New Center, led by renowned national scholar on presidential power, will focus on improving the capacity and incentives of political actors and civic leaders to solve public problems.

CHICAGO – The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy today announced it will establish the Center for Effective Government, a new nonpartisan academic initiative that aims to serve as a hub to drive change in the governance of political institutions in the United States.

“Since its inception, Harris has been committed to advancing policy based on evidence, not ideology, and the Center for Effective Government will educate, inspire, and train the next generation of leaders to make an even greater impact in the field of government,” said Katherine Baicker, dean and Emmett Dedmon Professor at Harris Public Policy. “The Center integrates and augments the unique contributions Harris has made in the civic space and public arena with the Civic Leadership Academy and the Project on Political Reform.”

In recent times, our government regularly fails to take meaningful action on important problems like climate change, inequality, debt, immigration, and entitlements that broad segments of the American public expect to see addressed and that will grow more acute over time. Even when the government does act, it often produces policies that lack coherence, do not incorporate best practices, and are ineffective. The result, we have seen, is a rise of costly and increasingly intractable problems; and with them, burgeoning public distrust in government, anger, disaffection, and skepticism of democratic norms and practices.

“Our politics are broken,” said William Howell, the Sydney Stein Professor of American Politics at Harris, who will serve as director of the new Center. “At a time of such urgent need, Harris is the right place for leaders and scholars to come together. The Center for Effective Government will bridge the gap between research and policy, drawing on and enhancing the scholarship in this field and engagement with policymakers already being done.”

William Howell
William Howell will serve as academic director of the Center for Effective Government.

The Center for Effective Government will house the Civic Leadership Academy and activities previously run through the Project on Political Reform, Harris-affiliated initiatives independently operated under the academic direction of Professor Howell. The Civic Leadership Academy, founded in 2015 through the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement, is a highly selective leadership development program that brings together emerging leaders from Chicago and Cook County government and nonprofits. The Project on Political Reform (PPR) investigates the sources of political dysfunction and identifies pragmatic solutions through research, teaching, and public engagement.  

The Center for Effective Government will seek to drive change in the governance of American institutions, concentrating its work in three main areas:

  • Academic research, which will focus on the sources of and solutions for government dysfunction, with an eye toward making a government that provides public policy solutions that work;
  • Public events, which will bring together leading scholars in political science and public policy with government and industry leaders and practitioners, and students; and
  • Leadership development and professional training for students and practitioners in the public and nonprofit sectors.

Through its leadership development initiatives and training sessions, the Center will produce a pipeline of effective civic leaders and reformers with the skills needed to both lead and drive effective institutional change at all levels of government. The Center will host a wide range of public events that connect scholars, political practitioners, and students. Additionally, the Center will support original research and scholarly conferences that examine the operations of existing political institutions and what can be done to improve them.

William Howell, the director of the new center, previously served concurrently as academic director of the Civic Leadership Academy and the Project on Political Reform. He is also the chair of the Department of Political Science at UChicago and the author or co-author of seven books, including Relic: How the Constitution Undermines Effective Government–And Why We Need a More Powerful Presidency (Basic Books, 2016, with Terry Moe), The Wartime President: Executive Influence and the Nationalizing Politics of Threat (University of Chicago Press, 2013), and Power without Persuasion: The Politics of Direct Presidential Action (Princeton University Press, 2003), among others. His next book, Presidents, Populism, and the Crisis of Democracy, written with Terry Moe, will be released in the summer of 2020. His expert analysis on presidential power has appeared in local and national outlets including CNN, the Washington Post, and Vox.

For more information, please contact Sadia Sindhu, executive director, at


For more than three decades, the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy has been driven by the belief that evidence-based research, not ideology or intuition, is the best guide for public policy. Guided by this exacting perspective, our exceptional community of scholars, students, and more than 3,000 alumni take on the world’s most important problems using the latest tools of social science. As one of the largest graduate professional schools at the University of Chicago, Harris Public Policy offers a full range of degree and executive education programs to empower a new generation of data-driven leaders to create a positive social impact throughout our global society. This is Harris Public Policy: Social Impact, Down to a Science.