Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 6 sessions / week for 1 week, 2-3 hours / session


William Bonvillian, Director of MIT Washington, D.C. Office

Course Goal

Students will emerge from the course with a strong grasp of the fundamentals of innovation systems and the economic and technology development factors behind them, and with a clear framework to approach science and technology policymaking.

Course Description

Careers of MIT scientists and engineers will be in significant part determined by public policy decisions made in Washington by government, yet their access to information on how this system works is limited. Meanwhile, we increasingly understand that science and technology-based innovation is deeply connected to society's economic growth and its corresponding ability to generate societal wellbeing, so the public role of science is growing. This course will examine the public policy behind, and the government's role in, the science and technology innovation system. Given the challenges to future federal science support, this seminar will aim to equip those planning careers in and around science and technology with the basic background for involvement in science policymaking.

The seminar will cover the following topics:

  • The drivers behind science and technology support: growth economics, direct and indirect innovation factors, innovation systems theory, the "valley of death" between R&D and public-private partnership model
  • The organizing framework behind US science agencies, their missions and research organizational models, and the DARPA model as an alternative
  • The upcoming competitiveness challenge in advanced technologies and services
  • The way innovation is organized when it's face-to-face, including rule sets for great innovation teams
  • The energy technology challenge – how the science/tech innovation system needs to be organized to meet it within an existing and established complex economic sector


This course is not offered for credit and is not graded.

Readings and the Discussion Leader System

In order to encourage discussion, we will use a "Discussion Leader" system in the seminar. Rotating through the class, students will be named discussion leaders for one of the readings discussed in the five classes. In other words, in each of the five classes particular students will be asked to summarize one reading for that class and lead class Q&A discussion on it. These Discussion Leaders will be asked to carefully read over one the short readings that day that the instructor will use in each class (provided to the class in advance), and be ready, for their assigned reading, to briefly summarize and lead Q&A on their one article/reading. Each class session lists the particular readings that individual students will lead discussion on, and where available, links to each. In addition, for each of the classes, all students in the seminar will be asked to read one required reading to develop background understanding in the issues being discussed in that class.

Additional readings for enrichment and deeper understanding of the topics discussed are available in the appendix below. These readings are not required.

Appendix: Further Readings (PDF)