Throughout his career, Richard Halkett has focused on technology, innovation, and education, in relation to foreign policy. He currently serves as the Director of Strategy & Research for Cisco Global Education. From 2006 to 2008, he was the Executive Director of Policy & Research at the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) in London, where he developed programs to enrich and strengthen innovation policy in the U.K. Before NESTA, he worked at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a large foreign policy think tank in Washington D.C.
Halkett graduated from Oxford University with a double first and a university prize from Merton College. After Oxford, he co-founded Boxmind, an Oxford—based technology company, which he ran from 2000 to 2003. He came to Berkeley in 2003 as a U.K.-U.S. Fulbright Scholar in the Goldman School of Public Policy. Not long after he arrived, he and a classmate founded PolicyMatters, the journal of the Goldman School.
“I decided very early on after graduating from Oxford that I wanted to work for a few years and then return to university for a Masters program. Public Policy was always my passion and by reputation I knew that the best U.S. schools were better than those in the U.K. I was accepted by Berkeley, Harvard, and Columbia, did extensive research, and attended the new admit days at Harvard and Berkeley. The Berkeley course was simply a better fit for my needs at the time—the deep quantitative training, the focus on working for real clients, and the access to the full range of courses offered by the Berkeley campus.
The Goldman School has a real sense of community about it—not in a ‘touchy-feely’ way but as a learning community. I sensed a real ethic of public service about the school—from the faculty and from the students. There were people passionate about pleasingly unsexy, but very important, aspects of public policy—not just people getting a necessary qualification on their way to Capitol Hill or who saw policy school as an easy back door into law or business.
I confess to being a little seduced by the lure of California—it felt so different from the U.K. The fact that it was snowing in Cambridge (MA) on the Friday I was there (in April!) and bright and sunny in Berkeley on the following Monday did make some small difference.
My first impression of Berkeley was of its sheer size and intellectual power. I can’t express it any better than that. Oxford is a fantastic university, a leader in several fields and with fabulous history and rich architecture to boot. It is a special place. But someone once told me that at Berkeley 50,000 people come on and off campus every day. And I knew that 35 out of 36 of its graduate departments surveyed were ranked top ten in the United States. That’s enormously impressive, particularly for a state school that prizes social mobility and access for all.
As I settled in, the Goldman School actually began to feel quite like an Oxford college. Because of the intensity of the course and the collegiality of the students, I felt like I lived there! The professors were around a lot of the time and hung out in the ‘Living Room’ of the building. The courses were a lot more structured than at Oxford, though. I recall that my first week’s work at Oxford was laid out on a single sheet of paper; it had ‘How dark were the dark ages?’ at the top and then a list of books and journal articles—nothing else. At GSPP, there were chapters, page numbers, exercises and everything. I felt spoiled.
Two other things struck me about Berkeley. The first was the diversity of the student population: ethnicity, age, sexual orientation. The second was the affluence of the university community. The structure of fees and loans in the U.S. means, perversely, that students spend more and (of course) U.S. academics are paid far more than their counterparts in the U.K. This means that a university the size of Berkeley is a real industry, a hub for the surrounding area. This isn’t normally the case in the U.K. where universities are known for being surrounded by cheap beer (drinking at 18!), cheap housing and other low-cost pursuits. There is no Chez Panisse in Oxford!
The Goldman School was alive with opportunities. Some were forced upon you—doing client-facing work in first year, a summer internship and Advanced Policy Analysis (APA; thesis-equivalent) in second year. Others, you had to find yourself, by working with professors, networking with students, and through your own initiative.
It’s odd to think that a voluntary endeavor turned out to be one of my most important experiences. When I was at the Kennedy School admit day, I met this great guy called Dave Deming. He was very bright and a little iconoclastic with an easy way about him. We met again at Berkeley and struck up a friendship that has lasted until this day. We both agreed that GSPP was best for us and decided to take the plunge, but we also realized that we wanted to raise its profile, and to have some fun doing it.
We decided to start PolicyMatters, a student-run journal. We advertised and cajoled and wrote and edited, and after several long days and nights over the Christmas vacation at the end of 2003, we had our first issue. Then, of course, the challenge was to produce the next one and then recruit the next editorial team, get them to take ownership, and so on. We’re delighted that it’s still alive and kicking. Indeed, it’s getting better and better all the time. There’s now a blog and more and more great articles. It was a very touching moment when we found out that our graduating Class of 2005 had decided to put the Class Gift toward an ‘endowment’ for PolicyMatters.
So, I suppose that I learned the value of hard work and perseverance and gained the satisfaction of seeing something live way beyond my input into it. It was also an enormously collaborative effort and those relationships needed real management, working with editors, authors, alumni, typesetters, and professors. But it needed leadership too, and once again it demonstrated what can be achieved by a surprisingly small group of people (in this case, a core of two, albeit supported by many more).
Three professors at Goldman have had a profound effect on my work. Gene Bardach advised on my IPA and APA and through that became something of a mentor. He’s helped me out several times and is always a source of sound strategic advice. Michael Nacht, Dean until very recently, taught me a few of the political intricacies that are essential to developing good policy and gave me a deep understanding of the machinations of Washington. He was so good that I took his course twice! Finally, David Kirp was not only a great source of insight into law and education policy but also a source of energy and support throughout my career at Berkeley (and beyond). He was the original faculty sponsor of PolicyMatters, for instance, and I still tap him for advice when he isn’t absorbed in his latest policy bestseller.
My MPP from Berkeley has been enormously important. I really think that the three great jobs I have had since—CSIS, NESTA, and now Cisco—have all depended upon it. It’s helped in four main ways. The first has been the specific skills that it taught me: microeconomics, statistics, memo-writing, research, political analysis and the like. Those have been very valuable. As Gene Bardach predicted, after graduating I knew ‘just enough to be dangerous’. The second way was to provide insights on the policy and research culture of the United States which is still the U.K.’s most important ally. The third was signaling: Berkeley is a great name (particularly when paired with Oxford) and from my MPP people knew that I cared enough about policy that I went and spent two costly years on the other side of the world studying it. The fourth was perhaps most important: my MPP and the friends and contacts that I made through it gave me the confidence to take on far larger challenges. It may surprise some people to learn that I didn’t always have that confidence, but the Goldman School gave me the skills that gave me the confidence that I was making good decisions. I felt more surefooted when I left than when I arrived. That shines through—people can see it.”
Richard Halkett photo courtesy of NESTA