Royal Society of Canada Profile: Michael Howlett


Political science professor and Canada Research Chair, Michael Howlett, has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC). He is one of four Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences professors receiving Canada’s highest academic honour this year. 

 “It's an honour and a privilege to have my work recognized by my peers in the Canadian academic community,” says Howlett of being elected to the RSC. “I very much appreciate successive SFU administrations having encouraged and supported these efforts in many different ways over the past three decades.”

Howlett began teaching at Simon Fraser University in 1989. Over the last three decades, his research has had three parts. In the 1990s, he mainly worked on Canadian forest policy, which developed into an ongoing interest in comparative natural resource and environmental policy, including climate change. Throughout the following decade, Howlett became more involved in generalizing insights from this work into “generic” lessons for policy-making and policy sciences. Over the last 10 years, he took his long-standing interest in policy tools and developed it into a major and growing field of interest internationally on policy design.

“This involves detailed work examining policy formulation practices in government, from professional policy analysis to how policy advice is made and received by governments,” says Howlett. “This work is oriented around the question of how best to put together effective public policies. It is very practical, looking at what kinds of tools are best suited to specific tasks and how they can be packaged together to resolve problems.”

These problems can range from climate change to homelessness. The key is to ask what tools and what combination of tools work best (or fail) and why.

Howlett has actively been building the policy studies field internationally. For example, he held a visiting professorship at the National University of Singapore for six years (2009–2017). While in Asia, he also helped start various public policy networks in places like India, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

Last year, he helped create the Canadian Public Policy Network, which is the first organization of its kind in the country. 

Worldwide, people can also access public policy information in the numerous journals Howlett has edited, including the Canadian Journal of Political Science.

Read "Royal Society of Canada honours seven SFU innovators and their research impact" in SFU News.