Pardee RAND Faculty, Students, and Alum Explore DMDU in Mexico City

DMDU Summer School 2023, photo courtesy Shona Olalere/RAND

Shona Olalere, Zara Abdurahaman, Alejandro Becerra Ornelas, James Syme, Steven Popper, and Robert Lempert at dinner in Mexico City.

Photo courtesy Shona Olalere

September 19, 2023

A two-week intensive exploration of decision making under deep uncertainty (DMDU) offered a unique opportunity for seven Pardee RAND students, faculty, and alumni to teach, learn, and enjoy each other's company in Mexico City this summer.

Hosted by the Tecnológico de Monterrey School of Government and Public Transformation in Mexico City and run by the DMDU Society, DMDU Summer School 2023 was a "particularly transformative experience" for the four Pardee RAND students who taught at and attended the program.

DMDU is an important method for policy analysis, especially when parties to a decision do not know, or cannot agree on, the system model that relates action to consequences. As the DMDU Society explains, "Traditional decision analysis relies on point and probabilistic predictions. But under conditions of deep uncertainty, predictions are often wrong, and relying on them can prove costly and dangerous. Fortunately, new methods and processes now exist to help decision makers identify and evaluate robust and adaptive strategies, thereby making sound decisions in the face of these challenges."

Pardee RAND professors Robert Lempert and Steven Popper, both well-known DMDU experts, taught two foundational courses during the program. Student James Syme (cohort '18) and alumnus Edmundo Molina-Pérez ('11) also have extensive experience with DMDU and taught the methods-focused courses "Scalable DMDU Analyses Using Complex, High-runtime Models" and "Methods for Vulnerability Analysis."

As an instructor, Syme said teaching fellow students was a unique experience: "I had to really think about how to effectively communicate intricate computational concepts in a short period of time, which is challenging."

With support from Pardee RAND Career Services, Zara Abdurahaman ('21), Shona Olalere ('22), and Hye Min Park ('21) attended the program as students, taking away valuable lessons on the DMDU methods as well as how to apply DMDU in fields such as water policy, energy, and climate mitigation.

DMDU Summer School 2023, photo courtesy Shona Olalere/RAND

Zara Abdurahaman, Alejandro Becerra Ornelas, PhuongGiang Nguyen, James Syme, Hye Min Park, and Shona Olalere took a side trip to the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City.

Photo courtesy Shona Olalere

Park, who plans to apply the insights gained from the program to her Ph.D. research in electric resource planning for a carbon-free grid, said the program "provided me with a unique opportunity to explore [DMDU] in a complex policy context and develop practical skills for addressing policy challenges."

She added, "One of the most exciting aspects of the summer school was seeing some of the theoretical concepts I have learned at Pardee RAND applied to complex policy problems facing deep uncertainty."

Abdurahaman said the program facilitated meaningful discussions that highlighted the multifaceted nature of the research method. "Beyond the technical skills I acquired," she said, "I enjoyed discussing in-depth the interdisciplinary application of DMDU." She said she especially appreciated the diverse cohort of participants—students and professionals from around the world who each brought unique perspectives to the table.

Olalere said the program was both intensive and insightful. Hailing from Africa, Olalere brought a unique perspective to the program, having witnessed multifaceted policy challenges that are often characterized as "wicked problems." She said the program “exposed me to the potential of leveraging robust data, machine learning, and technology to build models for DMDU."

While they were in Mexico City, the group also had opportunities to meet up socially with local alum Alejandro Becerra Ornelas (cohort '17), for dinners as well as a visit to Mexico's National Anthropology Museum.

Olalero eloquently summed up the trip, saying, “DMDU Summer School 2023 was not a mere educational event but a voyage into the heart of intricate decision-making. Against the backdrop of Mexico City's vibrant cultural canvas, we were equipped with skills, insights, and connections that promise to reshape our futures. The legacy of this transformative experience will undoubtedly ripple through the Pardee RAND community.”

DMDU Summer School 2023, photo courtesy DMDU Society

Edmundo Molina-Pérez shares a discovery.

Photo courtesy DMDU Summer School 2023

DMDU Summer School 2023, photo courtesy DMDU Society

Steven Popper makes an important point.

Photo courtesy DMDU Summer School 2023

DMDU Summer School 2023, photo courtesy DMDU Society

James Syme wears many hats.

Photo courtesy DMDU Summer School 2023

DMDU Summer School 2023, photo courtesy DMDU Society

Robert Lempert maps a path forward.

Photo courtesy DMDU Summer School 2023

Clockwise around the table: Alejandro Becerra Ornelas, James Syme, PhuongGiang Nguyen, Shona Olalere, Zara Abdurahaman, and Hye Min Park at dinner in Mexico City.

Photo courtesy Alejandro Becerra Ornelas

DMDU Summer School 2023, photo courtesy DMDU Society

A group of DMDU Summer School attendees and faculty.

Photo courtesy DMDU Summer School 2023

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