POE234 Science, Technology, and Public Policy

How does policy shape science? How does science become useful technology? Who pays, who benefits, who cleans up?

Course Syllabus

“Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist.” Kenneth Boulding, economist, educator, peace activist, 1910-1993

Course description

“It is widely understood that science and technological innovation are deeply linked to economic growth in a society and its corresponding ability to generate societal well-being. Thus, one could say that the public role of science is growing. This course will examine the public policy behind and the government’s role in the science and technology innovation system and address questions that will explore the relationship between scientific research and political decision-making. The course will provide students with: a background on the science and technology policy environment; a multidisciplinary toolkit for thinking about science and technology policy and an understanding of the “social science” aspect of science and technology policy.” (RMC Undergraduate Calendar)

Where this course fits in degree programs

This is a junior course in the field of public administration for political science students, and serving as an arts elective for students in other programs.  It is offered as an alternative to HIE289 for students in science and engineering programs.

Learning objectives

Students taking the course will

  • Understand links between technology, growth, and well-being
  • Evaluate public policies behind government roles in science and technology in Canada
  • Compare and evaluate technology innovation systems
  • Practice application of a multidisciplinary toolkit for thinking about science and technology policy

Engineering students taking the course will develop

  • an ability to communicate complex engineering concepts within the profession and with society at large (CEAB graduate attribute #7, communication skills)
  • an ability to analyze social and environmental aspects of engineering activities, including an understanding of the interactions that engineering has with the economic, social, health, safety, legal and cultural aspects of society, uncertainty of prediction, and concepts of sustainable design and environmental stewardship (CEAB graduate attribute #9, impact of engineering on society and the environment)
  • an ability to apply professional ethics to concepts of accountability and equity (CEAB graduate attribute #10, ethics and equity)


Engineering students will achieve the same objectives met by HIE289 or POE289


Smardon, Bruce. 2014. Asleep at the Switch: The Political Economy of Federal Research and Development Policy since 1960. Kingston: McGill-Queens.

Other readings from the reference list will be accessible in electronic form online


40 percent in class participation and quizzes on readings

20 percent in class presentations

40 percent final exam


The course adopts a problem-based learning approach, with each week focusing on a policy issue related to the learning objectives.

Participation opportunities and quizzes will be available online (Moodle) as well as in class.

Academic regulations 7.4 and 10.2 are in effect

  • 7.4 For each course a student must complete term work and all assignments to the satisfaction of the department concerned.
  • 10.2 The instructor may refuse a student permission to write a final examination in a course if the requirements with regard to course work have not been met.

Outline of course material (13 weeks)

  1. Introduction. Course introduction and overview
  2. Concepts. What are science, technology, knowledge, society, and policy?
  3. Framework for analysis. What are the general structures of society and government, which affect science and technology policy and innovation?
  4. Toolkit for policy analysis. What do different disciplines contribute to analysis of science and technology policy?
  5. Checklist. How will you assess science and technology policy questions?
  6. Growth. When is growth good for society and how do we understand costs and benefits? How does growth relate to normative ideas about distribution?
  7. Ingenuity. What is ingenuity? What is an ingenuity gap, and when is it critical?
  8. Public interest. What is the “public interest” in science and technology and how is it determined? (We focus on the impact of technology on security)
  9. Committees, Courts, and Bureaucracies. How do governments make decisions about science and technology policy?
  10. S&T Policy. How has the Canadian government been engaged in science and technology policy since the Second World War?
  11. Innovation systems. What is the Canadian experience of local, regional, and national innovation systems?
  12. Equity. How does technological change affect fairness and equity in society?
  13. Review. Practical policy briefs (exam preparation)

This link will take you to a bibliography. References will be added and updated during the course, and new readings will be added to each week at least one week in advance.


This version of POE234 was developed by David Last without compensation as part of a normal teaching load to support delivery of an on-site course. It is neither the property nor the responsibility of RMC Division of Continuing Studies.  It is housed on a private web site paid for by Dr. Last.  Any requests for use of the course material must be referred to the authors or copyright holders.  The web site is for the use of students enrolled in the course or supervised by Dr. Last or other professors assigned to the course, and copyright material is made available to these students under “fair use” rules.