Simon French: Decision Analysis: Theory Meets Practice


In this talk I want to reflect on how applications of risk and decision analysis need to ‘bend’ several aspects of their theoretical basis in developing effective and valuable guidance.  Early in my career, I worked more on the theory of multi-attribute value functions, subjective probabilities and utility theory and generally I found the results sensible and satisfying.  But then I began to apply the theory and things became less straightforward.  The world and real decision-makers did not easily fit theoretical small worlds.  In 1990 I joined the International Chernobyl Project and ran headlong into politics, stress, health issues and the concerns they bring: even the thorny question of how do you value a life.  For the rest of my career, I applied decision theoretic approaches to societal decision making in many areas for risk and safety.  Sometimes I worked in contexts where there was the luxury of time to think.  Other times I worked on emergency preparedness and crisis response.  I still found theoretical perspectives and approaches very powerful tools, but only if I used them with the proverbial ‘pinch of salt’.  In this talk I want to reflect back on what I have learnt in the past decades, arguing that our approach to decision analysis only becomes really helpful if we forget parts of it.  Even then some of the major problems facing societies and the planet may require that we become more flexible.

Simon French is Emeritus Professor at Alliance Manchester Business School. He is now fully retired, still writing and enjoying seminar discussions, but almost in control of his diary at last.

Simon has made numerous contributions to the theory and practice of risk and decision analysis. This includes the publication of eleven books on operational research, Bayesian statistics, decision theory and analysis. In addition, Simon has nearly 200 other publications. 

During his career, Simon has sought to support real decision makers and stakeholders in complex decisions in ways that are mindful of their human characteristics. He was involved in the International Chernobyl Project in 1990-1991, leading work on the factors driving the post-accident decision making.  This led to many projects on nuclear emergency management over the following 30 years.  He has worked across the public and private sectors, often in contexts that relate to the environment, energy, food safety and the nuclear industry. He has consulted for many regulators and organisations in the public sector: the Department of Health, the UK Food Standards Industry, the European Space Agency, Public Health England, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, and many parts of the nuclear industry. 

In 2017, Simon was awarded the Ramsey Medal, the highest award of the INFORMS Decision Analysis Society for his research in and applications of risk and decision analysis.  In 2022 he was also awarded the Gold Medal of the International Society for Multi-Criteria Decision Making.