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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Program Details


1. What is the Diplomacy Lab?

The Diplomacy Lab enables the State Department to “course-source” research and innovation related to foreign policy by harnessing the efforts of students and faculty at universities across the country.

Students participating in the Diplomacy Lab explore real-world challenges identified by the Department and work under the guidance of faculty members with expertise in a field related to the project. Students also discuss these issues with State Department officials several times throughout the semester. The Diplomacy Lab allows students to contribute directly to the policymaking process, while helping the State Department tap into an underutilized reservoir of intellectual capital.

The Diplomacy Lab underscores U.S. Secretary of State Kerry’s personal commitment to engaging the American people in the State Department’s work, and helps the State Department broaden its research base and more effectively respond to a myriad of global challenges.

Diplomacy Lab is currently in a pilot phase. Approximately 14 universities will participate in the Diplomacy Lab’s Fall 2014 semester. Following the pilot, it is expected that Diplomacy Lab will launch formally and that universities around the country will be able to apply to participate in the program.

2. How does the Diplomacy Lab work?

In a nutshell, a list of proposed projects is shared with universities that are participating in Diplomacy Lab. Then partner universities identify faculty members to lead teams of students in Diplomacy Lab projects. Over the course of a semester, professors guide students in developing a final work product that accomplishes the goals outlined by the Department. Students have opportunities throughout the semester to discuss their research with State Department officials.

3. What sorts of topics are covered?

The State Department is responsible for responding to a wide array of international issues and challenges, including climate change, weapons nonproliferation, human rights, counterterrorism, international adoptions, legal and judicial reform, women’s issues, oceans and the high seas, economic policy, international exchange programs, trafficking in persons, food security, and conflict and stabilization. Diplomacy Lab projects come from offices across the Department. The Department makes an effort to provide projects matching the strengths and interests of universities participating in Diplomacy Lab.

4. What does a Diplomacy Lab team of students look like?

A standard Diplomacy Lab team is generally a group of at least four students, led by a faculty member. Students may be undergraduate or graduate students in any discipline or academic field. Interdisciplinary teams are also welcome and encouraged!

5. What faculty involvement is required?

Each Diplomacy Lab team is supervised by a faculty member with expertise in a field related to the project. The faculty member also serves as the Project Point of Contact for State Department officials who have proposed the project.

6. How much contact do students have with State Department officials?

Students engage directly with officials throughout the semester in a series of video- or teleconferences. Although each project’s trajectory is different, typically the first conference takes place at the beginning of the semester, so that students can meet Department officials, who provide students with additional context and direction not included in the initial project request. The second conference takes place later in the semester, to give students the chance to ask questions and officials a chance to give mid-course guidance on the students’ work. A final conference occurs after students submit their final projects. During this last conference, students present their results to their Department colleagues and other relevant officials. State Department officials will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the students’ work.

7. What is the final work product?

While the format of the final product depends heavily on the nature of the project, most Diplomacy Lab products are short policy memos with data and supporting research attached in appendices as necessary. In some cases, final projects may take the form of longer research papers, statistical analyses, or even data sets. The expected form of the final project is made clear in the project announcement and in communication with Department officials.

8. How many projects/topics can each university take on?

Each university participating in the Diplomacy Lab may take on up to four projects each semester.

9. How do universities incorporate Diplomacy Lab projects into their curricula?

Universities are encouraged to incorporate Diplomacy Lab within their curricula as best suits their teaching needs and academic goals. Potential models include but are not limited to:

  • Course-Per-Topic Model: A university might build a course around a chosen Diplomacy Lab topic. Students could be asked to work collectively or in teams. The course instructor would then coordinate and consolidate student work product, the final form of which should be discussed with the relevant State Department officials before the semester begins. Possible models for student work product involve: a compilation of the best portions of various projects; a class-wide revision of a chosen project; or splitting the topic into distinct pieces (i.e. country or thematic focuses) and consolidating the results into one final submission. This model has the benefit of closely approximating the operation of an office at the State Department, where most activities and documents are deeply collective efforts.
  • Multi-Topic Course Model: A university could offer one or more courses (whether Diplomacy-Lab-specific or pre-existing) in which student teams address different Diplomacy Lab topics. If multiple teams intend to address the same topic, similar methods as described above should be used to consolidate the teams’ efforts prior to submission to Department officials.
  • Independent Study Model: A university could offer credited, supervised independent study opportunities to small groups of students for one or more of its chosen projects.
  • Capstone Model: Diplomacy Lab projects can be incorporated into existing capstone or practicum programs.

10. How can my university participate in the Diplomacy Lab?

The Diplomacy Lab is currently in a pilot phase which will extend at least through the Fall 2014 semester. Following the pilot, the State Department will hold an open application period to select additional universities to participate in the Diplomacy Lab.

The University of Oklahoma will serve as Secretariat for the Diplomacy Lab. During the application period, the Secretariat will accept and compile university applications. For more information on the Diplomacy Lab Secretariat, and for additional information on the application process as it becomes available, visit the Diplomacy Lab Secretariat’s website www.ou.edu/diplomacylab.

After the application period, the Secretariat will transmit applications to the State Department. The State Department will select which universities participate in the Diplomacy Lab. The Secretariat will inform each university that applied of the State Department’s decision.

11. If my university has questions that are not answered here, who can I contact?

You may submit questions to the Secretariat through www.ou.edu/diplomacylab. However, if your university is already participating in the Diplomacy Lab, the Secretariat can only accept questions from your University’s designated Diplomacy Lab Coordinator.

12. Are there best practices or lessons learned I should know about before launching the Diplomacy Lab at my university?

The Secretariat for the Diplomacy Lab will compile best practices and lessons learned from each university’s experience with the Diplomacy Lab. Each participating university will be asked to submit to the Secretariat its recommendations and/or lessons learned at the end of each Diplomacy Lab semester. The Secretariat will compile this information and make it available on the website. The name of the university contributing the recommendations and/or lessons learned will not be listed in the compilation to facilitate robust participation.

13. When will the Diplomacy Lab Secretariat and its website be up and running?

The Secretariat and its website will have now launched. Further details on university application timelines will be posted as they become available, likely during the Fall 2014 semester.

14. The application timeline seems to have changed from the initial expectation of May 1-30. Why is that?

Unfortunately, the application timeline has been postponed and the pilot phase of the Diplomacy Lab has been extended in order to ensure that all legal and programmatic preparations are in order for the full launch. As soon as further details are available concerning a nationwide launch, the Secretariat and the State Department will publish that information on their respective websites.


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