The CENSA Vision

CENSA seeks to integrate professionals and practitioners of diverse position, expertise, and mission to the common purpose of enhancing U.S. security and that of our friends and allies. CENSA will continue to establish itself as an organization with wide-ranging intellectual capital that is capable of addressing rapidly emerging national security challenges.

Three issues need to be addressed in order to prepare the next generation of foreign policy leaders for meaningful contributions to the dialogue.

1. The Problem: Practitioners Voices are Not Heard

Career practitioners represent the most substantive group of potential policy crafting consultants available today. Practitioners within the government make up the majority of all NSC “working groups” and many policy coordination committees (PCCs) assigned the task of crafting policy for presentation to Deputies and Principal Committees. And yet practitioner potential-at-large remains untapped. Indeed, there are few venues through which to provide input into the broader policy process and community of ideas outside of their own organizations. Those who are not academics are generally unlikely to have the contacts, time, or “star power” to successfully submit articles to peer reviewed journals such as Foreign Affairs, or to the op-ed pages of widely circulated newspapers. As a result, many practitioners do not go through such an exercise, and an important perspective and potential influence on policy development is lost.

CENSA’s Solution: Provide a Unified Platform for Interdisciplinary Practitioner Input

As a membership requirement, and as an integral part of the CENSA community, members must generate chapters, essays, newsletters, or op-eds that are reviewed and revised by a CENSA review committee. We distribute these products to a broad range of key national security institutions, think tanks, and policy makers, including the Department of Defense, National Security Council, Naval Postgraduate School, US Army War College, and countless University libraries across the country. Because it’s one of the very few organizations to take this approach, CENSA has built a reputation as a “go-to” clearing-house for high quality, on-the-ground practitioner perspectives and up-to-the-minute research. The challenge of regularly writing or contributing—and the knowledge that peers are doing the same–brings members together as part of a shared community, strengthening the network and bolstering their motivation to attend CENSA events. These factors all encourage high quality members to join the organization, and they reinforce the process. The bottom line is that midcareer professionals are not only heard within CENSA, but actively involved in shaping the emerging national security agenda.

2. The Problem: Practitioners can be isolated from different groups and ideas

At the practitioner level, most policy professionals tend to be “stove piped” into their organization and their field, with only occasional opportunities to network with peers from other organizations. This dynamic reduces their opportunities to bring new perspectives and outside input into the thinking within their current job. In addition, as professionals rise in seniority and influence, a broad, multidisciplinary approach is both important to job effectiveness and important to effective policymaking in a world where capabilities, solutions, and sources of influence are distributed across many organizations.

CENSA’s Solution: Develop a cadre of highly networked leaders with strong ties across sectors and disciplines

The strength of our organization is the extremely high quality and competitively selected membership that bridges the most important sectors of the public policy and private sector communities, bringing them together regularly to collaborate with each other and key experts. Our team is multidisciplinary in view, highly networked in nature, very skilled at managing the policy process, and contributes regularly and effectively to the policy community through the CENSA platform. We encourage members to cementties to each other and provide effective training through joint research, formal speaker and conference events, and informal social venues. We also provide the tools for offline interaction, with a streamlined member database that provides key information on security related skills and talents as well as links to existing web tools such as LinkedIn and Facebook, among other social networking systems.

3. The Problem: Few Opportunities Exist for Practitioner National Security Training

National security practitioners are rarely exposed to continuing education, training and skill development outside their immediate job function or policy field. This is an understandable result of organizational interests and time and budget constraints. However, improving this situation could lower transition costs when professionals move between jobs or organizations, increase their ability to seize new opportunities, and enhance the type of non-linear thinking and problem solving that results from a greater perspective.

CENSA’s Solution: Provide ongoing situation-based training and development opportunities

CENSA events provide an opportunity to learn from policymakers and their peers, both in subject matter knowledge and in process/situational knowledge. While facts can be gained from open source material, perspective on how to address problems, situations, and organizations in the context of real world constraints—institutional knowledge—is far harder to obtain. CENSA provides its members with regular, sustained opportunities to develop insight on best practices across situations, organizations, and policy areas, as well as up-to-the-minute knowledge and on-the-ground insights from practitioners.

Similarly, in a developing program, a portion of CENSA’s events focus specifically on helping members better understand the policy process, with briefings on such topics as managing press relations, coordinating among agencies, and leveraging organizational power. We’ve also successfully introduced new “Managing the Policy Process” events to make CENSA a unique place to learn policy tradecraft. We also develop strategic partnerships with major educational and nonprofit organizations to provide access to broader media outlets, while soliciting their review of CENSA materials and extending our network even further.

The Value Proposition

These three objectives make CENSA a unique organization in an age of increasing civic engagement and among a plethora of policy institutes, organizations, and nonprofits. The organization does not suggest it can reverse the problems identified above for the entire national security practitioner population. However, one of CENSA’s core strengths is its demonstrated ability to select an impressive mix of high potential professionals and to harness their energy and insights to develop and influence national security policy. CENSA’s commitment to doing this well creates incredible opportunities to develop a cadre of future national security leaders and influential individuals that is multidisciplinary in view, highly networked in nature, very skilled at managing the policy process, and contributes regularly and effectively to the policy community through the CENSA platform. This, we believe, has the potential to meaningfully improve national security policy outcomes over the long term.