Sophia Sadinsky MPP 2017 describes her "most gratifying academic endeavor."

By Katie Gibson
May 31, 2017


For students in the Master in Public Policy (MPP) program at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), the Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE) is the capstone of their coursework. During their second year at HKS, MPP students work with a client organization to examine a policy or management issue and develop solutions.

Sophia Sadinsky MPP 2017 delved into the intricacies of the Colombian peace process for her PAE work. We spoke with her about the research process and the final product she produced, which won the Human Rights Award from the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at HKS, and was named best PAE in the International and Global Affairs (IGA) concentration.  

Q: How did you choose your PAE topic and client?

As a recipient of the Open Society Internship for Rights and Governance, I spent last summer working in Colombia with a local human rights NGO (non-governmental organization) called PARCES, on efforts to enhance access to justice for victims of the country’s armed conflict. Through that collaboration, I developed a strong interest in the peace process and its human rights implications. (My professional background is in human rights monitoring and advocacy in Latin America.) PARCES asked me to continue our partnership through the PAE, to formulate a diagnostic evaluation of the peace agreement’s initial implementation from a civil society perspective.

Q: Can you talk about the process of conducting research and working with PARCES to produce your PAE?

I conducted in-country interviews in January 2017 to identify points of convergence and divergence in different actors’ perceptions of the operational and political challenges to achieving a durable peace. My interview subjects included civil society groups and activists, government officials, FARC rebels, and international organizations.

To enrich territorial representation, I undertook interviews in Bogotá, D.C., and four additional departments of Colombia: Meta, Atlántico, Córdoba, and Antioquia. I also did a survey of the existing literature on negotiated peace settlements to extract key takeaways from their implementation records. The transitions from civil war of El Salvador and Guatemala, in particular, provided applicable lessons for the Colombian context. My colleague from PARCES, Sebastián Lanz Sánchez, collaborated in the interview process and we communicated via Skype and email throughout the spring semester as I compiled the final report. 

Q: Who was your faculty advisor, and how did they provide help and expertise?

My faculty advisor was Kathryn Sikkink, Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy at HKS. She is an expert on transnational advocacy, the impact of human rights law and policies, and transitional justice, and has significant experience in Latin America. Her expertise and guidance were critical from start to finish. She reviewed several drafts and provided incisive input on the conceptual orientation, organization, and presentation of my PAE. The support (and ample office hours!) of my IGA (International and Global Affairs) seminar leader, John Park, were also invaluable in the design of this project.

Q: Since this PAE deals with real-time political events, can you talk about how that affected your work on the project?

The on-the-ground research for my PAE began the month after the Colombian Congress ratified the revised peace agreement, thereby initiating its implementation schedule. This meant that interviewees were reacting to real-time developments in the earliest phase of the implementation process and predicting potential pitfalls based in part on their observations of the peace deal’s first month in effect. The timing is significant, because it situated this project as a live mapping of how a current policy is being enacted, rather than an ex post facto analysis of existing policy or a formulation of future policy options. 

It is also relevant given the short window of time that the peace deal allots for the complete disarmament and demobilization of FARC rebels and the beginning of their reintegration to civilian life. On this matter, conflict resolution literature underscores the importance of swift implementation of negotiated peace agreements to avert combatants’ return to violence. My PAE was an effort to respond to those dynamics.

While early analysis of the implementation process risks prematurely sounding the alarm about perceived missteps, it also has the capacity to preemptively remedy possible spoilers. In being attentive to this balance, the recommendations I presented to my client delineated a series of interventions that they may adapt according to how the implementation process unfolds. 

I also aimed to take into consideration the rapidly shifting landscape in Colombia with regard to the peace process. The recommendations to my client set short-term priorities that underscore the urgency of certain policy interventions, as well as medium- to long-term objectives with built-in flexibility to accommodate technical and political developments. 

Q: What recommendations did you make to your client?

Based on my main findings, I presented PARCES with the following recommendations:

  1. Utilize existing knowledge resources to connect the municipalities of Montería and Caucasia with pedagogical tools to educate the citizenry on the peace process that can be adapted to other localities.
  2. Launch a civil society oversight body to monitor the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration process.
  3. Leverage civil society networks to disseminate the database of violence against human rights defenders (HRDs) and community leaders in order to enhance government responsiveness.

Q: Was this a satisfactory experience for both you and the client?

For me, the PAE process was the most gratifying academic endeavor of the MPP program. It provided an opportunity to delve into a topic that I care deeply about and engage some of the research skills that the MPP curriculum targets.

I was fortunate to have a very strong working relationship with my client. We are in the process of planning another round of field visits that will likely take place in July, in order to follow up on my proposed recommendations and continue our research.