Francis Fukuyama Teaches Policy Crash Course To Ukraine’s Rookie Politicians

What do you do if your country just had an early parliamentary election, and 80% of its legislators are rookies with no political experience?

In Ukraine, they organize crash-courses in policy making. Francis Fukuyama, a renowned American political scientist and writer, taught such a course in Kyiv on November 9-11 along with colleague Erik Jensen from the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University.

“What we’re trying to do is to give people a framework for solving policy problems because oftentimes people are very unrealistic in terms of addressing concrete problems,” Fukuyama says. 

“They think of solutions before they actually define problems, and they don’t have a strategy for managing stakeholders to be able to implement the policies that they plan out.”

The course was open to members of all parties, but entry was competitive. Ukraine has 423 parliament members, but only 50 places were available. 

Ukraine’s new parliament was elected on July 21, and has broken many national records. With the average age of 41, it’s the youngest parliament ever elected. It’s also the least experienced one. One of the new members is a wedding photographer. There are also doctors, designers and architects, among other professions. 

The biggest party in parliament, Servant of the People, first came up with the idea of teaching the lawmakers the basics of their new job in the summer. A week after the election all 254 of its new lawmakers were sent off to the western Ukrainian city of Truskavets  to study economics, political strategy and basics of budgeting with professors from the Kyiv School of Economics.

The other purpose of the trip was for many of those new lawmakers to actually meet face to face for the first time: their party was effectively created just months before the snap election and many of them met on the train traveling to their ad hoc law making course.

Fukuyama’s aim was different: he developed a curriculum based on cases from other developing and transitional countries that face challenges similar to Ukraine’s, like political corruption, weak infrastructure, and need to improve health and longevity of the population.

Students had to read hundreds of pages of text in English, and studied cases from Indonesia, Bangladesh, Argentina and Germany.

“There were a lot of very impressive people in that group. It’s very gratifying to see the intelligence, the level of participation and seriousness, and also how young quite a few of them are,” Fukuyama says.

The student performance, though, was patchy. Some of the lawmakers said they didn’t get enough deep discussions with visiting professors, while others failed to study the cases, participants and organizers said.

“I would give it 3 out of 5 on content, and 5 on networking,” says Olga Bielkova, who has served as a lawmaker of two previous convocations.

Oleksandr Tkachenko, a former top manager of a TV holding and first-timer in parliament, said this type of course would be useful if it was held at least once every quarter. Otherwise, he says, the effect from the course won’t last.

At the same time, Tkachenko said his colleagues seemed very committed to learning. 

“Even though when you’re running between a party convention and a committee meeting it’s kind of tough,” he said. 

The program was supported by a range of American and Ukrainian partners, including the Stanford Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, the Ukrainian Catholic University, George Soros’ Renaissance Foundation, and the US Embassy in Ukraine.

Valentyna Zasadko, one of the organizers, says the course was a hit. “This morning I received two phone calls from former and current parliamentarians, asking to be informed about the next seminar because they heard about it from their colleagues. Now they also want to take part,” she wrote on Facebook.

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I am an award-winning Ukrainian journalist and media manager with more than 25 years of professional experience. My bylines have appeared in the Guardian, the Wall Stre

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