IDS.410J | Spring 2013 | Graduate

Modeling and Assessment for Policy


This section includes problem sets and a policy memo.

Problem Sets

There will be three problem sets, focused on some of the main topics of the course: verification and validation; assessment design and evaluation; and systems modeling. Each problem set is designed to provide you with hands-on experience in using and evaluating tools for technically-focused policy analysis. Each problem set will be 10% of your final grade.


Problem Set 1 (PDF)

Topics: Making Models, Verification and Validation

Karp, Joan and Judah Leblang. “Making Models: Summative Evaluation Report.” Museum of Science, Program and Evaluation Research Group, Lesley University, 2004. (PDF - 2.0MB) (Courtesy of Lesley University Program Evaluation and Research Group. Used with permission.)

Making Models Exhibit: Exhibit Goals and Activities (PDF) (Courtesy of Museum of Science. Used with permission.)

Problem Set 2 (PDF)

Topics: Assessment Design and Evaluation

Example Memo: Mercury in the U.S. Environment (PDF)
Problem Set 3 (PDF)

Topic: System Modeling

POPs Criteria: Annex D

OECD Pov and LRTP Screening Tool Manual

Additional information on endosulfan

Raychaudhuri, Samik. “Introduction to Monte Carlo Simulation.” (PDF) In Simulation Conference, 2008. WSC 2008. Winter, pp. 91-100. IEEE, 2008.

Cetin, Banu, Serdar Ozer, et al. “Determination of Henry’s Law Constants of Organochlorine Pesticides in Deionized and Saline Water as a Function of Temperature.” Atmospheric Environment 40, no. 24 (2006): 4538–46.

Policy Memo

Many of you are working on technical issues with policy relevance in your own Master’s or PhD thesis projects. To help you identify policy issues embedded in the technical topic of your choice, you will be asked to write a policy memo. The goal of this memo is to help you learn to communicate the results of a technically-focused policy analysis to an interested but nontechnical audience. During two class sessions towards the end of the class, you will have the opportunity to present and share these memos with your classmates. We will comment on draft policy memos turned in early. This is worth 40% of your grade.


The first, most important choice you need to make for this assignment is to select your case. You should select an issue with technical content which is relevant to a particular decision (and decision-maker). Your task for the memo is to communicate to that decision-maker what you consider important technical details that they should take into account in their decision-making process. Keep in mind the following points:

  • Your memo is designed to inform a decision-maker focused on a particular decision. Be clear about both who the decision-maker is and what decision he / she is facing.
  • You should pick a topic in which you think the decision-maker needs to know some technical information (e.g. scientific analysis, model result, cost-benefit calculation) in order to make a better decision.
  • Communicate the technical information to the decision-maker in a way that he / she will understand its importance and relevance.
    • Use simple language, not jargon.
    • Relate to real-world issues: use analogies as appropriate.
    • Organize the text well: bullet points, headings, bold, figures, etc.
  • Think about whether / how to present uncertainties, policy recommendations, scenarios, etc.

The one concession that you should make for this being a course assignment and not a real-world memo is to be sure that your memo has appropriate citations (whereas in a policy setting, that might not be required). Logistically, shorter is better: 5 pages is an absolute maximum, and if you are at the high end of that, think about including a <1 page executive summary.

This memo from Bob Behn, a Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School has useful information about memo writing:


Your presentation will be an opportunity for you to practice communicating technical conclusions in a brief way. Think of it as an extended “elevator speech.” You will have a maximum of 5 minutes, and two slides, to convey your main policy-relevant message. This means you’ll need to very briefly identify the issue area and decision-maker, and distill your message into a short, memorable argument. Please practice accordingly.

Extra Credit (2 points)

Write a 100-word summary of your policy memo using the ten hundred most used words. See The Up-Goer Five Text Editor for more information. Inspired by this xkcd comic Up Goer Five.