Improving Decisions in a Complex and Changing World

This project began in 2004 under a special National Science Foundation Grant for Decision Making Under Uncertainty, and concluded in 2012. The project site was archived in May 2012 and has not been updated since then.

an image of a large seal on an ice floeClimate change presents public and private sector decisionmakers with a fundamental quandary: how to address a potentially serious, long-term, and deeply uncertain threat. By waiting until new science and unfolding events eliminate much of the uncertainty, it may be too late for decisionmakers to act effectively. If they act without understanding the extent and contours of the problem, they risk making serious miscalculations.

Research Focus

This project has three goals:

  • conduct basic research needed to improve computer-based tools that enable decisionmakers to make better choices when confronted with deep uncertainty about the future;
  • examine the best means to represent uncertain scientific information for decisionmakers so they can act on it more effectively, whether as individuals or groups; and
  • strengthen the scientific foundations of robust decisionmaking (RDM), a promising new approach to computer-assisted support for decisionmakers facing deep uncertainty. When the future is hard to predict with confidence, RDM helps decisionmakers identify strategies that perform well over a range of plausible futures.

Policy Areas

This project will draw on interactions with decisionmakers in two important policy areas:

  • water resources planning under uncertainty; and
  • responding to abrupt climate change.

In addition to aiding decisionmakers in these two domains, the project will improve methods to support decisionmaking under conditions of deep uncertainty for a wide range of public and private sector decision challenges.

Related Projects

Research under this project has lead to work with several leading resource management agencies helping them to include the potential impacts of climate change in their long-term plans. These projects include work led by David Groves with Southern California's Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA), the California Department of Water Resources, the California Energy Commission, Denver Water, and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Work has also included hurricane protection and coastal restoration planning in Louisiana and flood risk mitigation for New Orleans. A project under the leadership of Steven Popper is working with Israel's Ministry of National Infrastructure, Ministry of Finance, and the Prime Minister's office to examine the role of natural gas in Israel's long-term energy future.

Project list »

Decision Making Tools

Scenarios provide a commonly used and intuitively appealing means to communicate and characterize uncertainty in many decision support applications, but can fall short of their potential especially when used in broad public debates among participants with diverse interests and values. Work under this grant has helped develop "scenario discovery" methods and software that can help address these challenges.

Recent News

Researchers Help the Port of Los Angeles Address Sea Level Rise — Dec. 10, 2009

Using robust decision methods developed in this project, a team of researchers from RAND and Penn State are helping the Port of Los Angeles prepare for potential sea level rise.

Researchers Robert Lempert and David Groves Brief Members of Congress — Jan. 2008

On January 31, 2008, Robert Lempert and David Groves briefed members of Congress and their staff about new methods for water managers to prepare for climate change. The briefing summarized findings from two recently released reports.

Robert Lempert in Capitol Hill Forum — Apr. 2007

On March 30, 2007 Robert Lempert participated in a Capitol Hill Forum on climate change as part of the the NYU/RAND "Legislating for the Future" effort. His presentation, "Creating Constituencies for Long-Term, Radical Change," draws in part from research conducted under this DMUU project.

RAND Researcher Robert Lempert on NPR — Feb. 1, 2007

Robert Lempert was interviewed on National Public Radio providing his thoughts on the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.