Leiden political scientists advise US diplomats

Leiden political scientists Yvonne Kleistra and Niels van Willigen have advised the United States State Department as to how to evaluate its foreign policy. Point of departure was a scientific model that Kleistra and Van Willigen have developed on the basis of their work for the Dutch Foreign Affairs Ministry. A nice example of how political science integrates theory and practice.

Exchange between diplomats and scientists

The US State Department has relatively little expertise in 'measuring' the efficiency of its diplomatic efforts and seeks input for its policy evaluations. Kleistra and Van Willigen, having worked and published in this field, were invited to give a presentation during a conference in Washington in October 2015. Aim of the conference was the exchange of best practices in the field of policy evaluation. The audience consisted of policy officers and heads of department from the State Department and representatives of foreign aid organisations such as USAID.


From practice to theory…

For the Dutch government, policy evaluation has been standard practice for quite some time. In 2009, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands commissioned a report from Kleistra and Van Willigen on the impact of Dutch diplomatic efforts to reduce the use of land mines globally. They were asked to assess the impact of Dutch anti-mines interventions and formulate recommendations for improvement. 

The report, Preparing the Ground for a Safer World, lay the foundations for a scientific analysis that can also be applied to other cases. Kleistra and Van Willigen connected their findings from the land mine case to scholarly insights in the broader field of policy evaluation. The result was an article in Evaluation, a leading journal for the study of policy evaluation. In this article, Kleistra and Van Willigen present a model that does justice to the dynamics and complexity of multilateral diplomacy and takes into account that diplomats must constantly overcome various obstacles in order to reach their governments' policy objectives.


… and from theory to practice

Like the Dutch Foreign Ministry, the State Department wanted to hear from Kleistra en Van Willigen how diplomatic efforts can be evaluated and improved upon. Their findings were enthousiastically received and discussed, both during the presentations and the workshops that followed. American diplomats got acquainted with a new scientific model for policy evaluation; the two Leiden political scientists learned how the US State Department goes about evaluating policy in terrains such as public diplomacy and violent extremism. In political science, practice and theory often go hand in hand.

Further reading

Last Modified: 02-11-2015