In a world of increasingly complex challenges, greater engagement between scholars and practitioners presents both sides with a significant opportunity for acquiring new knowledge. Traditional patterns of theory-practice exchange have mostly revolved around processes of knowledge transfer from scholars to officials. Academics do indeed have much to offer to policymakers; they bring a historical perspective and have extensive knowledge of the underlying causes of political and social trends, which they can also trace to policies carried out—or not carried out—by diplomats. They can thus provide policymakers with broader narratives that policymakers can use to give greater context to their action. But academics can also learn much more from policymakers. The latter do not elaborate on policies from the comfort zone of independent research. They are part of large bureaucratic processes in which multiple factors—political expediency, intra- and inter-agency coordination, number, education, and turnover rate of personnel, organizational structures, and financial resources—contribute to shaping policies. Furthermore, policymakers work within much shorter time horizons. This article takes the case of European policies in support of resilience in the EU’s neighborhood to explore the potential of a more flexible model of theory-practice engagement based on knowledge exchange rather than transfer.
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