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Q&A with OECD: What makes PRINS so valuable for your organisation?

Patrick Love, who acts as Advisor to the Office of the Secretary General OECD, witnessed the team pitches for the organisation’s case on 17 May 2018. OECD operates in 35 nations; its mission is to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.

Q: What attracted you to working with Leiden University BA students to solve your case?

The OECD’s New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC) initiative and the Leiden BA International Studies have a similar approach to analysing and understanding globalisation. We both try to promote a multidisciplinary, cross-sectoral understanding of the issues and the forces shaping them. That means not just focusing on the economy, but looking at how the economy interacts with other systems, notably the environment and social systems. So you have to consider culture, history, politics, institutional structures and so on. In fact the Leiden course description and the NAEC mission statement overlap in significant ways. There’s a practical advantage to that – we could get straight to work thanks to our shared outlook, and didn’t have to spend time finding a consensus around how we wanted to tackle the case.      

Q: What added value do International Studies and Humanities students bring to your case?

The answer is in the name. The fact that it’s international corresponds to the OECD’s insistence on comparing country experiences to learn from each other’s successes and failures. I was impressed by this aspect of the work the project teams submitted. The students found useful examples for their case studies and identified transferable approaches that seemed surprising at first, but were totally justified when you examined the evidence. That international evidence-based approach is central to how the OECD tackles issues, but studying the humanities allows you to see that there are different kinds of evidence that need to be taken into account. We often see “experts” becoming frustrated because the facts that describe reality for them are not enough to convince the people affected by their proposals. The kind of understanding the humanities provides can help avoid that problem.

Q:  Why not go to a business school or management programme to find student consultants?

Essentially, for the reasons I’ve just mentioned. Business schools and management programmes teach a skill set that concentrates on needs and opportunities that are important of course, but that are too narrow for our needs. Our project was on building resilience to floods. One of the problems in this domain is that what makes sense from a business point of view may not be the best solution once you start considering other factors, in particular those playing out over a longer time horizon than most businesses plan for; and factors that can have an enormous impact on a project but are hard to quantify, such as cultural traditions or political sensitivities.

Q:  How were you inspired by these teams during the pitch?

I was inspired on two levels. First, the presentations were wonderful. All the teams came up with ways to present their project in an engaging format that respected very strict time limits. They also managed to present a mass of information in that time without overwhelming the audience. Many more experienced experts could learn a lot from that. Second, we hear so much about the skills that will be needed in the future workplace, and the Leiden students exemplified these: teamwork, empathy, social skills, all the so-called “soft” skills that are needed to make the best use of the more traditional competencies they also showed, such as objective analysis.

Q: What will your organisation do with the ideas/solutions that were presented?

The OECD has a programme on governing risk and as part of this, hosts the High Level Risk Forum. That is the obvious place to go to first with the work of the Leiden student teams. We also have work with parliamentarians through our Global Parliamentary Network, and since these are the people defining policy at national level, it makes sense to inform them too.

Q: Based on what you saw during the pitching, do you have any career advice to help and inspire our students?

I’m sure the students have already heard lots of good advice on doing what they’re passionate about, etc., so my advice would be more practical. The first thing anybody looks for in a report (or dissertation) is their own name, so make sure you reference fully your client, employer, examiner and show that you’re aware of what they have contributed to the question. Also, and this has nothing to do with the pitches, when you’re organising a project – a study, a conference, whatever –don’t take yes for an answer. Always follow up, always check that the person is doing what they are supposed to do, and know what is expected of them. And if you have a problem, with a deadline for instance, admit it so that you and the others have time to find a solution.  

Q: How would you summarize your PRINS experience?

Optimistic. The students probably knew little or nothing about the question they were asked to study, but in the space of a few months, acquired a real expertise. If they bring this intelligence, openness and intellectual agility to the workplace they’ll soon be doing professionally, that’s good news for all of us. 

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