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Monday, May 8, 2017

May 8, 2017: The Scholars Strategy Network and Me: SSN Origins and Goals



[Last week, I had the chance to attend a national meeting of the Scholars Strategy Network, a vital public scholarly organization of which I’ve been a Member for almost four years. So this week I wanted to share a few sides to my work with SSN, leading up to a weekend post on that national meeting and SSN’s expanding role in Trump’s America!]
Before getting into my personal experiences with SSN, a post on three important contexts for how and why the group was created:
1)      Theda Skocpol: The SSN was the brainchild of Dr. Theda Skocpol, Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard; she remains SSN’s Director and has been a vital force in every aspect of its work to date. It’s fair to say that SSN embodies the publicly connected scholarly work Dr. Skocpol had been already producing for many decades, not only in her research and publications but in taking part in policy debates at and around the Clinton White House (among many other such efforts). But having had the chance to attend SSN events alongside Dr. Skocpol, I would stress that she sees herself first and foremost as a Member of the organization, a peer and colleague of all those scholars (781 to date, from 192 universities around the country) whose work constitutes SSN’s evolving body of contributions to American and global society and conversations.
2)      Policy and Media: Like Skocpol (and, in a much much briefer and smaller way, like me), numerous scholars had already been producing publicly engaged work long before SSN’s founding. But it had been very difficult for most of them to bring that work outside of the academy and into two vital settings and conversations: government and its public policy debates; and the mass media and its connections to public audiences. SSN’s primary purpose was and remains to help individual scholars bridge those gaps, to offer and facilitate opportunities for us to speak directly with legislators and policy makers on the one hand and media outlets and pundits on the other. As the next couple posts in this series will illustrate, my personal connections have been more on the media side; but here in Massachusetts I’ve likewise seen multiple, tangible examples of policy debates to which SSN has connected its Members and which have been significantly affected by those links.
3)      Community: SSN has never been solely about connecting individual scholars to those different aspects of their regional and national communities, however. Just as central has been a goal of creating scholarly communities, of helping publicly engaged scholars find like-minded folks and build collaborations and relationships with them. The most overt examples of such scholarly communities are the SSN Working Groups, in which scholars from around the country share resources and ideas related to a particular contemporary issue. But I have found that SSN’s communal connections can also develop in organic ways: to cite just one example, through one of the SSN Boston leaders Dr. Erin O’Brien I was connected to the WGBH Mass Politics Profs blog (for which O’Brien is one of the principal contributors), and had the chance to write a post on public education ahead of the state’s 2014 gubernatorial election. Now more than ever, it’s crucial that none of us feel that we’re going it alone, and SSN’s communal connections have helped me feel that sense of solidarity consistently and potently.
Next SSN post tomorrow,
Ben
PS. What do you think? Thoughts on SSN, or other organizations or efforts you’d highlight?

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