About

The Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program (STPP) is a research, teaching, and outreach program of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Solutions to many of the world's most challenging problems involve complex scientific and technological issues. Good policy making in these areas requires access to the frontier of scientific knowledge, not simply to translate scientific information, but to bring an appreciation for the potential and the limitations of scientific understanding, blending scientific insights with those from other relevant disciplines including economics and politics. From the nuclear negotiations with Iran to privacy concerns about big data, current events remind us how scientific knowledge has become essential to good policy making, whether at local, national, or international scales.

Bringing science and technology into the design of public policy has been the tradition and the objective of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy (STPP) at Harvard Kennedy School for nearly four decades.  Founded by the late Harvey Brooks, STPP has earned an international reputation for integrating scientific expertise with practical experience in politics and policy. Past leaders of the program, including John Holdren, science advisor to President Obama, and Venkatesh Narayanamurti, former dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, have developed research groups focused on critical issues of national security, energy, and climate, including nuclear proliferation and energy technology innovation.  Under the new direction of Dan Schrag, STPP continues to contribute to the unique role that Harvard Kennedy School plays in the broader university, "training public leaders, and generating ideas that provide solutions to our most challenging public problems."

Directors' Message

"Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been before… {and] many of the challenges that science and technology will help us meet are global in character"

President Barack Obama's speech to the Speech to the National Academy of Sciences, April 27, 2009.

STPP Vision

The science and technology (S&T) enterprise is increasingly central to global transformations and developments; S&T policy, in turn, by virtue of its key role in guiding and managing this enterprise, is also gaining in importance. From climate change to renewable energy, from broadband policy to cybersecurity, science and technology permeates all of society and everyday life, often playing a central, even essential role in almost every aspect.

It is therefore critical to understand how we may be able to best realize the potential of science and technology in improving the human condition, underpinning economic and social development, supporting human endeavors, and promoting international relations, being cognizant of and addressing societal concerns that often accompany such advances.

Public policy plays a central role in mediating this interface between science and technology and society. Among its most potent impacts, policy shapes innovation — and is therefore the key to society translating knowledge into technologies and products that benefit all, in time. In today's globalized world, innovation can be swift and its possibilities rich; in the digital world innovation is at once in the hands of many, yet still complex and involving many actors and institutions. Public policy has a particularly important role to play shaping these relations, supporting and catalyzing research, and accelerating diffusion by many paths. As our networked world is already transforming these dynamics, gaining rapid insight to trends in technology and innovation as they unfold, and how public policy may affect them positively is critical to contributing to the challenges of our times.

The Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program (STPP) aims to be the premier global academic center in these matters. STPP takes as its mission to examine and shape the conduct of the S&T enterprise, its interactions with societies and economies worldwide, and the role of public policy in strengthening this enterprise and its contribution to human well-being. STPP helps advance knowledge about the role of public policy in the S&T enterprise and develops and promotes policies that enhance its positive global impact.

STPP Strategy

The nature of STPP requires its scholarship to be integrative and interdisciplinary. Accordingly, the Program engages in research, teaching, and outreach on how:

  • science and technology influence public policy;
  • public policy influences the evolution of science and technology;
  • the outcomes of these interactions affect well-being in the United States and worldwide;
  • the processes involved can be made more effective and their outcomes more beneficial

The cross-disciplinary nature of the S&T enterprise requires that STPP research initiatives be collaborative. We therefore prize collaborations and partnerships with faculty across Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, and other institutions. Our core activities center around four thematic areas where public policy and innovation play an important role, with a view that includes their global implications:

  1. S&T, Energy, and Environment: Access to energy underpins human and economic development, while access to a clean environment is critical for human well-being.  Energy and environment are also intimately inter-linked, given the large impact of energy extraction, conversion, and use on the environment. Key issues of interest include the study of the processes of technological innovation in the fields of energy and environment and the design of policies and institutions can shape and accelerate the development and deployment of technologies to promote energy access and energy security, to mitigate, adapt and reduce vulnerability to climate change, and to reduce other environmental and health impacts from industrial activities.
  2. S&T and International Security: Technology is an integral part of the international security arena, both by virtue of its role in weapons systems as well as monitoring of programs and activities, whether as part of a compliance regime under international treaties or for general observation. Areas of focus include the disposition and management of nuclear materials, nuclear weapons programs, nuclear energy, arms-control treaties and programs, technology and terrorism, military technologies, and weaponization of space.
  3. Information and Communications Technology (ICT) & Innovation: ICTs are transforming almost every aspect of our day-to-day lives, thereby opening up opportunities for positive contributions to society.  Studies in this area will include assessing the potential for new forms of civic engagement and the governance of democratic institutions enabled by ICT; understanding how new media tools and ICT-enabled social media will shape the next waves of enterprise change; understanding issues in ICT-enabled reforms and redesign of top-down production to network-enabled collaboration and governance; fostering the transition to digital technologies in the developing world where ICTs may accelerate improvements in health, prosperity, and security; understanding the roles and potential impacts of new and emerging information and communications technologies on our great challenges; issues in securing the nation's cyber infrastructure while maintaining the free flow of information in an open society; and contemporary issues in the use and regulation of telecommunications, the Internet and the emerging national broadband plan.
  4. Globalization, Development, & Innovation: The interactions between technological innovation and globalization have profound implications for developing countries. Advances in science and technology, for example, offer new tools to promote sustainable development and put sectors such as agriculture at the center of efforts to spur economic development. How best to align science and technology missions with regional development goals and promote economic integration? How can "green growth" strategies that focus on eco-efficiency promote cross-border collaboration and economic development? Through research, training, and policy analysis, articulation of such issues can promote the diffusion of scientific and technological  knowledge, promote wise investment, help develop technical expertise, foster entrepreneurial capabilities, and illuminate the path forward to economic transformation.