Q&A with Keystone’s Christine Scanlan

Christine Scanlan is Keystone Policy Center’s President and CEO — a position she has held since July 2013. Keystone has thrived under Christine’s leadership, fundamentally reshaping critical public policy debates and dialogues on issues like education policy, public health, emerging genetic technologies, and climate change.

Christine returned to Keystone after leading government and legislative affairs for Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and several terms in the Colorado House of Representatives, where she worked across the aisle to reform the state’s education system and improve students’ access to opportunity.

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Q: You often say that you believe Keystone’s mission is more important today than at any other time. Why do you believe that?
Christine Scanlan: The one constant in our ever-changing world has been the prevalence and persistence of the politics of division and gridlock. Clearly the status quo isn’t working in Washington, D.C., and beyond. Recent news has only underscored the limits of one group or another going it alone, especially when they try to address truly urgent, big issues like climate change.

Keystone has, through its more than four decades of experience, shown that collaborative decision making, inclusive dialogue, and a dedication to reaching what we call “common higher ground” is the only way to make progress toward lasting solutions.

I’m a hopeless optimist, but Keystone’s track record on contentious or entrenched issues like modernizing our education system, achieving sustainable agriculture, and confronting climate change show my belief is well founded.

Q: What advice would you give to a leader in the public, private, or NGO sector looking to foster collaboration?
CS: Collaboration starts with dialogue. Leaders should not be afraid to engage with those whom they disagree. Often times we have found through Keystone’s work, that this type of engagement can yield profound results — and often spur the first steps toward shared goals.

Q: How did you start working at Keystone?
CS: Bob Craig, Keystone’s founder, hired me and mentored me from my humble beginnings at Keystone as a program associate. Bob was a visionary and built Keystone from the ground up. Throughout that process and my career, Bob would challenge us to take risks. Keystone thrived and created a new approach to policymaking by inspiring us to do more than simply pursue lowest-common-denominator compromises.

Q: How has Keystone evolved over your tenure at the organization?
CS: Keystone has grown remarkably. It started as a small nonprofit in the mountains of Colorado and today does work throughout North America. We still have our roots along the Continental Divide of Colorado, but we’ve branched out to some of the most important public-policy dialogues and debates of our time.

I’m thrilled that Keystone is doing the work today that Bob Craig envisioned when we launched Keystone back in the 1970s. Bob once called Keystone an “unlikely” organization. Today that sentiment seems misplaced given our success in successfully tackling some of the most difficult issues out there — and, through it all, inspiring others to reach common higher ground.

One other big shift over the past few decades that Keystone has adapted to has been the changing role of the federal government in fostering dialogue. Federal agencies oftentimes were the primary conveners of policy dialogues and collaborative processes. Now we’re seeing states, municipalities and counties, and — most importantly — the private and NGO sectors stepping up and leading the conversations over how to tackle truly monumental policy challenges.

Q: Where do you see Keystone’s mission taking it over the next several years?
CS: For all of Keystone’s success, we still have a lot of work to do. We’re launching new program areas this year and diving head-first into some of the fastest moving debates — including those around new gene-editing technologies and in the world of education policy.

It’s an exciting time to be at Keystone, and I hope to have much more to share in the coming months.