Planned Adaptation

This page is primarily intended for the use of students in Professor Kenneth Oye’s MIT Course 17.310 – Science Technology and Public Policy.  Some members of the class elect to submit a single term paper on a particular case in lieu of two shorter papers on distinct subjects.  These combined papers address aspects of Planned Adaptation, one of the central concepts of the course syllabus.

Students selecting this option work with Larry McCray, who received his PhD in science policy at MIT, and who held several science policy positions in Washington, DC. He retired from the National Academy of Sciences, where he was the Founding Director of the NAS Policy Division, and came to MIT as a Visiting Professor in the PoET program in 2005. 


Public and private decisionmakers very often make policy decisions on the presumption that one-time “fixes,” base on currently-available knowledge and expert opinion, will remain optimal for an extended period.

Larry McCray and Ken Oye suggest that, in fact, some of the most impressive couplings of knowledge and decisionmaking display what they have tentatively termed Planned Adaptation, for which an active search for post-decision improvements, based on new information, is routinely incorporated in a self-correcting manner. Introductions to the concept are found at:



We are finding that planned adaptation is not just an abstract, theoretical idea: it is found in diverse (if largely unappreciated) actual practice.  Examples that we know of include: the following; we are examining how these cases of self-correction work in practice in order to learn how to improve improved decisionmaking over the longer haul. 


Spring 2020:  A selection of interesting grad student papers from last year includes: 

Asbestos: A Case of Adaptive Regulation - Lina Taenzer

Evaluating Planned Adaptation within the waste management system in Germany and its applicability to the US - Iulia Madalina Streanga

The Past, Present, and Future Role of Technological Forecasting for Carbon Capture and Sequestration and Direct Air CaptureAaron Schwartz

Planned Adaptation as an electric regulatory response to extreme weather events in the United State - Sohum Pawar


In addition, we received a pathbreaking  paper on budget decisionmaking by undergraduate Nicholas Pape on federal support for solar and wind power technologies.  Nicholas' submission looked into proposed budget cuts for these technologies, and led us to consider whether multi-year budgeting might potentially be added as an previously unappreciated form of planned adaptation.  


Recent Years:

Virtual Reality Efe Akengin 3rd Year
Carbon Capture Markets    
Jessica Farrell TPP
Carbon Pricing -- Mexico Emil Dimantchev TPP
Epidemic Preparedness Courtney Diamond 4th Year
Korean Safety Regulations Jungwoo Chun DUSP
Traffic Management -- Singapore



Earlier Years

Pricing Policy for Home Solar-Power Systems
Stephen Lee
December 3, 2015 (846 KB)


Airline Carrier Safety
Parker Vascik
December 2014 (908 KB)

A note from Parker --"The Planned-Adaptation framework presented by Dr. Oye and Mr. McCray is a powerful way to consider the technical and regulatory development of many industries or fields. In my research I looked for the historical use of planned adaptation to improve airline safety in the United States over the past century. I found some compelling evidence that such a system may have been set up, but that it went through many phases of re-births and changes before the current system was settled upon. Despite this concerted effort, I discovered that there are still limitations and current leaders are finding new ways to expand their influence and improve aviation safety beyond the current system."


Driverless Cars
Shane German
December 5, 2015 (402 KB)

A Note from Shane --  Before taking Science Technology and Public Policy and working on the combined Planned Adaptation paper, I honestly had no experience with autonomous vehicles – it was a topic that seemed interesting and relevant at the time, so that’s what I went with. Since then, however, I’m appreciative for this class providing the motivation to look deeper into the topic of autonomous vehicles as it presents an intriguing and challenging problem of a developing technology that entails very real policy issues. After I took this class in the fall of 2015, the relevancy of this topic has only increased with the rapid development of autonomous vehicle technology, testing, and deployment throughout this past year. Concerning the idea of Planned Adaptation, the regulatory sphere surrounding autonomous vehicles is one that many experts and stakeholders agree will require robust and intentional policy adaptation. Large scale public deployment has yet to take place, however, so little data exists to inform policymakers’ thoughts and decisions on the matter. Although autonomous vehicles are a new and uncertain technology, humans have been interacting with advanced automation and technologies (e.g. glass cockpits, nuclear reactors, unmanned aerial vehicles, etc.) for quite some time. I think that the lessons learned from different case studies examining these past examples and associated regulatory actions could provide useful empirical insight for the case of autonomous vehicles.

I am no expert in the technology behind autonomous vehicles, nor do I have novel policy insights that haven’t already been thought of and written about by other individuals, but I do have an interest in continuing to follow what happens with this complex intersection of technology and policy. If anyone would be interested in exploring this topic further, and would want someone to chat with about it, please feel free to reach out. 


Flood Management Decisionmaking
Pryanka Chatterjee
December 5, 2015 (374 KB)


The Internet's Governance
Merry Mou
December 7, 2015 (203 KB)

A Note from Merry -- In this paper I have begun a study of how the structures and procedures of The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), an organization that standardizes Internet protocols, systematically allows for policy evaluation and adaptation. Unlike the typical governing entity, the IETF is a voluntary and open group, routinely and systematically evaluates its protocols, and does not mandate or enforce the implementation of the standards that it recommends. There are likely many other fascinating cases in technology of highly adaptable and participatory organizations making widely-impacting governing decisions - such as other Internet organizations, open source software communities, and certain online forum communities. Better understanding the policymaking procedures of such Internet technology organizations can help us make improve policies and policymaking in other contexts - even in the federal government (as they are already starting to do by adapting policies given research findings, with Executive Order #13707 in 2015). I took STS.082 in Fall 2015, and am currently a computer science masters student working in the MIT Internet Policy Research Initiative (IPRI). I am available to advise current students doing related studies.


The Internet of Things
Brandon Karpf
December 4, 2015 (325 KB)





Ken Oye:

  • Policy for Transfats in the Diet
  • Saturated Fats in the Diet

Larry McCray:

  • Bypass Surgery (evolving clinical practice guidelines)
  • Air Passenger Safety
  • Per-mile highway safety
  • Urban fires
  • Progress in US recycling programs
  • Flood control in Holland