Assessing policy questions
For our purposes in week 5, “policy” represents a decision by government to do something, and policy analysis represents an assessment of that decision from a particular perspective. As a policy analyst, you may have to adopt a variety of different perspectives to understand the pressures on public policy. This week you will develop a one-page checklist for a sequence of actions and items to consider when analyzing specific policy questions relevant to science and technology.
The illustration above comes from an important book on evidence-based policy. Last week we discussed some of the differences between natural sciences and social sciences. Here, one of our concerns is whether science policy is also social policy. When governments make decisions about science and technology, about industrial innovation strategies, or about support to particular kinds of development, are they also, but implication, making decisions about social policies – who benefits, who pays, who cleans up?
The four different explanations of technological development described by Smardon in Ch. 1 (week 3) represent different combinations of public policy – either consciously, or by default:
Considering Canada’s actual pattern of dependent technological development over the 20th century (Smardon, Chapters 2 and 3), we might identify specific policies that contributed to the problems Smardon identifies. There are several difficulties in doing so:
Bardach (2011) defines an eight-step process for assessing and making policy
Note that this is a sequential process, and does not dictate the content of your checklist, i.e. the factors that you consider in each stage.
For the content of your checklist, we have to go back to week 4, and recall what different disciplines contribute to the assessment of policy. Are we concerned about political, economic, or social aspects of the policy’s impact? Do we need to be informed by specific branches of natural science: engineering to assess the feasibility of transport options; environmental science to assess impact of a project on the environment; geological engineering to assess the stability of a building site? Keep in mind that different analysts will have different perspectives, different stakeholders, and different pressures while conducting their analysis. Consider, for example, a defence policy analyst in a majority Conservative government which has already committed to purchase the F-35, and the same analyst six months later working with a minister in a minority government from a party that made an election commitment to scrap the purchase. How will those two positions affect an analysis of technology transfer policies related to defence spending?
Bardach (2011) provides an appendix which lists actions that governments can take, along with the reasons for which it might take particular actions:
As you produce your personal checklist for assessing public policy, consider the impact of alternative government actions that might be expected to affect the desired outcomes. Try to be explicit about what you need know in order assess a policy and project its outcome reasonably accurately. If you don’t know or understand the interaction of all these variables, what kinds of expertise do you need?
Smardon, Chapter 4 “Another form of dependent technological development: post-Fordist accumulation in the neo-liberal era”.
1970s saw Canada move from Autopact protections towards the Canada-US FTA of 1987, acceleration of continental rationalisation. Canadian industry switched towards resource exports and limited manufacturing for export as protected markets diminished.
Pawson, Ray (2006) Evidence-based policy: A realist perspective. London: Sage. Especially chapter 2 on building blocks of evidence, and figure 2.1, the basic components of realist causal explanation. Resources and additional readings online.
Complete required reading and prepare for seminar.
We are catching up this week on week 4 questions, and will also try to finish week 5 by Friday’s class. You will have next week to work on your assignments, and will present your toolkits in week 7. I will adjust the remaining weeks in the schedule.
Starting with Smardon, chapter 4:
Covered in the lesson:
Participation evaluation for week 5 Toolkit will consist of:
Questions and discussion