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Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs

Frequently Asked Questions

Get answers to some commonly asked questions regarding Northwestern Buffett's research trajectory, including Idea Dialogues, Idea Incubation Workshops, and ongoing support.

Idea Dialogues

What are the qualifiers for a great Idea Dialogue proposal?

Great Idea Dialogue proposals take many, broad-ranging forms. They all ask questions that:

  1. demonstrate global scope, 
  2. are intellectually challenging,
  3. have real-world implications, and
  4. invite transdisciplinary collaboration.

Who decides whom to invite? Who sends out invitations?

Idea Dialogue proposers work together with Northwestern Buffett staff to curate a list of potential participants and invite them to attend.

Why does my proposed topic have to be tied to a Sustainable Development Goal? Isn’t that limiting?

The SDGs are important to Northwestern’s global mission because they provide a set of goals and priorities that are familiar to audiences across the world. The SDGs have an extremely broad scope. 

How many Idea Dialogue groups move onto Idea Incubation Workshops?

We aim to host 10 to 12 Idea Dialogues annually, and we expect three to five of those groups to participate in an Idea Incubation Workshop.

Who decides if the Idea Dialogue was a success?

Northwestern Buffett staff reach out to Idea Dialogue participants to gauge their feedback. If participants determine that the conversation had enough enthusiasm, momentum, and potential, the group can participate in a subsequent Idea Incubation Workshop. 

I really enjoyed an Idea Dialogue and want to continue working with the other participants. Do we have to attend the Idea Incubation Workshop?

No, the Idea Incubation Workshop is a possible but not a mandatory next step for Idea Dialogues. Some Idea Dialogues may result in future collaborations independent of Northwestern Buffett, though we appreciate former Idea Dialogue participants sharing their success stories with us.

Idea Incubation Workshops

Who decides whom to invite? Who sends out invitations?

Buffett staff work closely with faculty leaders to identify a list of invitees. We know that email can be time-consuming, so Buffett staff are very happy to send out invitations on behalf of faculty leaders.  

Can I invite anyone I want?

Yes, as long as their research and expertise pertain to the particular Idea Incubation Workshop group. Faculty leaders work with Buffett staff to identify the best experts, locally and internationally, to bring to the workshop. 

Can I involve people from outside of Northwestern?

Yes. In fact, it is strongly encouraged that you do. 

Will Northwestern Buffett fund people attending from outside of Evanston?

Yes. Buffett can fund travel and accommodation for at least two participants per Idea Incubation Workshop group. 

I have a long-term collaborator who lives in Ulaanbaatar. Can I bring them to the Idea Incubation Workshop?

Probably! Faculty are encouraged to work together with Buffett staff to bring collaborators to campus for the workshop. 

What kind of preparation needs to be done before the workshop?

Very little. In the weeks leading up to the workshop, participants are invited to kick start discussions via an online forum.

Buffett staff provide guidance to faculty leaders on how to facilitate their idea incubation workshop, including a tailored process for moving from a collaboratively identified set of challenges to a concrete plan for addressing it.

What research needs to be done before the workshop?

The purpose of the Idea Incubation Workshop is to develop a proposal for new research and action. The real research therefore takes place after the workshop, not before it. 

Does the Idea Incubation Workshop really have to be a weekend?

We believe in the value of a set focused time to engage in conversations about your prospective project. Previous Idea Incubation Workshop participants have appreciated the productivity generated by intense discussions and project mapping over the course of the weekend.

If I agree to lead an Idea Incubation Workshop group, am I tied to leading a Working Group if the pitch is successful?

No. If your pitch is successful, it will be up to the Working Group to collectively determine the group’s membership and leadership moving forward. 

Why an Idea Pitch? Isn’t that a bit like Shark Tank?

Less Shark Tank, more a revamping of the traditional peer-review process associated with any grant proposal. The Idea Pitch is an opportunity to expedite both the grant-writing and grant-review processes. 

By inviting judges from within and beyond the university, we expand the “peer reviewers” to reflect the diversity of expertise necessary to make transdisciplinary research and action a success. Dialogue with the judges and the audience also offers groups the opportunity to garner valuable feedback on their plans moving forward.

What happens to Idea Incubation Workshop groups that don’t win?

The weekend workshop is about much more than determining who Buffett should and should not fund. Though Northwestern Buffett cannot offer the full Working Group support and funding package to each and every Idea Incubation Workshop group, it need not be the end of the road for groups who we do not fund. Buffett can provide some guidance and logistical support to groups that wish to reconvene and seek alternative avenues for funding their collaborative work. 

Who are the Idea Incubation Workshop judges?

The Idea Incubation Workshop judges change annually. In the past, they have included Northwestern faculty, trustees, donors, and senior administrators, as well as representatives of international organizations like the United Nations.

Working Groups

What is the lifecycle of a Working Group?

Working Groups receive a package of Northwestern Buffett support for up to two years. During this time, Working Groups should apply for external grant funding to further pursue their research.

What is the support package for Working Groups?

The Northwestern Buffett Working Group support package is valued at more than $150,000 per year and includes funding, graduate assistantships, fundraising support, and administrative staff support for operations. Each Working Group works with Northwestern Buffett to determine the group’s particular support and resources needs. 

How much time is expected of me as a Working Group participant?

Each Working Group works together to determine the roles and responsibilities of its participants early in their planning process. In other words, you work with your group to decide on labor distribution and time commitments to the group’s project.

What do I have to gain by being part of a Working Group? Will it help me get tenure? 

Working Groups offer faculty the unique opportunity to work closely and collaboratively with scholars from other disciplines and with practitioners, on shared projects that respond to critical global problems. Groups receive financial and administrative support, help making important connections, and guidance in navigating project obstacles and challenges. While participating in a Working Group may not in and of itself count toward tenure, Working Group connections, collaborations, and outputs are likely to bolster your tenure portfolio and better position you for a robust global professional career.