Public Policy and Decision Science

This is the approved revision of this page, as well as being the most recent.

This page is about the intersection of policy-making and machine learning. For an overview of policy-making and decision science, please see the Wikipedia page on this topic.

When creating policies, decision-makers must often negotiate fundamental uncertainties in the underlying data and construct mathematical models to help them assess or trade off between different policy alternatives (ex-ante policy analysis). ML can help alleviate some of this uncertainty by extracting information from satellite imagery, sensors, social media posts, policy documents, and other source and provide new techniques for working with models commonly used by decision-makers (e.g. integrated assessment models, multi-objective optimization, etc.). When deciding between different policy options, it is necessary to understand how effectively each strategy will reduce emissions, as well as how society may be affected. ML can also help retroactively, by analyzing the text of existing policies and by performing causal inference on historical data (ex-post policy analysis).

Machine Learning Application AreasEdit

Gathering decision-relevant dataEdit

Decision scienceEdit

Agent-based modelsEdit

Decision analysisEdit

Energy system modelingEdit

Multi-criteria decision-makingEdit

Ex-post policy analysisEdit

Background ReadingsEdit


  • Resources for Effective Climate Decisions. (Ch. 4) Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change (2010)[1]: A chapter from a report published after a series of five coordinated activities convened by the National Research Council in response to a request from Congress. Available here.
  • Climate Change and Society: Approaches and Responses. (2011)[2]: a chapter from the Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society. Available here.
  • Assessment and Decision-making for Climate Change: An Overview of Four Approaches (2012): The second report of the West Kootenay Climate Vulnerability and Resilience Project. Available here.
  • Social Capital, Collective Action, and Adaptation to Climate Change (2003)[3]: a review of the emerging perspectives of collective action and social capital. Available here.
  • Social, Economic, and Ethical Concepts and Methods. (Ch. 3). (2014)[4] : a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) regarding the social and economic aspects of climate change. Available here.

Policy MakingEdit

  • From Science to Policy: Developing Responses to Climate Change. (Ch. 12). Climate Change and Human Health - Risks and Responses. (1996)[5]: a report by the World Health Organization on the risks to human health of developing responses to climate change. Available here.
  • Decision making under uncertainty in climate change mitigation: introducing multiple actor motivations, agency and influence (2018)[6]: an article that presents an analysis that includes the perspectives and agency of multiple actors in climate change mitigation, through a case study of the UK construction sector. Available here.
  • Decision Making and Climate Change Uncertainty: Setting the Foundations for Informed and Consistent Strategic Decisions. (2019)[7]: an accessible explanation of how public officials, especially in low income countries, can address today's short- term pressing needs while preparing for tomorrow's climate-related impacts, written by the Climate Change Advisor of the Government of Quito, Chile. Available here.
  • Climate Change Policies (2016)[8]: A report by the European Environmental Agency on defining successful, impactful policies for climate change. Available here.

Markets and PricingEdit

  • Market Strategies for Climate Change (2004)[9]: examines current market responses, focusing on the drivers (threats and opportunities) and the actions being taken by companies to address climate change. Available here.
  • The Critical Role of Markets in Climate Change Adaptation (2018)[10]: this paper summarizes and synthesizes the role of markets in facilitating climate change adaptation. It explains how market signals encourage adaptation through land markets. Available here.
  • Market-based strategies. (2019)[11]: An overview prepared by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions about market-based approaches, like a carbon tax or cap-and-trade program, that can help reduce emissions at the lowest possible cost. Available here.

Online Courses and Course MaterialsEdit

Educational resources for policy analysisEdit

  • Theory and Practice in Policy Analysis: Including Applications in Science and Technology (Morgan, 2017)[12]: A rich resource for teaching classes on policy analysis with a focus on science and technology. Available here.
  • Policy Analysis: Concepts and Practice (Weimer & Vining, 2017)[13]: Essential primer on policy analysis. Available here.

Conferences, Journals, and Professional OrganizationsEdit

Major conferencesEdit

Major societies and organizationsEdit

Libraries and ToolsEdit

Given the importance of representing the impacts of decision-making and market-based strategies, interactive simulation tools and packages for multi-objective optimization are particularly useful in this application. Some of these are listed below:


There are several sources of data at various global, regional, and national levels, all of which are useful for modeling the impact of policies.

Climate policy databasesEdit

Climate change impacts and adaptationEdit

  • Vulnerability to Climate Change Dataset: quantifies the vulnerability of 233 countries to three major effects of climate change (weather-related disasters, sea-level rise, and reduced agricultural productivity).

Carbon price dataEdit

Data by or relevant to international organizationsEdit


  1. Council, National Research (2010-07-21). Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change. ISBN 978-0-309-14594-7.
  2. Dryzek, John S.; Norgaard, Richard B.; Schlosberg, David (2011-08-18). "Climate Change and Society: Approaches and Responses". Oxford Handbooks Online. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199566600.003.0001.
  3. Social Capital, Collective Action, and Adaptation to Climate Change, VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften
  4. Social, Economic, and Ethical Concepts and Methods, Cambridge University Press
  5. The Politics of Climate Science, Springer Netherlands
  6. Roelich, Katy; Giesekam, Jannik (2018-06-04). "Decision making under uncertainty in climate change mitigation: introducing multiple actor motivations, agency and influence". Climate Policy. 19 (2): 175–188. doi:10.1080/14693062.2018.1479238. ISSN 1469-3062.
  7. Adapting Infrastructure to Climate Change. Routledge. Retrieved 2020-08-28.
  8. Del Río, Pablo. "Climate Change Policies and New Technologies". Climate Change Policies. doi:10.4337/9781781000885.00016.
  9. Kolk, Ans; Pinkse, Jonatan (2004-06-01). "Market Strategies for Climate Change". European Management Journal. 22 (3): 304–314. doi:10.1016/j.emj.2004.04.011. ISSN 0263-2373.
  10. Anderson, Sarah; Anderson, Terry; Hill, Alice; Kahn, Matthew; Kunreuther, Howard; Libecap, Gary; Mantripragada, Hari; Mérel, Pierre; Plantinga, Andrew; Smith, V. Kerry (2018-05). "The Critical Role of Markets in Climate Change Adaptation" (PDF). Cambridge, MA: w24645. doi:10.3386/w24645. Cite journal requires |journal= (help); Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. "Market-Based Strategies". Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. 2020-06-13.
  12. Morgan, Granger (2017). Theory and Practice in Policy Analysis: Including Applications in Science and Technology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/9781316882665. ISBN 978-1-316-88266-5.
  13. Weimer DL, Vining AR. Policy analysis: Concepts and practice. Taylor & Francis; 2017 Mar 31.