What is an essential reading, or, what is it essential to read?

I was recently asked in two different ways which of the ‘essential’ readings students should be focusing on. This is an excellent question and rather than answering directly to the students, I thought I should offer my own perspective on what is meant by an essential reading and what is expected in terms of readings. Just as a health warning, I do not expect that anyone else on faculty necessarily endorses my view, so please do not extrapolate.

I provide these ‘essential’, ‘recommended’ and ‘other’ readings because they can offer far richer and far deeper insights than we could ever possibly cover in two hours a week of lecture. Indeed, you should expect that the material presented in class is not simply taken from the readings but seeks to complement rather than summarise.  I very much hope that the readings allow you to reflect and digest, but I would be pleased if you could at least offer a few paragraphs of discussion and description about a number of the key readings. As a side note, some of my favourite readings are actually on the ‘recommended’ rather than the ‘essential’ list. I tell you that not to confuse or complicate, but to make the point that there are a wealth of readings that will help you along the way.

Moreover, the readings themselves are rather diverse and should not, by any means, be equated.  One does not just ‘pick up’ Weimer and Vining and read it from cover to cover (I still find I need to re-read parts to understand some specific point), whereas the time needed for Bardach’s slim volume is probably measured in minutes rather than hours.  Whether in the lecture or as part of the assessed work, you will NEVER be asked to regurgitate chapter and verse from any of the readings but I do fully expect that you will be able to speak knowledgeably about a number of the key readings.  I would love for you to read each and every one of the readings cover to cover but I appreciate that won’t happen and so what I am looking for is an effort to digest a new book or article quickly and to be able to draw out the main findings or insights.  If you do not have it already, that is a skill you will need to learn (quickly!)

I will generally refrain from associating specific books with specific lectures, but I think it is obvious that certain parts of the lectures on Policy Analysis will be more closely associated with Weimer and Vining whereas Stone will be more relevant in some of the first lectures.  To be even more utilitarian, and since I was asked, as a rough guide for the mid-term test, I would expect you should be comfortable discussing at least three or four of the readings.

I also will take the liberty of finding and assigning readings along the way.  I have just tweeted about two that I very much hope you will spend a little time reading and thinking about in the coming days, namely the classic statement of post-war US S&T policy found in Vannevar Bush’s Endless Frontier and the Haldane Principle which Ciaran Hayes referenced in his talk last week, which still underpins UK research policy a century later.

Vannevar Bush, The Endless Frontier: www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/nsf50/vbush1945.htm

Haldane Principle: www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmdius/168/16807.htm