A conversation with CPR editor Roberto Velasco-Alvarez on the publication's past, present, and promising future

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Chicago Policy ReviewCPR aims to bridge the gap between current academic research and the practical solutions policymakers need, covering topics such as energy, environment, urban affairs, science, law, finance, families, international affairs, and health. Ever since its founding as a print journal in 1996, the publication (which is now exclusively online) has been run entirely by graduate students at Chicago Harris. Its highly praised and oft-cited articles break down complex, empirical policy studies into succinct and rigorous analyses that are accessible to everyone, and its interviews include substantive dialogue with leading practitioners on their insights. The current editorial staff includes approximately 80 writers.

To celebrate the anniversary, CPR has been running a 20-part series of both previously published and new articles, spotlighting both the range and high caliber of its features. The series culminates this week with an interview with renowned UChicago Law Professor Martha C. Nussbaum on the role of emotion in public policy.

To learn more about this significant milestone, we spoke with Roberto Velasco-Alvarez, a second-year MPP student who is serving as CPR’s editor-in-chief for 2016-2017. Before coming to Harris, Velasco-Alvarez studied law in Mexico City, where he gained experience in strategic communications, government, and politics. This summer he is working as a Mayoral Fellow for the City of Chicago, expanding his leadership capacity and cultivating his interest in cities, strategy, energy, and politics. 

What is CPR’s vision for the next 20 years? Where do you think the publication is going?

Chicago Policy Review continues to publish pieces of excellent quality, which is the result of a meticulous writing and editorial process that this organization has perfected over the years. Furthermore, I believe most of our pieces are very relevant for pressing public policy debates that are happening in the world today. However, our biggest challenge remains how to get our content to a broader audience. We had a little over 120,000 readers last year; I see my current role as well as the role of coming generations of editors focused on increasing the number of readers for our publication.

Moreover, our work is not just on increasing readership but also strategically reaching decisionmakers throughout the world. And there we have a dual challenge: On the one hand, we need to create partnerships and new products that target policymakers; on the other, we need to adapt to an increasingly diverse audience. Our first attempt to address the latter challenge will be met through the creation of a Spanish section that will pilot this fall.

What is CPR trying to improve upon?

We need to keep attracting new talent to our organization. Right now, our greatest strength is the group of amazingly talented writers and editors that work with us. However, students at Harris have a wide range of organizations to get involved in during their time here. As a result, we need to remain attractive for them, which I believe can be achieved through the reputation for rigor that Chicago Policy Review has built over time. What is more, since we are a university-wide organization, we have to involve talented students from other disciplines across campus as well.

What role does CPR play in the policy world?

We strive to be an access point, as we bridge the gap between current academic research and the practical solutions policymakers need. There are other publications that specialize in a policy topic or that sporadically include public policy issues in their content, but there is no other publication that systematically breaks down complex, empirical policy studies into succinct and rigorous analyses that are widely accessible.

What makes CPR unique, both to the university and to the world of policy in general?

We have been entirely student-run for twenty years, which I believe is a phenomenal accomplishment. We are of great importance to the identity of Harris, and we are a vibrant part of the University of Chicago community. The amount of tangible work that we produce—we are publishing every day during the school year and weekly over the summer—is certainly something to be proud of.

What made you want to join? Where did you envision CPR could take you?

As a new student, I saw great people and great potential in Chicago Policy Review. I believe we truly bring value to the public policy world, and I have learned a great deal from the skill, passion, and discipline of my peers. Additionally, as part of the 20th Anniversary Series that we prepared, I had a very interesting conversation with Martha Nussbaum during which we discussed the disconnection between scholarly research and broader audiences. Nussbaum sees the necessity of a distinction between the work of those doing public policy research and the people who divulge their findings. This naturally calls for a specialization in communicating policy research. That is exactly what this organization does each day, and it serves as my greatest takeaway from Chicago Policy Review.

To learn more about Chicago Policy Review, visit theCPR website