New Faculty Feature: Adjunct Lecturer Joshua Flax

August 12, 2013

Several new faculty members across a wide range of policy areas are joining Harvard Kennedy School this fall. We take this opportunity to introduce them to the HKS community.

Joshua Flax MPP 2000 is an adjunct lecturer in public policy. Flax has been a Federal Mediator since 2001 and specializes in mediating large-scale labor-management conflicts (i.e., strikes, lockouts) mainly in the private sector. He also accepts certain public sector requests for assistance, for example, mediating and managing statewide public pension reform multi-stakeholder negotiations.

Q: What brought you to the Kennedy School?

Flax: HKS always strives to make certain its graduates embody the practical application of the knowledge they acquire during their degree studies. That’s where I enter the picture for our negotiation-conflict resolution work at HKS. After 12-plus years as a negotiator, mediator and conflict resolution professional, I’ll be helping students of negotiation analysis make that direct connection between their studies and their forthcoming practice.

I’m an MPP 2000, and I remain very happy with my HKS experience as a student, so I am honored and excited to return (while keeping my “day” job as a federal mediator).

Q: What are your primary areas of research?

Flax: My current primary interest can be summarized neatly: negotiation failure. There are many contemporaneous, high profile policy negotiations for which failure results in negative social, economic, and health consequences for large swaths of the population.

I wonder if our societies, and our educational systems, place enough of a premium on teaching people how to be good negotiators. Specifically, I’m tracking three areas that I believe highlight this large gap between negotiator responsibility and negotiator skill/knowledge:

  • Misunderstood and misaligned incentive structure
  • Poor or non-existent understanding of alternatives and the no-deal option
  • Inability to convert leverage away from the table into bargaining power at the table.

My goal is to further the notion that refined study of policy negotiation failure coupled with formal study of negotiation analysis will help all policymakers become better negotiators.

Q: What courses will you be teaching?

Flax: I will be teaching MLD-221 B, Introduction to Negotiation Analysis, which was my favorite course as an MPP. Section B will offer a slightly different focus: it will persistently examine the teachings of the course to seek practical and career implications for policymakers, policy analysts, and future professional negotiators in a variety of fields.

Mediators and conflict resolution professionals, for example, must typically be able to perform expert negotiation analysis regarding all the parties in conflict, simultaneously and contemporaneously. MLD-221 is therefore a critical building block for students considering a future in the field of negotiation-conflict resolution.

Q: How can the work being done here at HKS help address some of the world’s most significant public policy challenges?

Flax: HKS offers students (and faculty!) the opportunity to learn and debate in this wonderful meld of the academic and the applied. My field of negotiation analysis and conflict resolution is a summation of this intellectual-practical fusion: the research barriers are always being pushed to extract the best of what practical experience can offer.

This is just one example of how HKS prepares future policymakers for the dual challenge of analysis and implementation, whether in a leading or supporting role. I believe we need more of this work, particularly in case study development. The insights and lessons gained from a good case study are absolutely necessary to the skilled policymaker.

Q:
What are you currently reading?

Flax: I’m reading “Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power" by Steve Coll, a study of the application of negotiating power, and how far one can run with that leverage. I’ve never read anything quite like it.

For fun I just finished Murakami’s “IQ84.” I (still) admire the way he can make almost anything, for example the 1980s, sound so totally cool.

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Joshua Flax, adjunct lecturer in public policy

Joshua Flax, adjunct lecturer in public policy

"HKS always strives to make certain its graduates embody the practical application of the knowledge they acquire during their degree studies," says Flax.