Decision Science and Policy


Research Activities
In addition to research for decision making, our decision science and policy team is engaged in research on decision making in water sustainability and urban climate adaptation. One line of decision science research is led by Erik Johnston, School of Public Affairs and Co-Director of the Center for Policy Informatics, and Ajay Vinze, W. P. Carey School of Business. This work examines cooperative behavior and collaboration amongst diverse stakeholders to achieve collective goals. Their research employs an experimental approach utilizing an adaptation of WaterSim as well as the ASU Decision Theater.

Our decision science and policy research is also guiding the training and education of the next generation of public administrators, who will be critical to the implementation of climate adaptation strategies. Increasingly, urban environmental policy makers make decisions in the face of climatic uncertainty. Policy professionals no longer operate under a “plan and predict” paradigm. Rather, policy makers must anticipate climate change impacts and plan for a range of potential future conditions. This research examines the effects of information technology, including computer model-based decision support systems such as WaterSim, on decision making. The goal of understanding decision making under uncertainty is to train public administrators who are skilled at understanding complex challenges that involve high uncertainty, stakeholder interdependencies, policy resistance, and slow feedback cycles.

Research Findings
Cooperation and Information Technology in Environmental Governance
WaterSim serves as a key point of engagement with regional stakeholders and the public-at-large and as an experimental object to study how computer models and scientific visualization affect perceptions and policy. Recent work by Erik Johnston, School of Public Affairs, and Ajay Vinze, WP Carey School of Business produced new findings about cooperation and information technology in environmental governance. In a new article Hu et al. (in press, Journal of Community Informatics) found that when people deliberated about regional water sustainability using a communal display of WaterSim in the Decision Theater they showed more cooperative behavior in a social dilemma scenario than those who deliberated on the same challenge presented on WaterSim on individual computer displays. These findings have implications for regional water planning and urban climate adaptation, which requires cooperation and coordination among a diverse set of actors and institutions.

Another paper forthcoming in Journal of Public Affairs Education (Hu, Johnson, and Hemphill in press), reports that interactive computer simulations like WaterSim provide context and creative learning environments for students to individually and collectively apply systems thinking in information-rich environments with instant feedback channels. The findings show that public administration students were able to quickly grasp the complexity associated with interdependent stakeholders with divergent interests, uncertain future conditions, and policy options that reflect competing values. However, the authors also noted some unintended consequences. Using interactive simulations may limit the scope of deliberation topics to only those highlighted by the simulation. Thus, the paper concludes with a discussion of some ethical concerns related to the use of computer simulations as part of an education exercise.


Research Activities
During this past year, Craig Kirkwood, along with L. Robin Keller (University of California, Irvine) and Jay Simon (Naval Postgraduate School), completed research (extending Simon’s 2009 doctoral dissertation) to develop and implement new analysis methods for decision problems with geographically varying outcomes. Also this year, Kirkwood, Gober, and others produced several articles using WaterSim for decision analysis. These included a study of the robustness of various water policies in the face of climate uncertainty (Gober et al. 2010), a vulnerability assessment of climate-induced water shortage in Phoenix (Gober and Kirkwood 2010), and a description of WaterSim development and use for policy analysis (Gober et al. 2011).

A second line of decision science and policy research supported by DCDC, led by Erik Johnston and Yushim Kim of the School of Public Affairs and Ajay Vinze from the W. P. Carey School of Business, examines cooperative behavior and collaboration amongst diverse stakeholders to achieve collective goals. Governments have increasingly adopted inclusive processes to engage non-state actors, and especially active engagement of citizens and communities, to solve local policy challenges. The success of this inclusive approach depends upon whether, and to what extent, all involved individuals, interest groups, communities, and government agencies collectively deliberate and work together. The study team used WaterSim and the Decision Theater to conduct experiments exploring the potential of an IT-facilitated communication environment on cooperative behavior.

DCDC Researchers: