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National Research University Higher School of EconomicsNews‘Participants Didn’t Expect an Instant Return on the Seminar’

‘Participants Didn’t Expect an Instant Return on the Seminar’

Between May 3rd –7th the Ronald Coase Institute (USA) Seminar on Institutional Economics took place at the HSE. The seminar is traditionally held in key national research universities around the world. In this, the tenth anniversary year of these seminars, the HSE became a co-organizer and Maria Yudkevich, HSE Director for Academic Development and one of the seminar experts, told us about the event.

- Maria, what does the Ronald Coase Institute do and what are the aims of the seminars it organizes?

- The Ronald Coase Institute promotes institutional economics and studies economic institutions worldwide. One of its founders is Ronald Coase, Nobel Prize winner in Economics, and now three more Nobel Prize laureates are involved in this work:Douglass North, Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson. All of them have participated as experts in Institute seminars, delivering lectures and discussing research projects presented by Seminar participants. The Institute uses various forms of research support and also looks for new researchers and helps them acquire new knowledge, new contacts in the academic community and by means of such ‘influence'on young researchers aims to promote changes in the countries where those researchers are working. Twice a year the Institute holds intensive conferences or seminars in institutional economics, where the selected researchers not only present the results of their work, but meet seminar experts - leading specialist in this area, listen to lectures and establish professional and academic contacts.

- Why was the HSE chosen to host the latest seminar?

- Usually these seminars are held in large universities which have gained a reputation as important centres of economics research in their respective countries. It is rather hard to become one of them, but the HSE, thanks to its large number of researchers working specifically in institutional economics, got the opportunity to host such a seminar. From the HSE's side, the seminar was organized by the Laboratory for Institutional Analysis of Economic Reforms (LIA). Institutional analysis of reforms is one of the priority areas of research in the National Research University programme, and it really gave us a unique opportunity to get our colleagues to understand our work as well as allowing us to establish new contacts and build joint plans.

- Who were the experts of the seminar?

- The team of experts at the recent seminar included Alexandra and Lee Benhams (Washington University in St.Louis), Henry Morman (Institutional Research Group, US), Sebastian Galiani (Washington University in St.Louis), Peter Murrell (University of Maryland), John Nye (George Mason University), MarošServátka (Univeristy of Canterbury), Mary Shirley (World Bank, Ronald Coase Institute), Alberto Simpser (University of Chicago), Konstanitn Sonin (Russian Economic School) and Maria Yudkevich (Higher School of Economics).

- How did you select the participants for the seminar?

- There were more than 80 applications from young people interested in coming to the seminar, and in the end, about 30 people were selected to come to Moscow. Of course among them were our postgraduate students, young teachers and researchers, as well as representatives from other authoritative Russian universities, such as Saint Petersburg University, Novosibirsk State University and MSU, but Russian participants made up less than half the total number. Most of them were researchers from Central and Western Europe, South African Republic, China, India and other regions.

- How was the seminar programme built, and what element took priority - presentational or educational?

- In the first place, experts read lectures, but those lectures were rather short:from 30 minutes to an hour long. And the lectures were not so much about research work of those experts as about what ideas and tools they used in their work. The audience were encouraged to ask questions to the speaker. The second part of the seminar can be relatively called educational. The idea was that the participants during the first day would have the opportunity to speak about their work in small groups leaded by several experts and get a feedback from experts as well as from their fellow researchers.

During the concluding part of the seminar each participant, this time not in a small group, but in front of the whole audience, talked about the results of the reviewed project. And it became clear what progress can be achieved in three or four days by researchers if they work with leading economists, experts in their area, who are ready to get involved in reviewing projects carried out by their young colleagues. I talked to many seminar participants, and they anonymously mentioned that, on one hand, almost each of them somehow corrected the idea of his research problem and the tools to be used, and on the other hand, they have very rarely been in a situation when such prominent scientists whose books we read and whose publications we see in leading journals are ready to work with young people so closely.

- But wasn't the varied range of participants and the variety of their work topics an obstacle for finding points of common interest? Did they manage to find, so to say, a common research language?

- That's true:one might wonder what researchers from South America, Russia and China have in common? But it became clear that the topics of their research are somehow linked, and the multinational character of participants let the researchers look at problems from a different perspective and revealed some interesting things in what they had previously seen as usual and ordinary. And it was such comparativity that helped them to find a reason for certain phenomena. Generally, the question of why institutions have different structures, principles and results of work in different countries was the leitmotif of this week.

- What topics were the most popular in the seminar participants'reports?

- I would divide them into two groups. In the work of participants much attention was paid to the analysis of influence of various institutions on economic wealth and the results:influence of education on social networks development, building of informal networks and their influence over agents'interaction in transitional economies, as well as economic factors determining the growth of drug addiction and alcoholism. The other group of research work focused on the analysis of real contract relations:for example, the structure of contract relations between network retailers and suppliers, the interaction between information producers and its potential consumers, the contracts that should exist between executive authorities and enterprises which are used by them as outsourcers.

- Have the results of the seminar been published?

- We are not planning to publish any papers - and this is a deliberate decision of the seminar organizers. They believe that their key task is to provide assistance so that the seminar participants, using their experience and response they got here, are able to complete their research and it can then be published in an international peer-reviewed academic journal. It is really more interesting and useful to see what happens with young scientists'research results in a couple of years and not be satisfied with some intermediate publications. And the participants didn't expect an instant return on the seminar either:the main thing for them is that they've received a powerful impulse for further movement in the right direction.

- A special event in the seminar programme was an open round-table where the future of institutional economics was discussed. How would you assess its results?

- Initially, our international colleagues shared their views on the processes that are taking place in the world and their possible impact on Russia. But apart from that, the topics raised at the round-table discussion turned out to be so interesting that several colleagues came up to me and suggested continuing the discussion on the current situation in institutional economics in Russia after the end of the seminar. So now we are considering the best possible format for this discussion. Our meeting had one more practical result:Professor John Nye from George Mason University, who was one of the Seminar experts, will come back to the HSE for a whole month this Autumn to read a special research course on institutional theory and economic history as well as discussing mutual research projects with the HSE Institute of Institutional Research. We hope to continue working closely with him as well as other experts and participants interested in joint research with the HSE. We also believe that our traditional Russian Summer School on Institutional Analysis will have even more participants from universities around the world.

Oleg Seregin, HSE News Service

Photos by Darin Hargis and Nikita Benzoruk

Video of the round-table discussion on ‘New Institutional Economics:Confronting Current and Future Challenges'