What are real-life applications of decision support?
LAMSADE, Univ. Paris Dauphine
Recently our colleague Alexander Lotov submitted to the discussion
list of the MCDM society the above question. In fact the question arose
from the concern (rather common among the MCDM community) that there are
few real life applications of our theories and
methods. Further on it is not clear what a real-life application
means and how we consider that a real-life succeeded or not. At the time
I have contributed a brief comment to the problem. I come back with pleasure
on this issue trying to further explain my thoughts.
First of all I only partially agree with the concern about
``few real-life applications of MCDA''. There are few reports about real-life
applications published in scientific journals and even less done by academic
people, but multiple criteria decision support is practiced every day by
a large number of companies and consulting agencies (more or less correctly
and/or successfully). Such experiences almost never appear in scientific
journals and this is quite natural. Practitioners do not need a scientific
legitimation of their activity. Further on, the usual standards applied
by scientific journals in order to accept a paper are difficult to apply
at empirical considerations and in any case make difficult (to a practitioner)
to write such a paper. Unless we motivate practitioners with arguments
which are not only academic such a situation will not change.
The legitimate concern is whether the people which teach
decision support and produce theory about it have real-life experiences
of decision support! I do not claim that scientific legitimation of a theory
lies only on empirical grounds, but I consider that empirical validation
is an important dimension of any scientific theory. From that point of
view the small number of real-life applications reported by academic people
in the scientific literature can be considered a concern.
Remains open the question of what can be considered a real-life
application. In fact several times, acting as a referee, I receive papers
which claim to include real-life validation of the suggested theory, while
in reality at the best it is just an empirical validation with data coming
To my point of view a real-life application is the one where
it is possible to observe what I call a decision aiding process. That means
that at least a client and an analyst are involved, the first expressing
a "problem", the second trying to give him some advice. Other actors may
be involved, each with different concerns and stakes in the process.
The above description can apply to cases where the client
is a patient and the analyst is a psychologist or a physician, the client
is anybody and the analyst is a lawyer. What distinguish and characterise
our field is the use of formal methods, that is methods reducing ambiguity,
typical of human communication. Under such a perspective the output
of the decision aiding process is not the result of a method applied to
a model, but the advice given to the client and further the use of such
an advice done by the client. This is the reason for which is important,
in order to speak about real-life applications, that it exists a client.
I cannot see an operational validation of a theory without a client involved.
Can we speak about "successful" real life applications? This
involves two dimensions. The first is client's satisfaction. Here we have
to pay attention. Satisfaction does not mean that the method output or
the analyst advice were accepted by the client. It can be the case (and
I had such experiences) where the advice was more or less rejected, but
where the process was satisfactory because enabled the client to understand
better his problem. Therefore satisfaction refers to the decision aiding
process and not to its result. The second dimension is correctness. In
the sense that the advice has to be based on a sound basis and fulfill
at least basic meaningfulness requirements. Not all methods and models
apply to all cases.
The above description implies the existence of a, let's say,
observable entity which is the couple client-analyst. Only a third observer
can analyse critically the behaviour of such an entity.Unfortunately in
our field we do not use what in other fields is called a supervisor, that
is a independent observer of the decision aiding process. I think that
we have a lot to learn by adopting such an approach.
Consider in fact the question about client's independence
and capacity to be critic towards the analyst. In other terms: are we sure
that we do not influence the client by just using a certain approach instead
of another? And how the client can be aware of such an influence? This
is a key issue in analysing the experience of a real-life application of
decision support, but almost never has been discussed.
Real-life applications of decision support have to be an
essential component of the experience background of people doing research.
However, I feel that we still do not have a common concept of what that
does it mean and moreover on how such experience can be correctly used
and validated. I hope my modest contribution will be useful in this direction.
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The full documentation of the discussion is avalaible at
the fowllowing URL:
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