Conversations with Michael Rich

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After two decades as RAND’s executive vice president, Michael Rich became president and CEO in November 2011. Michael spoke with alumni at a May 11, 2013, event in Santa Monica, and then before a Washington, D.C., audience on June 27. He discussed his personal vision for the organization and answered questions about RAND’s future. Click the link below to view the video of Michael's talk in Santa Monica. And read the message Michael sent earlier this year to RAND staff on the occasion of RAND's 65th anniversary.

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Toward Greater Impact

by Michael Rich

On May 14, RAND turned 65. RAND’s president and CEO offered these thoughts to commemorate the milestone.

It was 65 years ago today that RAND was established as an independent, nonprofit organization. The founders’ overarching purpose was to generate the ideas and analysis necessary to ensure that the United States and its allies successfully met the biggest national security challenge of the day—the dangerous competition with the Soviet Union in a nuclear age. In the decades since, the nearly 20,000 people who have worked at RAND have done much more than that, enabling RAND to become the world’s foremost source of public policy analysis on a very broad range of social, economic, and security issues, as well as the home of the world’s top public-policy doctoral program.

That legacy underpins the vision I have for RAND: RAND should be the institution whose research, analysis, and public engagement enable policymakers to make the most important decisions of our time—the ones with the potential to affect the most people’s lives, that involve substantial public resources—with the best available evidence: the best data and historical lessons, the best analytical methods, and the best insights derived from analysis.

No other institution in the world has more potential to realize this vision. RAND offers a unique value proposition—a trusted source of expertise and analysis with world-class talent and an unwavering commitment to advance the public good, free of commercial, partisan, and ideological bias.

Our greatest strength is our people—a talent base of researchers and graduate students representing more than 350 distinct academic disciplines and fields of study, supported by a wide array of professionals whose expertise in outreach and communications, computing, contracts and finance, fundraising, and so much more strengthens our work and extends its impact.

As a result, demand for RAND research and analysis remains strong. We have a diverse and growing network of clients, grantors, and donors supporting our research and analysis and a growing audience of influential decisionmakers turning to our work for insights, options, and solutions.

My top long-term institutional priority is to increase the impact of our research and analysis. Impact comes in many forms and is usually achieved in progressive steps. The ultimate aim is for our work to lead to better outcomes for individuals, families, communities, organizations, and even nations: for them to be safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous. RAND’s top award program—the Medal Awards—is now specifically honoring staff whose work has achieved this kind of impact, among other important contributions. Some recent examples of the kind of impact I’m talking about include RAND’s foundational support for Louisiana’s unprecedented 2012 Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast, the legislation on reforming military suicide prevention programs, the continuing series of projects helping the Department of Defense make changes in strategy and processes to save hundreds of millions of dollars, the analysis being used to implement specific provisions of the recent health care reform in the United States, and the far-reaching policy and institutional changes in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. These and other impacts were enabled by RAND research and analysis and effective and timely outreach to the right audiences.

Occasionally, this kind of impact happens right away, as a direct result of decisionmakers applying the results of a single RAND research project. But much more often, the complex and enduring problems we tackle require us to sustain a stream of analysis, synthesize a varied body of research, and do a considerable amount of work after the research and analysis is concluded to help decisionmakers transform the insights into action. That is why I established three additional institutional priorities that I believe are necessary to increase the impact of RAND research: strengthening the environment for innovation at RAND, increasing the agility of our organization, and raising our external profile.

Innovation is important because it is unlikely that conventional thinking and methods will be adequate for the policy challenges of the 21st century. Agility is essential because we have to be able to anticipate challenges and respond to them more quickly and more reliably. And although a low public profile was perfectly fine 65 years ago when RAND’s dominant concern was the Cold War, today it inhibits our effectiveness in solving the most important social, economic, and security problems.

Since I announced these four institutional priorities nearly 18 months ago, I have been impressed by the enthusiasm and ingenuity with which the RAND community has embraced and pursued them. As a result, we have made numerous advances in each area, and that is a credit to the hard and creative work of many people throughout RAND. I learn about new accomplishments daily, and it’s one of the reasons I’m so proud to lead this institution.

We have begun to use the four institutional priorities to guide reallocation of our existing resources; however, those resources alone will not be sufficient to realize this vision. The progress you have made so far toward transforming RAND into an impact-oriented organization is vital to helping us build a stronger case for philanthropic investment in RAND’s people and ideas. My decision to use the large gift from alumnus and former trustee Charles Zwick to help RAND research and outreach teams extend the impact of completed research will further bolster that case, and the latest significant gift from alumnus and current PRGS governor Fred Pardee will help demonstrate how investments in the Pardee RAND Graduate School can enable RAND to do innovative work in new areas.

RAND is well positioned for the future. Our collective efforts have built an institution of world-class talent committed to advancing the public good by working on the world’s most important policy challenges, a trusted source of expertise, analysis, and ideas at a time when the world needs objective analysis and innovative thinking more than ever. On the occasion of RAND’s 65th anniversary, we have good reason to feel proud of belonging to such a storied institution with such an important and urgent mission. It has been a remarkable 65 years, and our best times are still ahead.