Network power

After Kurnia Toha was named to head Indonesia’s competition authority in 2018, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific Professor Veronica Taylor was able to introduce him to his counterparts at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

This was made easy because Toha was a former PhD student of Taylor’s, while staff in the ACCC international cooperation division belong to the Law and Justice Development Community of Practice. The group was co-convened by Taylor to connect those working on social-justice and rule-of-law projects throughout Asia and the Pacific.

The community of practice involves more than 150 government officials, academics, non-governmental organisations and others working on donor-supported law and justice projects throughout the region. Many of these are in Indonesia, the Philippines, Cambodia and PNG, where the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is making aid investments.

The group not only shares strategies and ideas that have worked but also which ones failed and why, Taylor said. It is no longer enough to have just good intentions and technical model: successful international aid projects usually require their leaders be politically savvy and foster strong local connections, she said.

“The idea that took hold in the 1990s that you can simply create a market economy, festoon it with well-crafted commercial law, get business cranking and then see a trickle-down effect where the poor magically become the middle class, has proven to be more or less indefensible” said Taylor, “The same is true of the legal reform world view that you do this through very surgical, technical interventions and lots of technical advice, independent of local political realities.”

In 2016, Overseas Development Institute practitioner Dr Lisa Denny and DFAT colleagues brought the idea of forming a community of practice to Taylor because she has spent more than 25 years working on rule of law and governance projects throughout Asia and Eurasia.

Taylor has written extensively on transforming legal networks and institutions in developing and transitional economies at the ANU School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet) and University of Washington in Seattle. Taylor also has worked to design and implement legal reforms in Asia for and with the World Bank, USAID, the US State Department, the Asia Foundation and DFAT (formerly AusAID).

“I’m part of a tight network of scholar-practitioners in North America, Europe and Asia,” she said.

And Taylor’s community of practice project is a good example of engaged policy research that lies at the core of RegNet’s mission.

The school focuses on regulation and governance research to improve social justice and human conditions. RegNet’s projects usually pull together academics from various disciplines, including law, social science and health, to get a wider focus on major policy challenges.

Rather than drafting specific policy prescriptions, RegNet scholars work with government officials and various other stakeholders to understand major policy problems, said Taylor, a former director of the school. That determines the research that then needs to be undertaken to provide information to policymakers.

As a specialist in Asian and comparative law with a long exposure to Japan, Taylor’s particular skill is in presenting menus of choice from different institutional systems at different stages of development.

RegNet’s academics seek to build relationships with colleagues internationally who work on similar problems and to network them to colleagues in Asia and the Pacific – those ‘networks of networks’ can then have larger impact, to effect meaningful global changes, Taylor said.

The Law and Justice Development Community of Practice that brings people together to collaborate on development supported initiatives is another RegNet-sponsored network.

 “As an engaged academic, it’s not enough to sit at your desk and crank out a number of highly regarded journal articles,” she said. “It’s really important that you be in the world looking for opportunities to try to make a difference.”

Research funded by: Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Related website: Law and Justice Development Community of Practice

Related research: Professor Veronica Taylor

Image credit: UN Women/Patrick Reoka

Updated:  24 April, 2017/Responsible Officer:  Dean, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team