June 18, 2006
June 18, 2006
June 21, 2006
Engineering and Public Policy
11.932.1 - 11.932.14
Minding the Gap: An Introductory Course on Engineering and Public Policy
There exists a gap between engineering and public policy which must be bridged. Engineers are affected by public policy but are seldom involved in setting policy. Engineers, and the decisions they make, also affect public policy. Those who set the policy frequently do not have a full appreciation of the technological issues involved and the engineers often do not appreciate the implication of their decisions on society. If engineers do not take a more active role in the setting of public policy, they will be left to work within the policies set by others who may lack adequate technical skills and they will be remiss in their duties as citizens to foster good policy. If the policy setters do not develop a greater appreciation of the technological issues involved they will develop and implement policies that are less than optimal. A course has been developed and offered that brings engineering and political science students together to explore public policy issues. As a result of the class, the students have a greater appreciation of the other field of study and they are better equipped to develop and implement policy.
Public policy and engineering issues are becoming more intertwined as problems facing society become ever more complicated. A long-held tenet of engineering is that the practice of engineering should be of benefit to society as a whole, but many engineering works have both positive and negative consequences to society. This then requires that the engineering problems be addressed in the public policy arena as well as the technical engineering arena. The reality is, however, that most engineers are not adequately prepared to view problems from the perspective of public policy and most public policy makers are not adequately prepared to address problems from the technical perspective. Further, engineers often do not look for the larger public policy implications that may result from their decisions.
Issues such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, energy, the environment, and telecommunications are important to society but carry risks to the public as well. These risks are not always technical in nature, but are increasingly becoming more of a public policy issue. A few years ago, when energy prices in California were skyrocketing, the engineers stepped forward with a solution that involved placing small power generating plants in neighborhoods to provide supplemental power during peak electricity usage. The plants were to be fueled by natural gas, have a small footprint, and be relatively inexpensive to build and operate. What was seemingly a good technological solution became a public policy problem as citizens said they did not want the plants in their neighborhoods.
The problem does not rest solely with engineers however. Those involved in setting public policy are typically educated in social sciences or liberal arts and may eventually earn degrees in law.
Green, R., & Emison, J. (2006, June), Minding The Gap: An Introductory Course On Engineering And Public Policy Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--78
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