Harvard Kennedy School is dedicated to improving public policy and leadership so people can live in safer, freer, more just, and more prosperous societies. We pursue this mission through a tightly interwoven combination of research, teaching, and direct interaction with practitioners, and we work on a wide range of issues, across the United States and around the world.

Our engagement with the world beyond our walls strengthens our ability to accomplish our mission in multiple ways. First, HKS’s faculty members are world-renowned experts in their fields, and they are looked to by governments, nonprofit organizations, private businesses, and the public to explain and inform public leadership and policy development. These exchanges are crucial to our disseminating the results of our research and to our understanding public problems better so we can focus our research more effectively; the exchanges also significantly enhance our teaching by helping us bring real-world experiences and perspectives to our students. Second, many classes and co-curricular activities at HKS involve students’ engaging closely with practitioners, sometimes on our campus and sometimes in the field, which greatly adds to our students’ learning. Third, HKS’s research and teaching are substantially enhanced by financial contributions from generous alumni and friends who believe in our mission. Without such contributions, the scope and scale of our educational activities would be much more limited than it is today, and we are grateful to our alumni and friends for their support.

At the same time, we recognize that these forms of engagement can raise concerns about the independence and objectivity of our work. Some observers may wonder whether our interactions with policymakers, governments, nonprofit leaders, and private firms might distort our assessments of their activities. And some observers may wonder whether our receipt of financial contributions from certain people and entities could distort our analysis. The reputations of individual faculty members, of HKS, and of Harvard University can be damaged by actual or perceived conflicts of interest and by implications that our work is not motivated by the pursuit of knowledge. Moreover, our ability to have a positive impact on public policy and leadership depends crucially on the credibility of our research and teaching.

To achieve the engagement that is fundamental to our work while maintaining public trust in our independence and objectivity, Harvard Kennedy School has adopted an approach of “transparent engagement.” This approach recognizes the value of our energetic involvement in the world while taking crucial steps to maintain public trust: We adopt internal policies that protect the core academic value of independence, and we are open about the people and organizations with whom we are working and from whom we are receiving support. This approach of transparent engagement (which was formally adopted in 2012) is manifested in a number of ways.

Gifts and Grants

Financial support for Harvard Kennedy School comes from a broad spectrum of funders in two principal forms: Sponsored grants are received from U.S. government agencies, foreign government agencies, multilateral agencies, private organizations, and non-profit foundations. Grants are intended to fund specific research or outreach activities, and sometimes require specific deliverables. Philanthropic gifts come from individual alumni, friends of HKS, private organizations, and non-profit foundations. Gifts are dedicated to certain broad types of activities or provide unrestricted resources to HKS, and thus are generally less limited in their use than grants. For example, a sponsored grant might fund research on a specific subject over the following few years, while a philanthropic gift might endow a professorship in a broad field. 

All proposals for sponsored grants and philanthropic gifts are reviewed by senior HKS administrators, including, if necessary, the HKS Dean. This review is intended to ensure that:

  • The proposed activity would advance HKS’s mission, by improving our teaching, fostering our research, or supporting our interaction with practitioners;
  • The proposed activity would have positive effects on people in the places where we are working; 
  • The proposed process for carrying out that activity would not interfere with HKS’s intellectual independence and would be consistent with applicable laws and Harvard University policies; and
  • The proposed funder’s associations and activities have not been substantially in conflict with strongly held values of HKS and Harvard University.  

It bears emphasis that HKS’s funders do not control the way we carry out our work. For all of our activities conducted using external funding, we protect our academic integrity and independence by maintaining full intellectual control: HKS faculty and staff make the decisions about research methodologies and policy findings, about the content of our courses, and about whom we accept into our community as students, faculty, staff, and visitors. No funder is allowed to interfere with those decisions, and all of our funders are aware of that point. We work to ensure that public communications about gifts and grants are clear that HKS is the intellectual driver of the activities.

Some gifts come from members of HKS’s advisory councils, most of which are associated with specific research centers at HKS. Council members, many of whom are distinguished leaders in their own areas, provide critical insights gleaned from the world outside the academy that inform our work, offer career and other substantive advice to our students, and in most cases provide financial support for our activities. Council members have no formal oversight authority, are disclosed publicly on HKS’s general website and the websites of the relevant centers, cannot describe themselves as representing or speaking for HKS, are subject to Harvard University’s conflict-of-interest policies, and are scrutinized upon appointment like donors of other proposed gifts. 

HKS reports all grants and gifts publicly. Sponsored grants are disclosed on a rolling basis for HKS as a whole; soon, they will also be disclosed on individual faculty members’ HKS web pages under a new “Sponsored Projects” tab. Philanthropic gifts are disclosed annually in reports produced by HKS’s Office of Alumni Relations and Resource Development, and are available on request. Gifts are not disclosed on individual faculty members’ HKS web pages because gifts are generally not dedicated to individual faculty members but rather are directed to broader purposes. Under Harvard University’s conflict-of-interest policies, faculty members and others who report research findings must disclose in such reports the funder of that research if there could be a perceived conflict.

Outside Professional Activities

In addition to receiving grants and gifts, HKS faculty members can engage with people and organizations outside HKS in two additional ways: First, as part of their faculty responsibilities, faculty members are engaged in professional networks and activities; often interact with experts, policymakers, and public leaders in their fields; and conduct research across the country and around the world. Second, as individuals outside of their faculty responsibilities, faculty members can engage in activities such as private consulting, paid speaking engagements, and service on corporate and non-profit boards.

Both types of outside engagements are governed by Harvard University’s policies regarding faculty members’ conflicts of interest, conflicts of commitment, and outside activities, as well as by HKS’s adaptation of those policies for our own circumstances. These policies limit the time that faculty members can devote to outside activities, require that Harvard University’s resources not be used for such activities, and require disclosure of those activities.

Faculty members disclose their outside activities to senior HKS administrators annually, whether those activities are paid or unpaid and whether the faculty members believe that a conflict of interest exists or not. Any financial or pro bono involvement with any outside organization that has a financial, ideological, or political stake in the academic activities of the faculty member represents a potential conflict of interest. When HKS or a faculty member identify a possible conflict, that conflict is disclosed, managed, or eliminated depending on the specific circumstances.

Faculty members also disclose their activities publicly. Under Harvard University’s conflict-of-interest policies, faculty members and others who report research findings must disclose in such reports any relevant potential conflicts of interest. In addition, faculty members are transitioning to disclosing their outside professional activities on their individual HKS websites under the “Outside Professional Activities” tab. Moreover, faculty members disclose their outside professional activities in accordance with the application rules for certain outside funding sources.

HKS staff members are also bound by Harvard University’s policies regarding conflict of interest and conflict of commitment.

In their professional capacities at Harvard University, HKS faculty and staff members (including Fellows) are not allowed to participate in partisan political campaign activities, including fundraising and advocacy. In their individual capacities, HKS faculty and staff are free to participate in such campaign activities, although such participation cannot use Harvard’s name or resources in any way. When faculty and staff members take public positions on policy or political matters—for example, in testifying before Congress—they have the responsibility to make clear that the views they offer are their own individual positions and not institutional Harvard positions.

February 2020