Todd Schenk is an Assistant Professor in the Urban Affairs and Planning Program of the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech. He has extensive research and consulting experience working on collaborative governance and environmental policy and planning issues around the world. Dr. Schenk received both a Ph.D. in Public Policy and Planning and a Master in City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a Bachelor’s degree in Geography from the University of Guelph (Canada). He previously served as the Assistant Director of the MIT Science Impact Collaborative, held a research fellowship with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, was a project manager with the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe and a senior consultant for the Consensus Building Institute.
Dr. Schenk’s current work falls into four overlapping areas:
Collaborative governance – Much of Dr. Schenk’s work relates to collaborative governance, public sector dispute resolution, and negotiation. That is, how multi-stakeholder groups can effectively collaborate to make more ‘fair, efficient, stable and wise’ decisions. He is particularly focused on situations with high degrees of uncertainty, complexity and institutional ambiguity. A recently published volume on Joint Fact-Finding that Dr. Schenk co-edited explores how groups can work through scientifically and technically-complex policy-making and planning challenges.
Empathy and understanding – Recognizing that genuine deliberation among diverse groups is getting increasingly difficult as we grow more and more distant from and disdainful of each other, Dr. Schenk initiated the Frenemies Project in the Spring of 2016. This initiative is bringing people with very strong (opposing) opinions on important policy issues together for workshops that provide the space and support for healthy dialogue. The outcomes suggest that, while the experience does not necessarily change their opinions, the experience can increase empathy and understanding.
Climate change adaptation – Dr. Schenk is particularly interested in climate adaptation as a governance challenge. He is currently writing a book on ‘institutionalizing uncertainty’, which examines how infrastructure managers and other stakeholders can prepare for uncertain climate futures. It considers various tools and approaches, including the use of multiple scenarios.
Serious games – Dr. Schenk uses role-play simulation exercises throughout much of his work as a way to engage stakeholders. They can serve multiple purposes, including: facilitating perspective taking; quickly and inexpensively introducing issues, potential solutions, and/or means of decision-making; and creating safe spaces for interaction and exploration. Dr. Schenk has written extensively on the use or RPS exercises, including in a recently published Nature Climate Change article.
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