Keith McCammon MPP 2017: Leveraging ‘Communal Knowledge’ to Tackle Global Problems

May 1, 2017
By Doug Gavel

As Keith McCammon MPP 2017 looks forward to life after commencement, he is confident and grateful that for years to come he will draw upon the “communal knowledge” that he gained during his two years at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). 

“Everyone arrives at HKS with explicit knowledge: facts and understanding derived from their previous education and experience,” he says. “HKS is special because it creates communal knowledge – understanding that exists as a function of sustained interaction between people over time. Communal knowledge is more than the sum of its parts. This is so much more than just learning from each other, because we are actually creating new things to learn.”

McCammon arrived at Harvard after serving four years in the U.S. Army, where he was an infantryman in the Global Response Force, a collection of military units based at Ft. Bragg, N.C. designed to respond to crises anywhere in the world within 18 hours. It was an eye-opening experience for the Chicago native who earned his undergraduate degree at Claremont McKenna College in California.

“I was responsible for training and leading a small group of paratroopers on everything from humanitarian interventions to airborne assaults. I learned a lot about the enormous capabilities - and limitations - of military force to address foreign policy issues,” McCammon says. 

Following his military service, McCammon chose to attend HKS to gain new perspectives on national security issues, perspectives that are gleaned through other parts of public policy. 

“The assumption of a public policy program is that there are things we can learn from each other, even if we have radically different backgrounds and future trajectories,” he says. “The discipline of public policy becomes a common language to speak across disciplines. Most graduate programs encourage students to narrow their interests; HKS invites its students to broaden their perspective.”

While at HKS, McCammon engaged with former Professor Michael Ignatieff and a team of students to research and publish on the Syrian refugee crisis. “The other students were brilliant activists, organizers, and scholars and together we pooled our knowledge to advance new ideas on managing the refugee situation. We made something that didn’t exist before, that we could not have made by ourselves. That act of creation is communal knowledge and that is the promise of HKS,” he says. 

For his Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE), McCammon worked with two other students to examine a cluster or terrorism prevention policies known as “countering violence extremism.”

“These policies try to identify and engage with people who have extremist beliefs before they become violent or commit terrorist acts. These programs are very controversial in the U.S. and have attracted criticism from all sides,” McCammon says. “Our focus was on the process of evaluation - how would you know if these programs actually prevented terrorism?  This is an important question because it is foundational to the broader policy debate.  Our PAE was a chance to put the skills we learned in other parts of the HKS curriculum into practice.”

McCammon plans to build upon the communal knowledge he gained at HKS as he embarks on his next life chapter. His focus, he says, will be on building sustainable solutions to the problems caused by terrorist organizations.

Tags: Master in Public Policy Master in Public Policy

Keith McCammon

Keith McCammon MPP 2017. Photo by Natalie Montaner.


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