June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
Engineering and Public Policy
13.123.1 - 13.123.8
A Taxonomy of ‘Engineering and Public Policy’ Problems
The field of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP) is necessarily an interdisciplinary field, residing on the boundary between academic disciplines. This position presents both opportunities and challenges. Those who are sojourners in a field have the opportunity to see its problems through a different lense, sometimes leading to new and creative solutions (see e.g. Dogan and Pahre1). On the downside, these fields run the risk of being seen as outsiders by the fields they are trying to integrate.
Additionally, people might ask why these problems cannot reasonably be addressed within more traditional disciplines (i.e. standard engineering departments or schools of public policy), leading to some difficulty in starting and maintaining these operations. In such a situation, it is important to clearly define the field’s domain and why it is that the problems in your domain cannot be solved very well without its existence.
To address that situation, this paper attempts to develop a useful taxonomy of the types of problems legitimately within the field of EPP and, perhaps more importantly, the problems that fall outside.
2. Why a “taxonomy?”
The dictionary presents the word “taxonomy” as a term primarily from biology meaning “ . . .the branch of science concerned with classification . . .”. With the goal of this paper being a “taxonomy” of EPP problems, the task of this paper is then a classification of those problems.
One may ask why the need to classify problems? After all, classification takes effort and potentially leads to conflict about the correct hierarchy of the classification. Why not just take problems as they come without thinking about “where they go.”
It is precisely because of those potential conflicts that classification is useful. By classifying problems we can discuss up front which problems are reasonably addressed in one field vs. another, hopefully replacing unstated discomfort with the place of addressing certain problems with an argued and resolved state of peace on that subject.
Many times, creating a classification can also lead to new avenues of inquiry by providing ideas for application of tools and techniques from other problems in the same class.
3. The difficulty of classification
The main problem of the taxonomy is the hierarchy. At the top of the taxonomy should the distinction be between animals that live on land vs. water or is it mammals vs. non-mammals or is it presence of a backbone vs. invertebrate? Any of these hierarchies will “work” in the sense
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