Kendra Tully
Behavioral science research to improve policy decisions

Kendra Tully is a third-year Ph.D. candidate in political science. Her research focuses on theories of freedom and its manifestation in policy and institutions. She is the speaker series coordinator at the UC Center at Sacramento, bringing University of California faculty to Sacramento to share their research with policy practitioners.

I hope to pursue a career at the nexus between research and policy making where I can be an advocate for society’s most vulnerable populations.

Describe your project or venture.

My research broadly focuses on the relationship between policy-making and freedom. As anyone who turns on CSPAN quickly learns, legislative deliberation focuses more on practical considerations like costs and efficiency than on normative considerations. However, the way we structure policies can influence individual’s perceived agency and perceived place within society. My dissertation explores which kinds of policies positively impact individual outcomes and individuals’ experience of agency, and what kinds of standards should be in place to protect individuals from harm. I pay particular attention to policy interventions called “nudges,” which use behavioral science research to improve decisions in various areas of policy.

What’s important about your research—and where do you hope to take it?

My background is in political philosophy, but my passion is in how policy can be used to better people’s lives while also respecting their agency. I believe that the more attention we pay to the normative consequences of policy making respects the concerns of individuals and makes for better policy.

What are you most passionate about in your work?

To me, agency means having the resources to chart the course of one’s own life and the ability to defend oneself against harm. With the fragmentation of wealth and power today, the voices of some individuals and groups diminished, leaving them susceptible to a multitude of dangers. Rather than act as if those currently in positions of authority know what is best for these citizens, I believe we should create more opportunities for them to speak on their own behalf.

I am passionate about my work because I believe the basis for a working democracy is a strong sense of community, which requires mutual respect and equality of opportunity.

What was the most important thing you learned at the Entrepreneurship Academy?

The most important thing I learned at the academy is the idea that no great innovation is achieved by the individual. Without a network of individuals and organizations to help it develop, a monumental discovery will never have the opportunity to change people’s lives. This lesson is so valuable because not only is it humbling, but it also demonstrates the immense power of a shared vision and cooperation.

What is the most important thing you discovered in the Leaders for the Future program?

The program was beneficial to me in so many different ways. Through the workshops and activities we did throughout the program, I gained more confidence in what I wanted to do. In understanding the different ways in which academics and professionals communicate, I learned how to be more concise and message-driven. Through my immersive experience, I gained real-world experience and discovered ways in which my strengths could be best applied.

How will your experiences help you to change the world?

Leaders of the Future helped me clarify what it is I am passionate about and how I can find a job that fuels this passion. I believe that when people are able to identify what’s most important to them and figure out how best to follow that, they can stay motivated and focused, and society as a whole benefits. This is such a valuable outcome of the program, and I hope it continues to have this impact for other students.

How will your experiences as a Leader for the Future and at the academy shape your professional future?

My experiences in the Leaders of the Future program made me not only a better communicator, but also a better listener. I learned how to communicate my impact and desires in a clear and concise way—and also how important it is to listen for the same things from others and build a network of people with shared values, whether that be in my personal relationships or finding my place in a satisfying career. I also took away valuable and tangible skills in communication, organization, job seeking and interviewing.