Research and Training in Policy Analysis

by Charles Wolf, Jr.


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Based on RAND and RAND Graduate Institute experience, this paper discusses the characteristics of good policy research, which, in general, focuses on a concrete policy or program decision; identifies significant interactions (modelbuilding); specifies policy objectives precisely; designs program or policy alternatives; and compares their performance by some explicit criterion related to the objectives. Testing should explicitly consider externalities (side effects) and all uncertainties, including possible countermeasures. Where tradeoffs cannot be specified, differential payoffs of the alternatives should be displayed on a multidimensional scoring matrix. True interdisciplinary research requires that different specialists absorb enough of each other's concepts and vocabularies so the results really synthesize the contributions of all. Missing from most policy analyses is implementation analysis—practical political difficulties may rule out otherwise preferable alternatives. Essential to good policy analysis are organizational independence and close-in access to information, a paradoxical blend requiring formidable management skills. Combining research with training, like the RGI, has great potential advantages. (Presented at a WEMA/Volkswagen Foundation symposium on planning and decisionmaking sciences in the West German public sector, Cologne, March 1975.)

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