Source: University of Tennessee | Release | September 9, 2015

UT BC Dipl labThe Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has been selected as a partner in the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomacy Lab program, which harnesses the knowledge of students and faculty at universities across the country to study issues of worldwide importance.

The Diplomacy Lab helps the State Department broaden its research base and more effectively respond to a variety of global challenges.

“The Diplomacy Lab is a unique opportunity for our students and faculty to contribute directly to the policymaking process,” said Matt Murray, director of the Baker Center. “Our students will engage with the State Department throughout the fall semester through videos and teleconferences while our faculty members serve as mentors to them during the research process.”

A standard Diplomacy Lab team is a group of at least four undergraduate or graduate students in any discipline led by a faculty member. Over the course of a semester, professors will guide their students in developing a final product for the State Department.

Teams will have a conference session with State Department officials to get more direction as they begin the project. They’ll meet again midcourse and then have a final conference where they will present their results, which could take the form of policy memos, longer research papers, statistical analyses, interactive media or data sets.

The Baker Center—on behalf of UT faculty—submitted four proposals to the State Department, responding to the problems provided by the State Department. The following three projects were selected to participate in the Diplomacy Lab:

  • “International Correction Reform and Human Rights Protections for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Inmates in Latin America and/or Africa”—Bharat Mehra, associate professor in the School of Information Sciences, will work with a group of graduate students to look at the treatment of those imprisoned for being or perceived to be LGBTI in selected countries of South American and Africa, especially those whose laws that criminalize an already marginalized population. “It is a great opportunity to make a difference by developing practical research applications, information and technology use, and GIS maps to represent current trends, baseline protections and best practices that support the government in making life better for such a marginalized population,” Mehra said.
  • Case Studies of Communication Strategies/Tactics of Police Units in Democracies”—Catherine Luther, professor of journalism and electronic media in the College of Communications and Information Sciences, and an ethnically diverse group of graduate students will examine how law enforcement representatives in selected democracies engage with their communities and suggest how improvements might be made via new media. Case studies will be conducted on four police units: Delhi Police (India), Belgrade Police (Serbia), Seoul Metropolitan Police (South Korea), and Atlanta Police (U.S.). “The Diplomacy Lab will allow my students to engage in experiential learning and possibly make valuable professional connections,” Luther said. “The project’s subject matter will let me share with my students the insights that I have gained in my recent research pertaining to digital media and security issues.”
  • “Evaluating Diplomatic Intervention in International Conflicts”—Krista E. Wiegand, a Baker Faculty Fellow and associate professor in the Department of Political Science, will work with graduate students from political science and the Master of Public Policy and Administration program to study ethnic, religious, tribal and linguistic insurgencies, secession and separatist movements, and civil wars. They will use the Uppsala Department of Peace and Conflict Research Peace Agreement Dataset, which records all peace agreements, partial and completed, from 1973 through 2011, to analyze how political violence ends and what impact elections have on ending political violence. “This is a really unique opportunity for my international conflict class to interact directly with representatives of the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations at the Department of State,” Wiegand said. “For them to be able to contribute analysis on diplomatic interventions in international conflicts and to learn how the real world of diplomacy works is remarkable.”

“I am so excited about the potential of the Diplomacy Lab,” said Nissa Dahlin-Brown, associate director of the Baker Center and director of the Diplomacy Lab program. “What an honor for our students and faculty to have this experience working on a team with the Department of State, critically analyzing issues and helping inform policymakers around the world. It will be fascinating to see the results in December.”

For more information about the Diplomacy Lab, visit

For more information about the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, visit