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As I settled into the Abt Associates scene, the question of my doctoral
thesis still hung over everything: the Harvard folks had accepted, albeit with discernible anxiety, my unprecedented and thus far non-specific proposal to build it around an application of Forresterian concepts and techniques. The other shoe, clearly, would drop only when I dropped it.
Just then (and I still see it as an act of Providence), we heard from Metra. I’d pretty much given up hope of reaping any academic or professional fruits from what little I’d done with them in Paris, but now they had a project, and they wondered whether we wanted to collaborate. Seems that the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Ireland was planning an expansion of its Regional Technical Colleges, in the belief that that would encourage Irish youth to stay and contribute to their national well-being, rather than emigrating as, apparently, many had been doing. Metra had a track record in the planning of economic development, but they were short on specific capabilities in educational planning.
So, Abt Associates’ via its Education Area became a subcontractor to Metra on this project, and Peter and I flew to Dublin to meet, as part of a Metra advisory team, with the Ministry folks who had to get specific about their expansion plans and to justify the associated expenditures. I was fitted out with a somewhat-premature business card identifying me as Richard B. Anderson, Ed.D., Director of European Education Systems Analysis, and everybody called me “Doctor,” to my barely-concealed embarrassment.
The really delightful Irish officials resonated to my observations that they were acting on a set of causal propositions about interactions among education, employment, population, and prosperity, and that such causalities had only recently become susceptible to mathematical formulation and to computer-assisted simulation analysis. They were pleased at the prospect of participating in a pioneering piece of policy design. We returned to Cambridge, my head vibrating with plans for a Forresterian model of the Irish policy problem, and for a thesis proposal to present to HGSE via Fletcher Watson.
Fletcher had already earned my eternal gratitude by saying that he didn’t expect to understand all I was doing, but that he counted on me to keep him convinced that I did. He took my little prospectus to two distinguished faculty statisticians and recruited them for my thesis committee: old friend and mentor Dick Light, and David Tiedeman of the Statistics department. I didn’t know Dave at all, but I had great confidence in the depth and breadth of Dick’s wisdom. Although statistics as such wasn’t particularly relevant to the task at hand, I was comfortable with the idea that these gentlemen would judge my efforts.
Everybody seemed just a bit relieved when I suggested that Jay Forrester be invited to join the group; the committee relaxed quite visibly when he agreed to cross town and “advise” them.
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