Imperial College London

Making better policy decisions in an uncertain world


Clock face on Elizabeth Tower at the Houses of Parliament

Imperial College London is part of a new initiative to help the policy making process by connecting decision makers with the analytical community.

The Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London has teamed up with specialists from academia, industry and Government to create the Analysis under uncertainty for Decision-makers Network (AU4DM). The team’s aim is to develop a better understanding of how decisions are made across a wide variety of sectors and domains and improve the way they are made.

My feeling is the community, and network, is a really good idea, wish it had been around when I was a Chief Scientist.Professor David Fisk

The network convened its first public event this week, What do Decision Makers want from the Analytical Community? Held at the Royal Geographical Society, the two day meeting attracted a broad cross section of attendees from a wide range of sectors and interests.

“Coming more from the analyst side of the fence, I was attracted by possibility of learning more about how to communicate better with decision makers,” says Dr Michal Petr, Climate Change Researcher at Forest Research, “I definitely gained some useful insights and understanding of other communities and would be interested in attending again especially to learn about techniques and tools used by, and for, specific communities.”

The highlight of the first day was the simulation sessions. These session, hosted by the AU4DM team, allowed participants to be the decision makers in three real-world scenarios. The aim was to understand the reactions and reasons for particular decisions and to identify which uncertainties concerned different individuals. These insights will enable the team to understanding what could have been done to improve decision making in these scenarios.

“I thought including the simulation in the meeting was a really good idea, learning by doing is always useful,” says Dr Brian Efird, Senior Research Fellow at KAPSARC, “I also thought that it was set up in a way to elicit quick decisions which would be more true to how you would really act than mulling it over and trying to ‘win the game’ and give the ‘right answer’.”

However for AU4DM what is crucial is engagement with policy makers to ensure that they are not just creating interesting studies but actually providing decision makers with what they need.

“We have all been involved in the world of policy for a long time and we understand the constraints, and pressures, many people are under when making decisions,” says Dr Mark Workman, who is on AU4DM’s steering committee, “What we want is to produce useful insights that people can use to make better policy decisions in a what is a very uncertain world.”

This focus was explicit in the event’s panel discussion What do decision-makers really want? To close the second day the team had assembled an experienced panel from industry, policy and academia to discuss the topic and take questions from the floor.

“My feeling is the community, and network, is a really good idea, wish it had been around when I was a Chief Scientist,” says Professor David Fisk, a member of panel “I think it is still finding its feet but once it does can become a really useful platform.”

The second day was aimed at reflection on the previous day’s activities and detailing the next steps to build on the successes and insights gained at the meeting.

"It was a very useful event, great to hear from people coming with a completely different perspective, particularly from academia," says Eleni Skaliotis, Operational Research Analyst. "While that insight has been valuable, the networking has also been important."

What we want is to produce useful insights that people can use to make better policy decisions in a what is a very uncertain world.Dr Mark Workman

The Analysis under uncertainty for Decision-makers Network is a community of researchers and professionals from policy, academia and industry who are seeking to develop a better understanding of decision making, to build capacity and improve the way decisions are made across sectors and domains.

AU4DM was launched in May 2015 and has grown to include experts from Imperial College London, Warwick University, London School of Economics, Lancaster University, E3G, the UK Government, Energy Systems Catapult, Anglian Water and Atkins. The work is also supported by Energy Futures Lab and Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment.


Neasan O'Neill

Neasan O'Neill
Faculty of Engineering

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