A student tries out VR goggles during the Tech Lab Pilot open house

Creating technology-focused solutions to policy problems

Technology Applications and Implications

Photo by Diane Baldwin/RAND Corporation

Technology advancements continue to increase in size and scope, and the impact on society is manifold. But many policy processes and analytic approaches remain rooted in 20th century models and capabilities. Therefore, enabling new ways to explore, understand, experiment with, and implement emerging technology is critical for the future of policy analysis, exposition, and action. The Technology Applications and Implications (Tech) stream is designed to enable and empower Pardee RAND students to engage in technology explorations, experimentation, and development applied to public policy problems and solutions.

Tech stream students focus on engaging with complex problems, understanding current and emerging technology, and working in a culture of curiosity and experimentation. This stream complements and interacts with the other streams in a variety of ways and mechanisms including workshops, competitions, hackathons, research projects, courses, and on-the-job training (OJT).

As part of the RAND Corporation, we have access to colleagues and mentors with a unique combination of deep policy expertise and capabilities across myriad disciplines. Tech stream students benefit from RAND's strong focus on emerging technologies and the flexibility of Pardee RAND's program. Graduates leave the program with a combination of depth and breadth that positions them for success in a wide variety of fields and situations.

Tech Stream Requirements

In addition to the program requirements, Tech stream students have the following requirements:

Year-Long TNL Residency (3 units)

A combination of individual and small group projects in the Tech & Narrative Lab (TNL) explore a variety of topics, some rotating each quarter, others having a longer trajectory. The priming content for the residency will be provided by workshops, which will vary from a few hours to a few days of intensive exploration of an emerging topic.

The residency includes a documentation aspect in which both the results from the projects, as well as the processes — acquisition of skills/capabilities, problem framing, experimental methods, and preliminary results — are collected, collated, published, and shared with broader RAND (and possibly public) audiences. The focus will be on documentation such as video narratives, animation, and modeling such that students become conversant in a variety of mediums beyond the traditional academic paper or report.

Residency periods do not need to be continuous and can be adapted based on project needs and other factors.

Elective Courses (5.5 units)

Students fulfill the remaining 5.5 units toward their 19.5-unit coursework requirement by choosing among a variety of electives. These may include traditional courses or independent study. Elective offerings vary from year to year depending on student interest and instructor availability.

Propositions Exam

The propositions exam is designed to get students thinking about possible ways to use emerging technology to explore research questions and answers. Students will write and defend three original technology exploration proposals, one of which is outside the student’s current area of technology focus.

The Portfolio

The portfolio is designed to serve as both a vehicle for learning as well as an assessment instrument. Because the Tech stream has emerging and cutting-edge applications of technology at the heart of the program, it is essential for students to demonstrate their achievement of learning objectives with artifacts — apps, visualizations, simulations, and so forth — to allow for flexibility, creativity, and innovation.

The Tech stream portfolio requirement follows a phased implementation such that incoming students are acculturated to the practice of breaking/making artifacts as part of problem exploration and solving. To facilitate skill acquisition, the portfolio requirement is scaffolded by a mix of traditional classroom activities, workshops, hackathons, and other engagements. The portfolio will include at least ten artifacts, with at least one example from each of the different technology areas. The Tech stream's current technology areas are the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning, Augmented/Virtual/Mixed Reality, and Digital Gaming.

Potential Areas of Portfolio Research

  • Abstraction and Representation
  • Artificial Intelligence Applications and Implications
  • Blockchain and Cybersecurity
  • Citizen Science, Sensor Networks, and Community Empowerment
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Immersive Technologies for Public Policy
  • Internet of Things and Sensor Networks
  • Machine Learning Application/Implications for Policy
  • Red Teaming and Hacktivism
  • Robotics and Automation
  • Social Media and Bots – Fake News, Fake Friends
  • Stories of Complexity – Narrative for Public Policy
  • Trust, Power, and Convenience

Programming/Coding Language

Competency in at least one programming language needs to be demonstrated prior to graduating. This can be fulfilled through previous programming classes or via portfolio item review. Incoming students who cannot demonstrate programming competency will need to learn a relevant language (typically Python) to a functional level through the completion of internal workshops or external classes.

Dissertation

Each student will collaborate with Pardee RAND faculty to develop a dissertation that builds on their portfolio and enables the student to make novel contributions in their area of interest. The expectations will be defined and refined as the student works through the Propositions Exam and Portfolio reviews.

The Ideal Tech Stream Candidate

The Tech stream is looking for individuals with strong tech skills who are interested in pursuing topics related to emerging technologies and their applications to policy (broadly defined). Ideal candidates will likely have computer science, engineering, and/or hard science backgrounds, but they could also be tech-minded individuals with social science or humanities backgrounds. Tech stream students have generally worked in the tech sector or related industries and have acquired a set of technical skills and capabilities. They are highly passionate about technology, whether it be the future of innovation, or artificial intelligence, or the need to think carefully about technology and its role in policy and society. They are also deeply curious and have a desire to experiment with technology with a goal of making the world a better place.

Above all else, the main requirement for the Tech stream is curiosity and a desire to learn, play, experiment, fail, and try again.

Future Career Paths

Tech stream graduates may go in a variety of directions:

  • Advisors for government agencies or NGOs focused on leveraging technology
  • Analysts for think tanks or consulting companies
  • Cyber security analysts in the public or private sector
  • Entrepreneurs in the startup space
  • Policymakers in larger tech firms, especially as they branch into societal issues
  • Privacy analysts in the public or private sector
  • Project or program leads in academic labs

The portfolio that Tech stream students develop while at Pardee RAND will provide future employers concrete examples of both rigorous thought and vigorous execution and showcase the ability to frame questions and rapidly prototype solutions to both better understand the problems and scratch at the solutions. These skills will be valuable to a wide variety of organizations and will prepare students to lead in their field, cross disciplinary boundaries and barriers, think entrepreneurially, pose important questions, and create solutions.

See the initial job placements of our recent graduates for more information.