Willy Brandt School’s own Robert Ellis reports on his recent excursion to Singapore for the 3rd annual International Conference on Public Policy:
This summer, I had the opportunity to attend what is quite possibly the world’s largest conference dedicated to public policy. The International Conference on Public Policy (ICPP) was held this year in Singapore, hosted at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. I joined the Director of the Willy Brandt School, Professor Heike Grimm, as well as Dr. Anja Mihr to help promote Brandt School as we travelled across the globe to partake in three days of talks, panels and presentations. Over 1,300 participants from around the world made their way to Singapore to present over 1,100 papers. This was my first time attending an academic conference and certainly will not be my last.
The conference was incredibly facilitated by the gracious hosts at the Lee Kuan Yew School who were able to advertise their school and academic programs. During the plenary sessions in which most participants gathered together to listen to great talks and ask questions, the general sense in the room was tense—unsurprising in a post-Brexit, world. If only one question asked during the three days could be taken home, it would be how the academics of public policy can influence the decision makers and practitioners in government. One gentleman even asked if we (the policy wonks) should start running for political office. He was met with enthusiastic applause.
The clearest motivation to attend this conference was because of the relevance to my academic work. The next biggest motivation was the content of the conference. There are few other conferences in the world that focus solely on public policy. ICPP had a programme book stuffed with over a thousand papers from topics ranging from smart cities, public health, sustainability and more. It would have been impossible to not find something of interest. The content was highly relevant, valuable and interesting. I wanted to be there to learn from it and network with all the others who thought the same. Having Professor Grimm and Dr. Mihr there also gave me the opportunity to connect with WBS faculty in new surroundings and discuss policy topics not covered back in Erfurt. All these reasons pushed me to going to Singapore. The 300€ stipend from WBS helped defray the cost, as did staying with a good friend who happens to work and live there.
Particularly interesting was joining the sessions where Dr. Mihr presented her paper and where Professor Grimm chaired discussions. I got to see our WBS faculty perform in different roles than they typically have in Erfurt. Seeing them among their peers, debating topics, asking tough questions and developing new contacts was valuable. It gave me a different perspective to view things from the side of our faculty.
Many students may think that travelling all the way to Singapore just to attend a conference is a waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more. Aside from learning about topics highly relevant to my studies and my research areas, I was also exposed to new ideas and topics that I otherwise would not have come across on my own. I was able to see first-hand how academics work together to critique the work of their peers and develop their research and methods. Most importantly, I networked. I am happy to say that I ran out of business cards during my visit! The old phrase “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is very true. I met professors who could become second readers for my thesis, academic mentors or possibly even lead me to job interviews. I got to know the director of an NGO in Berlin who invited me to collaborate with his organisation for the writing of an article. I met other students studying public policy who compared their experiences to mine. Most interestingly I met practitioners who work in the public sector and attended the conference to learn how to bridge the gap between academic work and the implementation of policies. All these people are part of my network which, if cultivated properly, will help me well into the future.
If any students at WBS are considering attending a conference, even if it is halfway around the world, I encourage them to weigh the pros and cons and think long-term. The benefits of attending are huge and varied. There are options to help with financing through WBS and the university’s International Office. So, if you are curious about the next ICPP, happening in 2019 in Montréal, Canada, take a look at their website. Ask me how it went this year in Singapore, what was discussed, what the atmosphere there was like. I’d be happy to share. I hope to see you there next time in Canada!