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Georgetown McDonough Hosts Decision Analysis Conference

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Decision Analysis, the study of making informed decisions in business, was the focus of a conference Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business hosted in June, drawing about 100 international participants from academia and industry.

The three-day conference covered topics including decision making in matters of homeland security and disaster management, the role of judgment in decision making, and the psychological components of decision making.

Decision analysis is most commonly used in businesses that face decisions involving substantial uncertainty, such as the oil and gas and the pharmaceutical industries. The field is evolving as the tools for making informed decisions improve.

“Technology is impacting this field by providing more data to the decision maker, but with more data, decision makers in many cases need more tools to sort through, organize, and understand the data to support their decision,” explained Georgetown McDonough Associate Professor Robin Dillon-Merrill, who worked with the Decision Analysis Society, a division of the Institute for Operations Research and Management Science (INFORMS) to organize the event.

The conference was designed to help bridge the theory and the practice of decision analysis and to exchange knowledge among decision analysts in academia, medicine, industry, and government and to provide practical guidance for decision makers.

The event marked the first time the Decision Analysis Society hosted a standalone conference. In addition to several Georgetown faculty who are active in the society, it drew guests from universities in the United States, The Czech Republic, Sweden, and Israel, as well as AstraZeneca, IBM, and other corporations.

Several Georgetown faculty members, including Assistant Professors Victor Jose, Canan Ulu, and Sunita Sah, presented research and received feedback from colleagues at other universities. Robert Winkler, Duke University Professor of Decision Sciences, provided a plenary session that reflected on 30 years of research studying forecasting.

Because decision analysis and theory are highly interdisciplinary, the event drew specialists in a variety of fields from economics and statistics, to artificial intelligence and management science. It sought to advance the understanding of how concepts from other fields such as game theory and neuroeconomics could improve the practice of decision analysis.

While academics play a serious role in decision analysis, so too does practical psychology, said Dillon-Merrill. “Psychology also informs the field,” she said. “Academics can create the best models, but it is still important to understand what the decision makers will do with the models. Decision analysts need to understand the cognitive limitations of the decision makers.”