Introduction Outtakes

Framework: Context, Alternatives, Outcomes, Decision
Framework as idealization, but guide to practice and communication
Exhortation to practice
1. Lay of the land. Techniques and models. Policy and Social Science.
2. Rational decision making vs. real world
3. Craft knowledge
3.1. Honing skills. Few direct applications. Experience and innovation.
4. Practice all the time. World around you as laboratory.
4.1. Disciplined thinking and Coherent (&transparent) Communication
Concepts and Vocabulary
Iterative process (6.2), tradeoff, craft, technique

Rhetorical Tasks
1. What is model and why do it?
a. Simplification for purpose of understanding, manipulation, and decision-making
2. Subtypes and range of meanings of "model"
1. Benefits of using models
1.1. Handling complexity
1.2. Thinking clearly and being able to think together clearly (so we can catch each other's mistakes)
1.3. Communication and public conversation. Talk about same object. Shared vocabulary.
1.4. There REALLY are underlying common processes out there and if you have an understanding of them in your repertoire, you can better understand and deal with the world.
1.5. Discovering the non-obvious or non-intuitive or counter-intuitive (especially because we are often specifically blind to such things)
1.6. Seeing where we went wrong
1.7. Bookkeeping, keeping us honest
1.8. Avoid omissions and oversights and contradictory assumptions
1.9. Focus
1.10. Information needs
1.11. What if-ing – safely, cheaply
1.12. Seeing how a system actually performs
2. Range of examples of models
2.1. Model as something that lets you predict how outcomes related to inputs for purpose of making decisions.
2.2. Descriptive vs. prescriptive
2.3. Prescriptive must generate map of choices and outcomes and provide criteria for choosing among alternative actions.
2.4. Deterministic vs. Probabilistic
2.5. Choices, assumptions, etc. Different models for different purposes. One goal is to come up with a chart that shows us what kind of models fit what kind of circumstances (type of phenomenon + question at hand) – the technician approach. Another part is to develop a repertoire from which as practitioners we wisely mix and match – the craft approach.
3. Limitations and caveats to using models.
3.1. Value of skepticism
3.2. Of models in general. Sensitivity analysis. Robustness. Boundary conditions. Impossibility conditions. Uncertainty. Statistical significance. Causality.
4. Families of Models
4.1. Feedback
4.2. Diffusion and contagion
4.3. Commons and collective action
4.4. Queuing
4.5. DJR: how to distinguish this list from techniques like cost-benefit, LP, decision analysis?
Concepts and Vocabulary
Model, parameter, variable, descriptive,explanatory, prescriptive, normative, optimizing

Where Does This Course Fit In?

In other classes you have learned about "the five steps"1 or "the eight-fold path"2or variations on these as the basic protocol for carrying out and communicating a "policy analysis." Though the order and degree to which multiple steps are either combined or spread out varies, these typically include

  1. Define, understand, describe, document a problem
  2. Identify alternative courses of action
  3. Identify criteria (e.g., effectiveness, efficiency, equity, feasibility)
  4. Predict or project expected outcomes
  5. Compare and Decide
  6. Communicate

The skills learned in this course can be of value in several of these steps.

Define, understand, describe, document a problem

Social scientist. Model as theory.

Predict or project expected outcomes

Model, prediction, simulation

Compare and Decide

Models yield common denominators so that we CAN compare on outcomes rather than, say, the aesthetics of process.

Transparency using standard models

\begin{align} \frac{3} {7} ? \frac{17} {31} \end{align}


Models as a lingua franca
Models as visualization

Practice Problems

  1. The lunch lines at the Tea Shop are too long.
  2. Feral cats on campus.
  3. Professors have too much outside work.
  4. Change in Oakland parking rates, rules, enforcement leads to public outcry.
  5. We'd like to have a program dinner each week to build solidarity, give everyone a night off from cooking.

How Will We Proceed

A full set of skills in this area includes three parts: (1) a framework for thinking about practical problems; (2) a set of techniques for modeling; (3) a means for responsibly (ethically) contextualizing this work so that it does not become blindly mechanical. This course assumes that parts 1 and 3 are well covered in other courses. Our focus on part 2 should not be taken as an abandoning of either.

But let's review the implications for our work of parts 1 and 3 above. First of all, what sorts of situations are we going to be developing tools for? Answer: we are oriented toward situations in which a rational decision maker can specify goals and use logical process to select from alternative ways to achieve them. And what will we NOT be concerned with? Situations with conflicting goals among participants — politics; that is, we won't be describing techniques for resolving political or value conflicts. The course is also not about collecting data or input information — we assume we have information, we just need to figure out how to make sense of it. That said, the course is NOT about data analysis (i.e., statistics).

The approach taken here is essentially apolitical; the tools can be used equally well in a democracy or a dictatorship. But it is also quite political: it assumes that our goal is to work within existing systems and it takes individual well-being as a basic starting point for the construction of collective welfare. Both are debatable, but such debates are the stuff of other arenas than this one.

What is the course about? Short answer: the world demands of us not answers rooted in ideology and conviction, but analysis. Our recommendations and conclusions are believable because we apply tried and true techniques. These techniques help us to understand how systems work, to predict what will happen under various conditions, and to make decisions among alternative courses of action to achieve goals.


Big Picture

Rational decision making vs. real world
Importance of METHOD
Craft knowledge and technique
Experience, repetition, repertoire, innovation.
Practice all the time. World around you as laboratory.
Goal of disciplined thinking and coherent (&transparent) communication

Benefits of Models
Range of Kinds of Models
Inputs to Models

Name a few types of models

Physical - scale
Diagram - schematization/simplification
flow charts
decision trees
graphs and charts
Conceptual model - abstract objects, connections, processes; numbers


tipping points
benefit cost
linear programming
decision analysis

Distinguish Prescriptive from descriptive.

Distinguish Deterministic vs. Probabilistic

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