The Sycamore Institute Taps Eric Harkness as Next Leader

The Sycamore Institute, an independent and nonpartisan public policy research center for Tennessee, announced today that Eric Harkness will be its next executive director. Harkness currently leads the Tennessee Department of Health’s Office of Strategic Initiatives and will formally succeed Sycamore’s founding Executive Director Laura Berlind in early December.

“I have admired Sycamore’s work for years and am thrilled to join this amazing team of policy minds from across the political spectrum,” said Harkness. “No one else in Tennessee can match their ability to clarify complexity on such a wide range of issues. Sycamore is also a model for civic engagement, with an impressive track record of building trust and fostering productive conversations between Tennesseans who strongly disagree. It will be my honor to help carry this work forward into every corner of our state.”

Harkness joins Sycamore after a 15-year career rising rapidly through the ranks of Tennessee state government. He has served as a key advisor to multiple commissioners under Governors Bill Haslam and Bill Lee. As director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives, he currently oversees the Department of Health’s strategic planning process and manages critical projects like the development and launch of a community health assessment and action planning process in 89 counties. His career in state government began during Governor Phil Bredesen’s administration, serving at the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury before joining the Department of Finance & Administration to work on health policy.

Harkness graduated from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and Sustainability Studies and is an alumnus of the state’s Government Management Institute and Government Executive Institute. This winter, he will also complete his master of public health degree from Johns Hopkins University.

“The Sycamore Institute has reached a critical inflection point in the growth of our staff capacity and influence on public policy discussions around the state,” said Board Chairman Ed Roberson. “Eric’s commitment to good governance, depth of experience, and entrepreneurial approach made him the clear choice to lead our unique civic institution into the future.”

The Sycamore Institute is Tennessee’s go-to source for rigorous, easy-to-follow, and politically-neutral policy information. Since its founding in 2015, Sycamore has published over 150 pieces of policy research and analysis and built a large and growing audience of civically engaged Tennesseans from communities across the state. The institute has informed numerous debates over issues that affect and connect health and prosperity in Tennessee: transportation, economic mobility, Medicaid, the state’s rainy day fund, unemployment insurance, criminal justice, medical debt, COVID-19, and more. Policymakers, journalists, advocates, nonprofits, and business and community leaders at the national, state, and local levels frequently turn to Sycamore for insight and unbiased analysis of data and evidence.

“Eric is the perfect person to lead Sycamore through its next stage of growth and development,” said Berlind. “I prepare to depart with tremendous pride in what Sycamore has already achieved and absolute confidence that even greater days lie ahead.”

Harkness will ramp up his role at Sycamore over the course of the month of November. After a transition period, Berlind will move on to her next role as executive director of the Adaptive Leadership Network, a nonprofit organization that seeks to catalyze, connect, and support leadership capacity around the world. Harkness will assume the full-time role of executive director at the Sycamore Institute on December 1.

About Sycamore

The Sycamore Institute exists to help policymakers, the media, and the public understand complex issues that affect and connect Tennesseans’ health and prosperity. Sycamore takes a neutral and objective approach to providing information, analysis, and opportunities for learning and discussion. As an independent, nonpartisan public policy research center with staff from across the political spectrum, we provide accessible, reliable data and research in pursuit of sound, sustainable policies that improve the lives of all Tennesseans.

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