Christopher Nelson

Photo of Christopher Nelson
Senior Political Scientist; Professor, Pardee RAND Graduate School
Santa Monica 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 20 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, healthcare, workplace safety, education, and others.  For instance, he has helped agencies in the U.S. 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 healthcare coalitions.  Nelson also was founding director of the RAND Center for Health and Safety in the Workplace and, prior to coming to RAND, 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 U.S.

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.  Nelson holds an M.A. and Ph.D. 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

Piltch-Loeb R, C Nelson, J Kraemer, E Savoia, M Stoto. , "A Peer Assessment Approach for Learning from Public Health Emergencies. ," Public Health Reports, 4(129), 2014

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

Honors & Awards

  • Thomas Lord Distinguished Scholar, RAND Institute for Civil Justice

Recent Media Appearances

Interviews: Los Angeles Times; United Press International

Commentary: San Diego Union-Tribune


  • 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