Center for Decision Making Under Uncertainty

Investing in the development of tools to help decisionmakers avoid serious miscalculations

Uncertainty is inherent to decisionmaking on scales both big and small.

For example, an individual is unsure what medical needs will arise for her family over the next year, so she’s uncertain about which employer-sponsored health care plan to choose.

Or a local planner charged with developing a water resources infrastructure plan for the next fifty years faces uncertainty about changes in the regional climate, rules and regulations governing shared water resources, and the adoption rate of water-saving technologies.

The Center for Decision Making under Uncertainty helps researchers use tools and methodologies to provide decisionmakers with the confidence that RAND recommendations are rooted in unbiased, evidence-based facts and analysis. And we do it using an interdisciplinary perspective to take on complex policy problems that involve uncertainty.

Whether the goal is structuring a decision and characterizing alternatives, estimating the likelihood of future consequences, or making, evaluating, and communicating choices, the methods we use can address uncertainties that range from simple to ambiguous to deeply complex.

We are continually investing in the development of new tools that can help decisionmakers avoid serious miscalculations by drawing on the brainpower of practitioners and researchers from all over the world.

Our Focus

The Center for Decision Making under Uncertainty develops and curates resources to support RAND researchers and clients in making informed methodological choices. We draw on methods such as behavioral experiments, expert elicitation, qualitative analyses of mental models, and tools for longer-term decisionmaking such as robust decision making and portfolio management. We help guide RAND investments in developing these methods. And we facilitate methodological discussions both within RAND and with practitioners and researchers worldwide.

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Methods In Action

  • Equations and formulas behind scales of justice, images by monsitj and DNY59/Getty Images


    Addressing the Challenges of Algorithmic Equity

    Social institutions increasingly use algorithms for decisionmaking purposes. How do different perspectives on equity or fairness inform the use of algorithms in the context of auto insurance pricing, job recruitment, and criminal justice?

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    Journal Article

    Testing the Scenario Hypothesis via an Experimental Comparison

    Alumni Jordan Fischbach (cohort '04) and Zhimin Mao (cohort '11), along with professor Robert Lempert and other RAND researchers, undertook an experimental comparison of scenarios and forecasts to see which was most useful in a complex decision environment. The results offer lessons for designing decision support tools.

  • The hydroelectric dam Cachi in Ujarras de Cartago, 60 miles of San Jose, Costa Rica, May 25, 2007, photo by Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters


    The Benefits and Costs of Decarbonizing Costa Rica's Economy

    Costa Rica set the ambitious goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. An evaluation of the benefits and costs of its National Decarbonization Plan, conducted using Robust Decision Making methods, finds that under most plausible assumptions about the future, the plan would achieve or nearly achieve its goals and do so at a net economic benefit.

  • Scientist in a clean room, with data overlay


    Improving Decision Support for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control

    Students David Manheim (cohort '12) and Meg Chamberlin (cohort '14), along with professors Melinda Moore and Raffaele Vardavas, offer nine best practices for using modeling and decision-support tools to inform public health policymaking.

  • U.S. service members in a training exercise during Cyber Flag


    Applying Lessons from National Security Planning Under Uncertainty

    A first step in dealing with uncertainty is confronting its existence, ubiquity, and magnitude. A second step is dealing with it when informing assessments and decisions. Lessons from RAND's national security work on planning under uncertainty can be applied in many other fields.

  • High-tech analysis

    Journal Article

    Climate and Energy Analysis: Reinvigorating the Scenario Technique

    Scenarios are widely used for long-term climate and energy analysis, but scenario developers and users typically capture only a subset of future uncertainties. By adopting three focal points as part of this methodology, researchers can expand uncertainty consideration and gather user-specific insights.

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Student Spotlight

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    Informing Decisions in Uncertain Times

    "So many people don't understand DMU," student Max Izenberg (cohort '18) says of the set of methods known collectively as decision making under uncertainty. Whether he's exploring robust decision making among large organizations, or the mental models of individual stakeholders, "DMU helps me organize my thoughts."

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