Project Description


Additional Resources

Project Description

For your ESD.864 term project, you will work in groups to conduct a scientific/technical assessment for a chosen decision-maker. The goal of this project is to give you the opportunity to apply and practice some of the theoretical frameworks and insights from case studies on doing science for policy. You will be assigned to a group and topic and given a "user" or decision-maker.

Project Topics (PDF)

Your first step will be to determine the user's needs, what you can provide, and devise a process by which you will conduct your scientific assessment. In this case, the assessment process is critically important, so you should spend substantial time thinking about how to manage it. Given your decision-maker and his/her needs, you may choose one of two strategies for your project:

  1. Conduct a Scientific Assessment. If you choose this option, you should identify a question to which scientific or technical input would be useful to the policymaker, and design a process by which you will provide this information. Particular questions you should think about if you take this approach are (among others):
  • Who is the decision-maker, and what are his/her interests?
  • Will the information you provide be credible, salient and legitimate to that decision-maker? If not, what could make it so?
  • What are the limitations of your assessment? Is uncertainty treated explicitly?
  • How would you like the information you will provide to be used? How do you expect this would happen in practice?
  • What would you recommend for best practices for using or applying the information you provide? Why?
  • Will you make policy or decision recommendations in your assessment?
  1. Analyze scientific input into decision-making. If you choose this option, the goal of your project will be to analyze the use of quantitative information in a decision-making process with specific relevance to your user. For example, you might think about critiquing the effectiveness of a previous report, or using previous examples for making recommendations about how a decision-maker should seek such input for an upcoming decision. Consider the following questions (not an exhaustive list):
  • Who is the decision-maker, and what are his/her interests?
  • How, and how effectively, was quantitative information used in your chosen process? (Think, also, about how you would define "effective" in this situation)
  • Was the information provided credible, salient, and legitimate to various decision makers?
  • What information was not provided in the decision-making process? Would additional information have changed the decision?
  • How did the process treat uncertainty?
  • What lessons can you draw from this case for the effective use of quantitative information in policy?


Process memo

As a mid-semester checkpoint on your progress, Ses #16 will be devoted to project discussions. In addition, to underscore the importance of concentrating on the assessment process, a process memo will be due on Ses #16. In this memo (2-3 pages), your group should outline the decisions it has made about the project, and outline the group's assessment process plan. Questions this memo should answer are (among others):

  • How will you structure participation by members of the group, assessment users, and other stakeholders?
  • What decisions have you made about what counts as "science", and what counts as "policy" in your case? How will you manage the boundary between technical information and decision-making?
  • How will you treat uncertainty?
  • How will you communicate your results?

Final product

There will be two final products for this project. A final report of your project results will be due Ses #25. There is no specified length, but given the constraints on decision-maker's time, it should be no more than 20 pages at maximum, and you should include an executive summary of no more than 2 pages. You will also present a brief PowerPoint presentation (roughly 15 minutes) with an overview your results to the rest of the class at a selected session at the end of the semester.

Project example

Examples for the deliverables are provided for the project on Northeast Air Quality. All work is courtesy of MIT students and used with permission.

Process Memo (PDF)

Executive Summary (PDF)

Final Paper (PDF - 1.6MB)

Additional Resources

Additional information you might find helpful is covered in two reports:

Eckley, Noelle. "Designing Effective Assessments: The Role of Participation, Science and Governance, and Focus." Report from a Workshop Co-organized by the Global Environmental Assessment Project and the European Environment Agency, 1-3 March 2001. Expert's Corner, Environmental Issue Report No. 26. Copenhagen, Denmark: European Environment Agency, 2001.

Van der Sluijs, Jeroen P., James S. Risbey, Penny Kloprogge, et al. "RIVM/MNP Guidance for Uncertainty Assessment and Communication: Detailed Guidance." Volume 3 in RIVM/MNP Guidance for Uncertainty Assessment and Communication Series, Utrecht University, 2003. (This resource may not render correctly in a screen reader.PDF - 1.1MB)