Foundations of Conservative Policymaking Fellowship


The R Street Institute’s program on Civil Society, Education and Work is launching a fellowship program for high-potential early- and mid-career professionals currently working in public policy, primarily at the state and local level.

The “Foundations of Conservative Policymaking Fellowship” will bring together groups of individuals committed to careers in public service. They will learn about the principles of American conservatism and how these relate to contemporary issues of governing and policymaking. Each cohort will be composed of ~15 fellows (fewer in the initial cohorts) working in government and non-government positions. Fellows will represent a wide array of domestic policy fields, including education, workforce development, social services, criminal justice and more.

Twice over the course of a year, fellows will come to Washington, D.C. to participate in four-day learning sessions. The first session will focus primarily on seminal texts and the defining ideas of American conservatism. The second session will focus on current policies and debates, for example, those related to healthcare, education and social services. Sessions will be led by conservative thought leaders with experience in public policy. In addition to seminar-style discussions based on select readings, there will also be lectures by experts, including panel conversations.

During their fellowship year, participants will continue to work in their current positions. A primary purpose of the program is to help individuals integrate conservative governing principles into their current work, whether inside of government, policy development, advocacy or related fields. The program is free of charge to the individuals selected; the cost of their travel to Washington, hotel and incidentals will be covered by the fellowship.

Members of the first cohort will be selected in the spring and summer of 2019. The first session of Cohort 1 will be held in Fall 2019, and the second session will be held in early 2020. Subsequent cohorts of fellows will be recruited and selected on an ongoing basis thereafter.


This fellowship is designed to fill a particular gap. There are several programs about conservatism for college students and recent graduates. And there are numerous professional development opportunities for policy professionals. This program, however, is designed for those who are already building careers in public policy and public service but want to learn more about the animating principles of American conservatism, especially as they relate to the practice of governing. Moreover, given the importance of federalism and decentralization to conservative thought, the program’s selection process will prioritize those working in state and local capacities.

A new program along these lines is particularly needed in our unusual political moment. Our policy conversations have become simultaneously toxic and exhausted. That is, our political parties are polarized, and our public debates are marked by incivility. But at the same time, fresh, workable solutions to today’s most pressing challenges are in short supply. The fellowship’s emphasis on first principles of governing is designed to challenge and invigorate participants and encourage them to focus on ideas rather than partisanship, so that they can bring these ideas to bear on concrete, local problems.

In this way, the program aims to strengthen fellows’ understanding of conservatism as well as their commitment to careers in public service.


We are now seeking recommendations for the fellowship’s first cohort. Candidates may self-nominate or be recommended by a professional colleague. The preferred profile for nominees in the first cohort includes:

● Evidence of a commitment to a career in policy and public service

● Notable academic and early-career success

● Interest in engaging with challenging texts and participating in group discussions

● Current employment in a field directly related to public policy, ideally at the state or local level

● General agreement with or openness to learning more about the contours of American conservatism

Those seeking to self-nominate or nominate a colleague should contact Andy Smarick at