ESD.10 | Fall 2006 | Graduate

Introduction to Technology and Policy


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Recitations: 1 session / week for the first six weeks, 1 hour / session

Course Description

ESD.10 explores perspectives in the policy process - agenda setting, problem definition, framing the terms of debate, formulation and analysis of options, implementation and evaluation of policy outcomes using frameworks including economics and markets, law, and business and management. Methods include cost/benefit analysis, stakeholder analysis, and systems thinking. Exercises include developing skills to work on the interface between technology and societal issues; writing policy memos; keeping a policy principles journal; and case studies. Group projects illustrate issues involving multiple stakeholders with different value structures, high levels of uncertainty, multiple levels of complexity, and value trade-offs that are characteristic of engineering systems. Emphasis is placed on critical thinking, team building and group dynamics, and management of multiple actors and leadership.

Learning Objectives

After taking ESD.10, students should be able to:

  • Appreciate the political, social, and institutional context of technological systems
  • Formulate, analyze, and evaluate technology and policy options
  • Conceive, design, and execute a technology and policy research project, in the style of those done by the National Research Council
  • Compare the historical dimensions of science and technology policy across countries
  • Explain the impact of globalization on technology and policy
  • Describe how policy is done in the “real word” by its practitioners
  • Summarize current technology and policy issues in environment, transportation, information technology, and standards setting policy
  • Write effectively for policy situations, both in short memos and longer reports
  • Speak effectively for policy situations, both in informal dialogue and formal presentations
  • Work effectively in teams

Assignments and Grading

There will be three individual written homework assignments, two group-based homework assignments, a policy principles journal, a team-based term project, and extensive reading and in-class discussions. Students will also attend and participate in six required discussion recitations in the first half of the semester.

All homework should be submitted in two ways: (1) electronically to the course website by the start of the class or the time specified on the due date, and (2) in hard copy that should be brought to class on the due date or submitted at another place if specified on the syllabus.

It is expected that assignments will be submitted on the due date and at the time noted in the course schedule (when no time is specified, assignment s are due at the beginning of class). The teaching team is well aware of the multiple time demands on students. In the case of unusual circumstance or unavoidable conflicts, please contact a member of the teaching team to discuss the details and explore alternatives. We are more receptive to hearing about issues well before the assignment is actually due.

Grading will be on an absolute scale and not “on a curve.” That means that in principle, everyone in the class can earn an ‘A’ if they perform at an ‘A’ level. However, historically this has not been the case, with some portion of the class earning a ‘B’ or below. All assignments (with the exception of recitation deliverables, which will be graded on a pass/fail metric) will be graded on a letter basis according to the MIT definition of grades:

  • A - Exceptionally good performance, demonstrating a superior understanding of the subject matter, a foundation of extensive knowledge, and a skillful use of concepts and/or materials.
  • B - Good performance, demonstrating capacity to use the appropriate concepts, a good understanding of the subject matter, and an ability to handle the problems and materials encountered in the subject.
  • C - Adequate performance, demonstrating an adequate understanding of the subject matter, and ability to handle relatively simple problems, and adequate preparation for moving on to more advanced work in the field.
  • D - Minimally acceptable performance, demonstrating at partial familiarity with the subject matter and some capacity to deal with relatively simple problems, but also demonstrating deficiencies serious enough to make it inadvisable to proceed further in the field without additional work.
  • F - Unsatisfactory performance.

Plusses and minuses will be used in conjunction with the letters in grading all work. The final grade will include plusses and minuses.

Class and Recitation Participation (20%)

ESD.10 is primarily a discussion-based experience, and it is through active listening, contemplation and participation in these discussions that much of your learning will take place. Thus, attendance is mandatory at both class and recitation, and students are expected to come to class and recitation having read the assigned reading beforehand, done any required assignments, and prepared to discuss the material and their assignment. Bring the books and reading to class each week, as they will be referred to in discussion, and come prepared to participate in discussion. Students should also come to class each week having read a national newspaper (from any country) and be prepared to discuss technology and policy related items in the news from time to time.

Homework Assignments (30%)

There will be three individual homework assignments, and two group-based homework assignments. Answers to these should be coherent, well-written and follow the page length guidelines issued with the assignment (font must be Times, 12 point). They may also include a visual component. On the day an assignment is due ("Assignment X due in class “), come to class prepared to discuss your answer to the assignment, and contribute your work to the class discussion. A hardcopy of homework assignments should be brought to class on the day they are due.

Personal Policy Principles Journal (10%)

A principle is a guideline or “rule of thumb” that is nearly universally applicable. Principles can be either prescriptive (they tell you how to do something) or descriptive (they describe a situation). Over the course of the semester, you will create the first entries in your own personal journal of policy principles that you will reference throughout the course of your career. Begin by writing down principles you observe or discern from the readings, guest lecturers and class discussions. The deliverable for this assignment is to pick 8-10 principles you have uncovered during the semester. For each principle, come up with a shorthand name for it, state the principle in no more than 1-2 sentences, and then elaborate on it further in a short paragraph. In the elaboration, you may wish to explain the principle in more detail if needed, give an example of it, say where or how you discovered this principle, what/who inspired it, what situations it would be most useful for, etc. - whatever would be most helpful to you in remembering all the richness that is embodied in the principle. Some of these principles (2-3) will be due mid-semester, and the remaining portion (6-8) will be due at the end of the semester, as indicated in the syllabus.

Team-based Term Project (40%)

There will be a team-based term project for the course - a group project conceived and conducted by small assigned groups of students (4-5 each). Each student is expected to contribute meaningfully to the project. Project grades will be based both on individual (40%) and collective (60%) performance. Term projects will be presented in class and to the ESD community at the end of the semester, and will also be written up in final papers. More information will be provided in a separate handout.

Books and Readings

There is one required text for this course:

Stone, Deborah. Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making. New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2001. ISBN: 0393976254.

Other readings are listed on the readings page.


During the first half of the term, a small-group recitation session happens at the end of each week.

The calendar below provides information on the course’s lecture (L) and recitations (R) sessions.

L1 Introduction to Technology and Policy Prof. Weigel  
L2 The Heart of Policy Arguments - Equity, Efficiency, Liberty, Security Prof. Weigel HW 1 due
L3 Portraying Policy Problems - The Art of Framing in Many Languages Prof. Weigel

Self assessment due

Term Project: NRC contact list due; NRC emails due three days before SES #L4

R1 Victim’s Compensation Fund Case Study    
L4 Policy Strategy and Instruments Prof. Weigel HW 2 due
L5 Current Issues in Technology and Policy: Environmental Policy Challenges I Guest - Prof. Dave Marks Term project: Two committee charges due one day before SES #L6
R2 Discussion of Stone Through the News: Equity and Efficiency    
L6 Class Projects Update: Teams, Project Organization, and NRC Reports Prof. Weigel HW 3 due one day before SES #L7
R3 Discussion of Stone Through the News: Security and Liberty    
L7 Current Issues in Technology and Policy: Environmental Policy Challenges II Guest - Prof. Dave Marks  
L8 Government Policy and Technology I - History in the U.S. Guest - Prof. David Mindell Term project: Committee list due two days after SES #L8
R4 Case Study - London Congestion Pricing    
L9 Government Policy and Technology II - International Prof. Weigel HW 4 due
R5 Case Study - KIDSNET    
L10 Challenger Case Study Guest - Prof. Daniel Hastings Term project - Project proposals due
L11 Systems Thinking: Origins and Why It Matters To Policy Prof. Roos Personal policy principles journal - 1st 3-4 principles due
R6 Understanding Systems Thinking    
L12 Policy Analysis I Prof. Weigel Term project - 360° team evaluations due
L13 Globalization Impacts: Government - Industry Interactions Guest - Prof. Suzanne Berger  
L14 Policy Analysis II Prof. Weigel HW 5 due
L15 Globalization Impacts: Supply Chains Guest - Prof. Yoshi Sheffi  
L16 Globalization Impacts: Globalization and the Automotive Sector Prof. Roos Term project - draft report and executive summary due
L17 Class Projects Update All  
L18 Policy Analysis III Prof. Weigel  
L19 Focus Area: Policy Perspectives on Transportation Guest - Bob Skinner  
L20 Focus Area: The Big Dig - Policy Implications and Lessons Guest - Fred Salvucci  
L21 No Class; Project Work Time   Term Project - outside feedback due
L22 Current Issues in Technology and Policy: IT and Privacy Guest - Frank Field  
L23 Current Issues in Technology and Policy: The Role of Standards In Technology and Policy Guest - Dr. William Jeffrey, Director, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)  
L24 Final Project Presentations Students  
L25 Final Project Presentations (cont.) Students

Final project reports due one day after SES #L25

Term project: project team evaluations due one day after SES #L25

L26 Policy Principles: Discussion and Reflection Prof. Weigel HW 6 due
L27 Conclusion and Wrap-up All  

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2006
Learning Resource Types
Projects with Examples
Activity Assignments with Examples
Written Assignments with Examples