Campus & Community

KSG to launch Acting in Time Initiative that examines long-term challenges

4 min read

Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (KSG) is launching a new School-wide initiative intended to inspire discussion, research, and ideas to overcome the incapacity of governments and others to act in time to prevent catastrophic events. The Acting in Time Initiative is designed to harness the expertise and insight of KSG and the University with the goal of understanding the reasons that particular problems are not being addressed and to help foster ways to move solutions forward.

The initiative will provide the framework for discussion during the 2007 Kennedy School spring conference, titled “The Looming Crisis: Can We Act in Time?” The weekend conference (May 4-5) will bring together Harvard faculty members and other scholars, practitioners, nonprofit leaders, and journalists to explore critical long-term challenges — from climate change to natural disasters to nuclear proliferation — where action might make an enormous difference, but where governments, nations, and communities seem unable or unwilling to act.

“A staggering number of consequential public problems are rapidly approaching crisis stage, taxing the capacities of governments, communities, and nations, which seem at once unable to meet the challenges head-on,” said Kennedy School Dean David T. Ellwood. “We will examine the forces that are causing this systematic and widespread paralysis that precludes our venerable institutions from acting in time to implement effective and responsible solutions.”

Former President Bill Clinton will serve as the keynote speaker at the conference. Sessions will include “The Coming Long-Term Care Storm,” “The Global Malaria Response,” “Nuclear Threats,” “American Health Care,” “Preparing for Landscape-Scale Disasters in the United States,” and “The Challenge and Opportunity of Africa.”

Conference participants will include the following:

  • Graham T. Allison, director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at KSG; former U.S. assistant secretary of defense for policy and plans
  • Bill Blakemore, correspondent, ABC News
  • Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH); director, Henry J. Kaiser National Program on the Public, Health and Social Policy
  • Ashton Carter, Ford Foundation professor of science and international affairs at KSG; former assistant secretary of defense for international security policy
  • William Clark, Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy, and Human Development at KSG
  • Denis Cortese, president and CEO, the Mayo Clinic
  • David Gergen, director, Center for Public Leadership; former adviser to four U.S. presidents
  • John Holdren, Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy; director, Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy
  • Juliette Kayyem, undersecretary of homeland security, Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety; former legal adviser to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno
  • Herman “Dutch” Leonard, professor of public management
  • Samantha Power, Anna Lindh Professor of Practice of Global Leadership and Public Policy
  • Thomas Schelling, Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Political Economy Emeritus
  • James Skillen, president, The Center for Public Justice
  • Shirley Williams, public service professor of electoral politics emerita at KSG; member, House of Lords, United Kingdom
  • The Acting in Time Initiative is supporting a series of research projects examining the challenges facing governments, communities, and nations as they seek to effectively confront significant oncoming public problems. Each research project is being led or co-led by a member of the KSG faculty, often in collaboration with others both within the School and throughout the University. Selected findings from the research will be presented at the conference.

    “It is important to look beyond the crisis of the moment to the fundamental ability of governments and leaders to take action when they need to do so. To quote the first President Roosevelt, it is not enough to be wise if you are not ‘wise in time,’” said Christopher Stone, Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of the Practice of Criminal Justice and faculty chair of the initiative. “When we look across the wide array of challenges facing governments today —from migration to pandemics, from earthquakes to terrorism — we recognize that the solutions themselves are rarely what’s missing. What’s missing is the ability of governments to act on what we know and to act in time to make a difference. That’s the leadership skill set we will be trying to define through this initiative.”