Problem Solving and Policy Analysis: Rational Choices and Behavioral Insights
This course is concerned with a set of qualities and skills that we believe to be important across the entire range of careers that lawyers and policy makers pursue-skills that are also important in people's everyday lives as citizens and consumers. The qualities are sometimes defined in terms of judgment or practical wisdom; the skills in terms of problem solving and decision making. La Rochefoucauld wrote that "everyone complains about his memory; no one complains about his judgment." While people's judgments may not have improved during the intervening three centuries, economics and statistics have developed an array of formal tools to aid in decision making, social scientists have a deeper understanding of the psychological phenomena that compromise judgments, and the past decades have seen the evolution of systems analysis, design thinking, and other promising heuristics for problem solving. After introducing frameworks and tools for problem solving and decision making, we examine the extensive research on the heuristics and biases that produce errors in making inferences and choices, with the hope that understanding these errors can at least sometimes help avoid them. We also survey the emerging literature in behavioral economics that suggests ways that policy makers can counter the effects of biases to induce people to act in their own or society's interests in areas ranging from personal health decisions to global warming. In addition to regular readings and little assignments for class, we will undertake one or two field projects involving human-centered design, working to solve real-world problems on or near the Stanford campus. Limited to 40 students, with priority given to students in Law School, the MPP program, and the IPS program in that order. Elements used in grading: Class participation, midterm assignment, and final assignment. Cross-listed with International Policy Studies (IPS 207A) & Public Policy (PUBLPOL 305A).