue for (re)publication and the knowledge that policy makers will read their work, ELPAR incetivizes scholars to produce realistic, implementable policy proposals for and solutions to current environmental issues. In addition to a publication, ELPAR brings the two groups face-to-face with annual conferences on Capitol Hill. See here (2010 conference schedule); see also here (discussing ELPAR’s new Nashville conference, held for the first time this spring).

The 2010 Washington, D.C. conference is this Friday, April 16. Details are available here.

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