Policy Task Forces

Policy Task Forces are the most distinctive feature of our undergraduate program. They address unfinished questions of public policy, often characterized by rapidly changing circumstances. Topics are selected for their timeliness, their suitability for research and task force deliberation, and their public importance. Task forces often blend domestic and international concerns, economic and legal analysis, scientific and political approaches, and ethical and institutional issues. The nature of the problem requires students to go beyond library research and interact with government officials and others actively engaged in the relevant issues. Task force members debate proposed recommendations as a group and combine information from their individual research, guest speakers, field visits, and group discussions to arrive at a set of recommendations on the policy problem.

For more detailed information, please access the SPIA Undergraduate Program Guide to Junior Independent Work.

Getting Started in Data Analysis: Topic Selection and Crafting of a Research Question - Independent research projects start with the selection of a topic and the crafting of a feasible research question. This video maps the initial steps to help...


Topics for Spring 2022 Include:

Wednesday, 7:30-10 PM Thomas O’Connell

What are the best approaches to embedding diversity, equity, and social justice into health policymaking in developing economies? While pro-equity policies are increasing, participation in their development and implementation rarely includes the marginalized, the vulnerable and the poor. COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of health systems, with inequities rapidly growing in the access and use of health services.

This task force will examine the issues of diversity and inclusiveness in health policy design and implementation. Through world case studies and discussions with invited guest speakers offering their unique perspectives on the development of health policies, students will identify challenges and learn of innovative strategies to achieve inclusiveness and diversity goals. Differences between standard and alternative policy-making approaches, such as postcolonial or feminist critiques, will be highlighted and explored.

Students will then roleplay as members of a multi-disciplinary team partnering with the World Health Organization. They will be able to choose a topic based on their own interests to identify ‘people-centered’ and inclusive strategies for improving women, child, and adolescents’ health in selected low- and middle-income countries. The joint task force policy report will then synthesize the individual junior papers, crafting a comprehensive set of policy recommendations. This joint report will be presented to a panel of international health and development experts from United Nations’ agencies at the end of semester.

By modelling the real-world process of policy-making recommendations, students will improve their knowledge and practical understanding of global health issues and hone their skills in negotiation, critical thinking, oral presentations, writing and research. They will gain a better appreciation of different viewpoints and of the consensus-building procedures needed to ensure more inclusiveness, diversity, equity, and social justice within health and development policies and programs.

Thomas O’Connell is a development economist and was most recently a Senior Health Advisor for the WHO Special Program on Primary Health Care (PHC). Over the past 23 years with WHO and UNICEF, he has worked with national authorities and partners in over 70 countries in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. His work and operational research focus on finding practical ways to strengthen health systems and overcome financial and non-financial barriers to accessing health services.

Monday, 1:30-4 PM Daniel Kurtzer

The task force will examine the attributes of leadership – vision, will, strengths, weaknesses, and the like – that contribute to the resolution, perpetuation, or deepening of protracted conflicts. We will study policymaking, the typology of protracted conflicts, and the attributes of leadership and followership. We will focus on examples of transformational leaders, those who impact most significantly their political environment, both positively and negatively. Students will prepare their JPs as a study of leadership in a protracted conflict, and will draw out lessons learned and unlearned, and policy implications.

Daniel Kurtzer is the S. Daniel Abraham Visiting Professor of Middle East Policy Studies in the School of Public and International Affairs. He was formerly U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and to Israel.

Tuesday, 7:30-10 PM Martin Flaherty

The People’s Republic of China [PRC], as overseen by the Chinese Communist Party, presents perhaps the greatest and most complex challenge to the realization of the rule of law and human rights. On one hand, no other society has realized many economic and social rights so quickly and on such a vast scale. Yet on the other, the PRC remains among the greatest and most persistent offenders of civil and political rights. Assaults on human rights and the rule of law have increased substantially under Xi Jinping. The current regime has revived numerous tactics of the Maoist era, including often brutal crackdowns on ethnic and religious minorities, as well as civil society groups such as lawyers, human rights advocates, and academics. Such assaults have occurred with special salience in areas such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong, with attendant implications for Taiwan. Beyond its own borders the PRC has also sought to stifle criticism of its actions whether at the UN or in other countries.

This Task Force will study the PRC’s ongoing assault the rule of law and consider what possible steps that the US government under the Biden Administration should take. Specific topics include: academic freedom, legal reform, anti-discrimination, the environment, women’s rights, and LGBT issues, as well as possible responses in international forums, including the UN. The Task Force will make recommendations to relevant organizations in New York and Washington D.C., including the Council on Foreign Relations, the State Department, and National Security Council staff at the White House, and Congress.

Martin S. Flaherty is Leitner Family Professor of International Law and Founding Co-Director of the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School. He is also a founder of the Committee to Support Chinese Lawyers, and Chair of the Council on International Affairs of the New York City Bar Association.

Tuesday, 7:30-10 PMSusan L. Marquis

COVID-19 has added new energy to the ongoing call for workers’ rights to fair pay and safe working conditions. Prior to the pandemic, fast food workers in New York City kicked off the “Fight for 15” in 2012 and it became a rallying cry across the nation. But a living wage, while important, is just one element of larger issues of fair pay and a safe workplace that are being surfaced by the pandemic. Desperate need for more work/home flexibility as schools shut down, an economic safety net when entire industries close their doors, and, more directly, COVID outbreaks in meat processing plants, all brought these issues home to anyone trying to work and support a family (and even just themselves). If the first months of the pandemic raised the moral and practical issue that some of our lowest paid workers are nevertheless labeled “essential,” this last year has seen increased calls for unionization at companies including Amazon and Starbucks, and an unusual surge in strikes, to include most recently Kellogg, John Deere, and Kaiser Permanente. Unexpected, but perhaps predictable, labor shortages post-pandemic, the demand for more flexibility, shorter commutes and work-from-home, and questions about the future of work have all grabbed the headlines in our new world. But what to do?

These issues may be in the spotlight due to Covid, but they are not new: the human rights to safety, a living wage, and dignity for all workers, have been at the center of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and their Fair Food Program for farmworkers and the agricultural producers who depend on their labor. And there is much to learn from these organizations’ remarkable successes. The Fair Food Program turned Florida’s tomato fields, known just ten years ago as “ground zero for modern slavery,” into a groundbreaking model for agricultural labor, effectively eliminating the wage theft, physical abuse, gun violence, and dangerous working conditions that characterized agricultural labor in Florida and much of the United States. What began in Florida’s fields has now known as Worker-driven Social Responsibility (WSR) and is being applied not only in the produce industry but a wide range of agriculture across the Eastern United States and into Texas, Tennessee, and California; garment factories in Africa and Bangladesh; and service industries in California and the mid-West. In addition, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers is using what it has learned through the Fair Food Program to develop innovative and effective approaches to training that reduces and even eliminates sexual harassment and violence in the workplace, training that is being used in agricultural operations but also by new industries, including Hollywood. WSR offers a model that breaks away from traditional union-membership, ensures workers--documented and undocumented--are partners in production, and further benefits workers, producers, and buyers with a safe, fair, and healthy supply chain, using the power of the market for good.

Questions addressed in this task force will include: What is worker-driven social responsibility and how does it differ from traditional unions, as well as newer corporate social responsibility programs and “multi-stakeholder initiatives” such as the Fair Trade program (and feel-good labels)? How has WSR moved beyond those working in tomato fields to other produce and other types of agriculture, and into new industries including clothing manufacturing and janitorial services? What are the origins of the Fair Food Program and why has it been effective when other legal and private sector initiatives have failed throughout the history of the United States? And how might national and state governments learn from the Fair Food Program and other non-governmental WSR to partner with workers to ensure fair pay and safe working conditions?

Susan L. Marquis is the Charles and Marie Robertson Visiting Profession as Princeton’s School of Public and International Affairs, former Frank and Marie Carlucci Dean of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, and author of I Am Not A Tractor! How Florida Farmworkers Took on the Fast Food Giants and Won (Cornell, 2017) and Unconventional Warfare: Rebuilding U.S. Special Operations Forces

Tuesday, 7:30-10 PMCarol Martin

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) advances America’s foreign policy interests while improving lives in developing countries. USAID's Democracy, Human Rights, and Governance (DRG) Strategy supports citizens’ participation and inclusion, for example, through free and fair elections, and accountability, through the transparent, efficient delivery of such government services as justice and access to education, food, healthcare, and jobs. DRG programs are implemented in partnership with national governments, international agencies, the private sector, and local and international civil society organizations. There is ongoing debate, however, about the sustainability and effectiveness of USAID’s approach in furthering US national security and achieving broader social and economic development goals.

The task force will analyze lessons learned and best practices to assess the impact of USAID’s DRG bilateral development assistance in select countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Its report will be in the form of recommendations to USAID.

Carol L. Martin, PhD served as Democracy and Governance advisor for USAID at the Regional Center for Southern Africa in Botswana and USAID/Mozambique and as a Senior Policy Advisor for the US Department of State’s First Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review.

Monday, 1:30-4 PMMihir Kshirsagar/Lauren Kilgour

Advances in computer technology have created new ways to automatically identify individuals using their biological characteristics (“biometrics”). Companies and governments have rapidly deployed these biometric technologies in a variety of settings -- from unlocking your phone to using facial recognition to identifying people in public. But regulations to ensure that these technologies are used responsibly and serve the public interest have lagged behind the continued deployment of biometric technologies. There are now efforts to engage in public scrutiny of these technologies at the federal, state, and local levels.

This task force examines how to design policies that protect important social values when regulating biometric technologies. Students will explore foundational and recent scholarly literature related to the politics of technology to understand the social impacts of biometrics. They will consider the roles that policy can play in mitigating harmful effects of the continued widespread design and use of technologies that mobilize biometric data. In particular, as several states consider legislative proposals to regulate the use of biometrics, there is an urgent need for technically informed and socially aware analysis to guide the policy development. The overarching goal of this course is to equip students with applied knowledge and experience related to crafting policy that lies at the intersection of civil rights, consumer protection, privacy, and technology. The task force report will be in the form of recommendations that will be presented to a state attorney general office.

Mihir Kshirsagar runs CITP’s first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary technology policy clinic that gives students and scholars an opportunity to engage directly in the policy process. He is also a lecturer in Computer Science.

Lauren Kilgour is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Princeton University’s Center for Information Technology Policy. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Information Science from Cornell University and a Master of Information (M.I.) from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information. She studies the relationships among information, law and policy, and society, with a focus on the social impacts of information technology design and use.

Tuesday, 7:30-10 PMEduardo Bhatia

This junior policy conference will explore the unfinished business of American democracy with its territories. The current unilaterally imposed arrangements with US citizens involve a confusing application of the Constitution, federal “mistreatment” for lack of political participation, and exclusion from federal programs. They all amount to serious domestic democratic discrimination.

The leading Supreme Court cases on these arrangements are called “The Insular Cases” from the early 20th century.

In a 2017 article Doug Mack describes it this way:

The earliest Insular Cases were decided by the same Supreme Court that allowed “separate but equal” segregation inPlessy v. Ferguson in 1896. That case was overturned, but the Insular Cases, which are built on the same racist worldview, still stand today. Downes v. Bidwell was the codification of McKinley-Roosevelt mindset. The case, which centered on a question of whether shipments from Puerto Rico to New York were interstate or international, established a new hierarchy of territories: They were now either “incorporated” with the United States or “unincorporated,” with only the former having the full protections of the Constitution. The court reasoned that Puerto Rico and the other new territories were “inhabited by alien races,” so governing them “according to Anglo-Saxon principles may for a time be impossible.” These islands, then, were “foreign in a domestic sense.”

There has never been an official process sanctioned by Congress to allow the people in the “territories” to develop a credible mechanism to right a wrong and /or to fix this longstanding discriminatory policy. These variables combined raise an important question of democratic governance and self-determination. Perhaps SPIA's own Liechtenstein Institute on self-determination would be interested in including the final report of this seminar as part of its program.

The challenge, of course, is how to structure this seminar based on public policy and public affairs. Students would write a final 30-page junior policy memo and make the case for what the new US territorial policy should be to conform with democratic governance, the rule of law, human and democratic rights, group identity and sovereignty.

Eduardo Bhatia ’86, former Senate president of Puerto Rico, is a John L. Weinberg/Goldman Sachs & Co. Visiting Professor and visiting lecturer in public and international affairs at SPIA. A Stanford Law School graduate, policymaker, and political leader, Bhatia is an expert on fiscal, constitutional and public policy issues. He also served as Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, primarily responsible for articulating and advocating territorial policy positions to the US Congress, The White House and federal agencies.