Engineers test and retest their products and systems. The end goal is usually to prevent failure. But in public policy, failure is often times the starting point. Most of our current issues seem to emerge from a failure of human values (as organizational theorist Barry Bozeman put it) or a failure of collective action (as the Nobel winning Elinor Ostrom once noted). Failures demonstrate the very high stakes in both engineering and public policy. Are there concepts that public policy can learn and adapt from engineering design? Is there a potential for methods like agile prototyping in driving policy consensus? Can the notion of human factors help bridge the gaps in our personal values?

As an engineer and a policy adviser in health and medicine, I find that evolutionary frameworks have much to offer to these issues. Be it as an archetype or a systems analysis tool, evolutionary principles can not only help us in going beyond the standard economic narratives of policy making, but also in inspiring new and pragmatic choices altogether. To inform my thinking on these complex issues, thankfully there’s a tremendous asset. All-in-one place, accessible, and with “anything and everything from an evolutionary perspective,” This View of Life has exposed me to our touchy trade-offs and messy conundrums. With a span of topics—from macroeconomics to molecular competition—This View of Life also shows us that by becoming broad, evolutionary thinkers we can become adept at decision making as individuals, institutions, and international cultures. For a world struggling to live with its own pace, policies, and perplexities, This View of Life is a great place to gain fresh insights.

Guru Madhavan is a biomedical engineer and senior policy adviser. He conducts research at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. He is vice president of IEEE-USA of IEEE, the world’s largest professional society for engineering and technology.

For more on Guru Madhavan’s work:
Twitter: @BioengineerGM
Book: Applied Minds: How Engineers Think

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Published On: January 16, 2017

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