Christopher Nelson

Photo of Christopher Nelson
Senior Political Scientist; Professor of Public Policy, Pardee RAND Graduate School
Off Site Office


Ph.D. and M.A. in political science, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; B.A. in political science, University of Minnesota

Media Resources

This researcher is available for interviews.

To arrange an interview, contact the RAND Office of Media Relations at (310) 451-6913, or email

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Christopher Nelson is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and a professor at the Pardee RAND Graduate School. He has over 25 years of experience as a policy analyst and evaluator. His work often involves leading multi-disciplinary teams in designing systems for performance measurement, system improvement, and organizational learning. 

Nelson has worked in a wide range of policy areas, including public health, health care, workplace safety, education, and others. For instance, he has helped agencies in the United States and European Union develop and implement new systems for measuring state/local capacity to respond to bioterrorism attacks, infectious disease outbreaks, and other health emergencies. His teams have also developed user-friendly game-based tools for improving emergency response capabilities in hospitals, health departments, and community-level health care coalitions. Nelson also was founding director of the RAND Center for Health and Safety in the Workplace. Prior to coming to RAND, he authored What's Public About Charter Schools: Lessons Learned About Choice and Accountability (Corwin Press, 2002) and numerous papers and technical reports on charter schools reforms in the United States.

Previously Nelson held positions on the research staff of the Illinois state legislature, Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz School of Public Policy and Management, and the Western Michigan University Evaluation Center. He holds a Ph.D. and M.A. in political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.    

Previous Positions

Visiting Faculty, Heinz School of Public Policy and Management, Carnegie Mellon University

Recent Projects

  • Incident Management Systems: Promising Measures of Performance and Effectiveness
  • Enhancing Prehospital Outcomes for Cardiac Arrest
  • Hurricane Recovery Plan for Puerto Rico
  • A New Governance and Management System for the University California Health System.
  • Organizing the Healthcare System for High Consequence Infectious Diseases.

Selected Publications

Stoto M, C Nelson, E Savoia, I Ljungqvist, M Ciotti. , "Public Health Preparedness Logic Model: Assessing Preparedness for Cross-border Threats in the European Region. ," Health Security, 15(5), 2006

Christopher Nelson et al., "Assessing Public Health Emergency Preparedness: Concepts, Tools, and Challenges," Annual Review of Public Health, 28, 2007

Christopher Nelson et al., "Conceptualizing and Defining Public Health Emergency Preparedness," American Journal of Public Health, 97, 2007

N. Lurie et al., "Public Health Preparedness: Evolution or Revolution?" Health Affairs, 25(4), 2006

Ranney J, C Nelson, & M Coplen, "The Efficacy of Behavior-based Safety in the U.S. Railroad Industry: Evidence from Amtrak-Chicago," Human Factors in Organizational Design and Management, 8, 2005

Ranney J, C Nelson, "The Impacts of Participatory Safety Rules Revision in the U.S. Railroad Industry: An Exploratory Assessment," Transportation Research Record, (1899), 2004

Dubowitz T, T Orleans, C Nelson, J Sloan, L May., "Creating Healthier, More Equitable Communities By Improving Governance And Policy," Health Affairs, 35(11), 2016

Nelson C, J Sloan, A Chandra. , Examining Civic Engagement Links to Health: Findings from the Literature and Implications for a Culture of Health. , RAND (RR-3163-RWJ )

Honors & Awards

  • Thomas Lord Distinguished Scholar, RAND Institute for Civil Justice


Spanish; Portuguese

Recent Media Appearances

Interviews: Los Angeles Times; United Press International

Commentary: San Diego Union-Tribune


  • Hand touching icon health care medical concept, photo by marchmeena29/Getty Images

    Tech Assets Might Help Make Public Health Data More Equity-Centered

    The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified broad societal inequities and trained a spotlight on the strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. public health system. What would more equity-centered, tech-engaged public health data look like?

    Sep 9, 2021 Inside Sources

  • Volunteers help at an annual Thanksgiving turkey giveaway, Inglewood, California, November 23, 2020, photo by Mike Blake/Reuters

    COVID-19 Has Offered Opportunities for Communities to Come Together

    The past year has been among the most turbulent in recent memory. Might recent crises provide a catalyst for a renewed sense of civic engagement that transcends some of the race and class divisions COVID-19 has exacerbated?

    Jan 13, 2021 The RAND Blog

  • Customers are served at the Destiny USA mall during the reopening as COVID-19 restrictions are eased in Syracuse, New York, July 10, 2020, photo by Maranie Staab/Reuters

    How Much Do Americans Value Their Health During the Pandemic?

    Do Americans believe that limiting the spread of COVID-19 justifies the social and economic costs of physical-distancing measures? Researchers conducted a survey to better understand how Americans weigh health against other priorities.

    Oct 29, 2020 The RAND Blog

  • Low angle shot of a group of doctors stacking hands in a hospital, photo by Hiraman/Getty Images

    Out of the Ashes: Forging the Post-Pandemic U.S. Health System

    With shifting insights, new problems, and exacerbation of old problems revealed by the pandemic, innovative solutions in the U.S. health system are being adopted where rapid change would normally have been rare. There is both an opportunity and a responsibility to assess how these changes are working and where they can improve health, reduce inequity, and save money.

    Jul 31, 2020 The RAND Blog

  • A laboratory technician working on research for a vaccine against COVID-19 in Bern, Switzerland, April 22, 2020, photo by Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

    Needed: A Blueprint for a Post-Vaccine World

    When a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, many in rich countries may be able to afford it while the poor and uninsured may not. The time to plan for equitable access, financing, intellectual property rights, and global production is now.

    May 11, 2020 The Hill

  • Wood block stacking with icon healthcare medical, Insurance for your health concept, photo by marchmeena29/Getty Images

    Don't Waste This Crisis: How America Can Begin Building a System of Health

    COVID-19 is shining a harsh spotlight on long-recognized but under-addressed gaps in the U.S. health system. There may never have been a more pressing time to think differently, broadening from health care services to a health-producing System of Health.

    May 4, 2020 The RAND Blog

  • A worker checks part of a delivery of hospital beds to The Mount Sinai Hospital during the COVID-19 outbreak, New York City, March 31, 2020, photo by Andrew Kelly/Reuters

    Implement Critical Care Surge Strategies Now to Save Lives

    As COVID-19 continues to spread, hospitals are bracing for a surge of patients requiring critical care. To meet the demand, U.S. health care facilities may need to fundamentally change the way they allocate space, staff, and equipment.

    Apr 1, 2020 Health Affairs Blog

  • Nurses Becky Barton and Jess White help nurse Jeff Gates take off protective gear after interacting with a patient at a drive-through testing site for coronavirus, flu and RSV, currently by appointment for employees at UW Medical Center Northwest in Seattle, Washington, March 9, 2020, photo by Lindsey Wasson/Reuters

    COVID-19: A Stress Test for a U.S. Health Care System Already Under Stress

    There are many things hospitals and health systems could be doing in the coming weeks to best prepare for the advancing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Evaluating their surge response plans will be critical.

    Mar 12, 2020 Health Affairs Blog

  • People leaving a polling place, wearing I Voted stickers, photo by SDI Productions/Getty Images

    Rx Civic Engagement: Keeping the Public Engaged in Public Health

    Civic engagement—activities like voting and volunteering—is essential for the health of democracy. A turn at the ballot box might also improve physical and mental health.

    Feb 4, 2020 Las Vegas Sun

  • A guest looks at the Temple of Time, a structure built to serve as a healing place for those affected by the shooting which claimed 17 lives at nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Coral Springs, Florida, February 14, 2019, photo by Joe Skipper/Reuters

    After School Shootings, Children and Communities Struggle to Heal

    School shootings leave wounds that affect students, school staff, families, and communities for years. Building community resilience, implementing evidence-based mental health support early, and providing access for survivors and the community immediately and in the long term could help promote healing and prevent more tragedy.

    Jul 19, 2019 Health Affairs Blog

  • Ambulances line the street after explosions interrupted the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013

    Lessons for First Responders on the Front Lines of Terrorism

    Given the persistent risk of terrorist attacks, it is critical to learn from past incidents to prepare for future ones. Medical and nonmedical first responders need more training in basic lifesaving skills. Open communication lines such as a dedicated radio frequency could help responders better coordinate. Disaster drills are also essential.

    Jul 10, 2017 The Conversation

  • Paramedics pushing a patient on a gurney into a hospital

    Saving Lives After Tragedy

    Natural and man-made mass-casualty incidents are a growing threat. Evaluating successes and shortcomings after each crisis can contribute to the design and implementation of robust and resilient response systems and ensure the best possible outcomes for individuals and impacted communities.

    Dec 14, 2015 U.S. News & World Report

  • Navigating Research on Alternative Schools

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Sep 19, 2004 San Diego Union-Tribune