Optimal Budget-Constrained Sample Allocation for Selection Decisions with Multiple Uncertain Attributes

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A decision-maker, when faced with a limited and fixed budget to collect data in support of a multiple attribute selection decision, must decide how many samples to observe from each alternative and attribute. This allocation decision is of particular importance when the information gained leads to uncertain estimates of the attribute values as with sample data collected from observations such as measurements, experimental evaluations, or simulation runs. For example, when the U.S. Department of Homeland Security must decide upon a radiation detection system to acquire, a number of performance attributes are of interest and must be measured in order to characterize each of the considered systems. We identified and evaluated several approaches to incorporate the uncertainty in the attribute value estimates into a normative model for a multiple attribute selection decision. Assuming an additive multiple attribute value model, we demonstrated the idea of propagating the attribute value uncertainty and describing the decision values for each alternative as probability distributions. These distributions were used to select an alternative. With the goal of maximizing the probability of correct selection we developed and evaluated, under several different sets of assumptions, procedures to allocate the fixed experimental budget across the multiple attributes and alternatives. Through a series of simulation studies, we compared the performance of these allocation procedures to the simple, but common, allocation procedure that distributed the sample budget equally across the alternatives and attributes. We found the allocation procedures that were developed based on the inclusion of decision-maker knowledge, such as knowledge of the decision model, outperformed those that neglected such information. Beginning with general knowledge of the attribute values provided by Bayesian prior distributions, and updating this knowledge with each observed sample, the sequential allocation procedure performed particularly well. These observations demonstrate that managing projects focused on a selection decision so that the decision modeling and the experimental planning are done jointly, rather than in isolation, can improve the overall selection results.