What is the most essential quality that graduate students should possess in the field of international policy studies?

Some might argue that it is the ability to think critically about global and domestic issues. Others might contend that it is the practical capability to form professional and social networks. While these qualities are certainly necessary, I would argue that the most essential one is the ability to think creatively, that is, with an informed and creative intuition based on emotional intelligence and effective communication. Given the enormous complexity of the contemporary world, young practitioners of international relations will simply no longer be able to rely on their traditional academic capabilities to succeed. Instead, they will need to think in ways that will allow them to transcend the normal paradigms to which they are accustomed, and this means, in my opinion, thinking creatively.

Despite the necessity of this perspective, not many institutions have decided to incorporate creativity into their curricula. For instance, while many still require students to take classes on history, economics, and international relations – subjects which are undoubtedly important and essential – not many offer supplementary courses that focus on developing creative skills. This is a shame, as courses like visualization, effective communication, and emotional intelligence, could help expand students’ understanding and appreciation for these more traditional subjects. Expanding on this subject, this article will argue why creativity is important in international policy studies and why graduate institutions should consider updating their curricula to feature more of it.

Creative international policy studies – How should that work?

While many academic and professional institutions might celebrate these creative qualities on paper, very few provide the requisite organizational infrastructure to help students acquire them. Indeed, it is sometimes even the case that the traditional hierarchies and cultures of these institutions run counter to the very spirit of creativity. The ripple effects of this stifling atmosphere can be seen in the way some instructors and students impose limitations on their own creativity – even in subjects which require it! For instance, in some international policy studies courses, opportunities for creative learning do not often go far beyond the basic requirements of the program, even if it requires some type of creative engagement, such as organizing student debates on specific topics in the field, designing a model United Nations, or arranging study trips to certain international policy hubs or conflict regions. Why are things like brainstorming, mindmapping, or teaming exercises not integral parts of most curricula? Why are institutions uninterested in running regular simulations to understand and find potential solutions on international issues, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Through these activities, it is possible for students and instructors not only to broaden their creative horizons but also to develop thinking techniques that can help them transcend the obvious.

Although there is still no single definition of creativity, there seems to be a general agreement in academia that creativity involves novelty and originality paired with utility and value. In other words, creativity can be defined as the production of something new – whether it be totally original or a combination of existing components – that is different from previous practices in any given context. To be defined as creative, the end result of the creative process must have social value. For instance, a combination of new economic instruments will not be recognized as creative unless it actually produces a plausible positive intervention in the economy. In international policy studies, it is challenging to directly name potential outcomes of using more creativity in courses. However, by encouraging creativity in this field, students could learn how to prototype policy solutions and could also potentially create synergies for collaborations outside of their classrooms in the real world.

Creativity is not only a spontaneous reaction to monotonous thinking and routine. It can also arise as a conscious attempt to improve habitual action — that is, making routine more successful than it has been in the past. By updating the field of international policy studies from a theory-heavy and literature review-based one to a discipline that combines technical competencies with a more creative and collaborative policy development practice, not only will the students benefit by developing more practical skills for their professional lives, but also the field itself will profit from the fresh perspectives that will arise from academia.

Making space for creativity in international policy studies

One effective way to understand the complexity of the modern world is to study contemporary issues in a cross-sectoral manner. Running reflective case clinics on topics such as green growth as part of human rights or the role of gender equality in strengthening representative democracies could be a unique way to incorporate creativity into the discipline of international policy studies. By allowing students to make new connections between previously disparate concepts, students would be able to enhance their abilities to initiate more synergies with other disciplines once they start their professional careers.

Compared to most other disciplines, the field of international policy studies consists of communities from highly international and culturally diverse backgrounds. As a critical feature of creativity, taking advantage of this unique character and building more space to proactively exchange local perspectives, expertise, norms and observations as an integral part of the academic curricula will provide students with tools to deepen their understanding and empathy for different social challenges and help them to think about pressing issues from various angles.

International policy studies is a discipline in which practical experience goes hand-in-hand with theoretical education. Therefore, enhancing students’ interactions with real-world organizations that go beyond a temporary internship or a panel meeting, will create opportunities for students to gain more tangible experiences. Establishing stronger and more frequent collaborations between higher education institutions, think tanks, private corporations, and government units can also boost intersectoral creative initiatives.

Creativity does not grow in a vacuum. Therefore, striving towards providing students and faculty with an educational experience that consists of a more balanced mixture of theoretical and practical learning opportunities with a divergent approach would most likely result in conditions favorable to developing creativity in the higher education sector and beyond.

Written by Dulguun Batmunkh; Edited by Christine Uhlig

Photo Credit to Tim Mossholder, Pexels