Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


ESD.10 Introduction to Technology and Policy

Course Synopsis

This course is designed to provide students with the critical tools necessary to evaluate the use of scientific assessments and quantitative models in decision-making and policy. Students will gain understanding and awareness of policy considerations in scientific assessment, practice using quantitative tools to conduct policy-relevant analyses, and evaluate the effectiveness of quantitative and scientific information in decision-making contexts. This is thus an appropriate course both for students who conduct policy-relevant science and engineering work, as well as those who are potential users of scientific analyses or quantitative output. Many of the examples will be drawn from modeling of earth and environmental systems, but the techniques and frameworks are applicable across multiple issue domains. Guest lecturers throughout the semester will introduce examples from other areas of application.

Course Outline and Content

This course is divided into four sections: The first section introduces the context of using scientific and technical information in policy decision making. It provides background for contrasting the use of models and assessments for scientific vs. decision-making purposes.

The second section gives an overview of analytical tools and frameworks useful in evaluating models and assessments for policy, including assessment frameworks. These include ways to evaluate credibility, salience and legitimacy and the effectiveness of information.

The third section applies the modeling and analytical tools learned in the previous section to discussion of case studies of models in policy, including cases on acid rain, fisheries, ozone depletion, climate change, and chemicals.

The fourth and final section will conclude by drawing lessons across cases and emphasizing applications, with student presentations of assessment projects.

Learning Objectives

This course bridges an important gap between courses that focus on quantitative techniques and those emphasizing policy and decision-making. This course presents an integrated, practical approach to designing policy-relevant quantitative assessments and models.

By taking this course, students will:

  • Learn and help to identify "best practices" in using scientific information in the policy process
  • Identify common pitfalls in scientific assessments
  • Understand issues such as uncertainty, communication, participation, and the science-policy interface, and how to conceptualize and manage these issues in a policy and decision-making context
  • Gain experience designing scientific assessment for policy through the term project

The course will be conducted with a combination of lectures, discussion and hands-on learning exercises

Student Background

This course is appropriate for graduate students (Master's or PhD level) who are interested in the technical and social processes that underlie the design of models for policy-relevant applications. I expect that this course will draw students with varied backgrounds, including both natural and social sciences. For example, such students may include (but are not limited to) those with ongoing research in areas of modeling (including science, engineering, economics, etc.), those studying the role of scientific information in policy processes, or those with career interests in interpreting scientific results for decision-making. Some familiarity with concepts of science, technology and policy will be assumed in the class.


Problem sets (5 total, 10% each) 50%
Scientific assessment project 40%
Participation in discussion sections 10%