My professional and personal life has been greatly enhanced by working with talented, interesting colleagues who are also friends. Their insights, ideas, and discussions have enriched my thoughts about how to effectively help decision-makers.
Howard Raiffa, Professor Emeritus, Harvard Kennedy School
“If there had not been a Ralph Keeney, I would have wanted to invent him because of his unique skill set…”
“There are many critical points in my career where by my working with Ralph Keeney things happened. Ralph got me straightened out!
He made certain things possible for me. The paper we wrote about the Mexico City Airport is a good example.
Decisions with Multiple Objectives Book
In terms of the Decisions with Multiple Objectives book, it was remarkable really. Ralph and I were at Harvard and MIT, two different universities, and he developed and pushed the idea of developing the book. I had some skepticism about it at first due to being at different universities (how would we pull it off?) but it worked out because of Ralph’s drive to get the ideas out and to get it published, to finish all the tasks and keep me on the path with him to produce this book.
Overall, my career working with Ralph was pushed substantially, in a positive way, by Ralph’s urge for completing things and his articulation of goals and his focus on staying the course!
Ralph completes things. Once he thinks something is worth doing he “stays the course!”
Smart Choices Book
Well we both had the idea (a book on decisions for the public) in mind all along I think. We wanted to do something like that together. I give him full credit for making us do it and making it happen! It is a full pleasure to work with Ralph and our co-author John Hammond.
Ralph is so smart, he holds his own in his thinking and in contributing ideas! If we were to have an inventory of all his papers and the joint papers written with other people, I think most of the percentage of the effort and ideas are Ralph’s, and the thinking that Ralph does! I think it is fair to say he makes more efforts and makes more contribution in most joint papers and in most joint efforts.
We have a book in us still to write and we ought to finish it! It is a general book about decision-making that we started and there is some excellent thinking in it.
The general noteworthy thing about Ralph is his leadership in decision theory; that is something that is distinct about him and impressive. He has a well-deserved international reputation in our field.
Applications to the real world
There are not many people as intellectually gifted as Ralph is and who have a university appointment and yet can and do apply their intellect to important real-world problems. That is so valuable!
I believe Ralph can be at the forefront of the current important controversy about society and what we should do about our important world-wide ecological matters. His combination of decision analysis and value focused thinking would be extremely important in resolving questions such as how to address valuable water resources and the like. He has experience working in a variety of applied problems that would be relevant to important world and national questions of this sort.
It is a real pleasure to work with Ralph. His is a unique and different voice and point of view and he is extremely articulate. He has a profound intellect that he uses for each important matter.
If there weren’t a person such as Ralph I would want to invent him
The reasons are:
– He thinks hard about difficult problems.
– He registers a well thought out and individually constructed, insightful point of view.
– He has analytical follow-through.
– He argues the reasonableness of his points of view.
– He feels a commitment to give value to wide audiences and cause them to think about important issues.
– Also there are no burning problems with Ralph.
– He is generous and just a really great person.
What is it like to work with Ralph? It is a pleasure.
Most of the books, papers and things that we’ve worked on together, I wouldn’t have done or been able to finish without Ralph. He is indefatigable in his pursuit of excellence and in finishing the joint projects we start and accomplish. Certainly we don’t always agree, and whenever we disagree, he honors my positions so carefully and listens and finds ways to incorporate both angles of our thinking. This makes him a wonderful partner to work with and also he can convince me of things to change my mind about through his rigorous thinking and logic. Ralph has extreme follow-through. He’s very disciplined.
So how do I sum up Ralph Keeney?
His is an independent mind. He arrives at his viewpoints through careful, independent thinking and he doesn’t really worry about other people’s points of view while constructing his own well reasoned perspective, yet he does pay attention and listen to others and is very respectful. This allows his thinking to be very effective and powerful and very influential.”
Frank P. Ramsey Professor (Emeritus) of Managerial Economics, a joint chair held by the Business School and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University
– “Remembering Howard Raiffa” (1924 -2016) by Ralph Keeney, click to view pdf
Detlof von Winterfeldt, Professor, Industrial Systems and Engineering,
University of Southern California
“Ralph Keeney is a major force in the decision analysis community…”
Nobel prize level work
“Ralph is best known for extending von-Neumann and Morgenstern’s utility theory to include multiple objectives. His 1976 book with Howard Raiffa on that topic has 15,000 citations (von Neumann and Morgenstern have 26,000, but there still is time for Keeney and Raiffa to catch up). They deserve the Nobel Prize for this work.
I have published many papers with Ralph and he always has contributed more than I did – that’s why he is always the first author!
The most cited paper (and maybe the best) that we co-authored had to do with methods for eliciting probabilities from experts, when data are sparse and experts disagree on how to model and make predictions. Ralph is an expert at that.
Most of all, he always has been a great friend to me and I also have observed that he has taken it onto himself to promote other colleagues and friends, whose contributions he values. In addition, he has been a major force in holding the decision analysis community together and expanding its reach.
When he gets finished with the next book he is writing, and the consulting project he is working on, he should do a TED talk on how to make better decisions.”
Detlof von Winterfeldt
Professor, University of Southern California
Director, Center for Risk & Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE)
Professor, Industrial and Systems Engineering, Viterbi School of Engineering
Professor, Public Policy and Management, School of Policy, Planning and Development
University of Southern California
David Bell, Professor, Harvard Business School
“Ralph finds real world applications where our theories and discipline will be used…”
Real world thinker
“Ralph not only comes up with new useful approaches, but he works hard to make sure that they get used, both by finding real world applications himself, and teaching others, like me and his many students, about them. Through his books and papers and applications, people will be making better decisions, and improving their lives, well, forever.
Ralph is trained as an engineer and he sees tools as things to be used to produce working solutions!”
George M. Moffett Professor of Agriculture and Business
Unit Head, Marketing, Harvard Business School
Bob Winkler, Professor, Duke University, Fuqua School of Business
“An interesting characteristic is Ralph’s ability to find creative win-win solutions that are good for all parties involved…”
Ground breaking work
“I’ve always been extremely impressed with Ralph’s groundbreaking work in multiattribute utility and value-focused thinking. His contributions have inspired researchers and practitioners alike, and continue to have lasting impact.
I especially liked our interactions on the one paper that just Ralph and I did together, on equity of public risks. It was challenging in the sense of involving some tricky foundational issues; it was rewarding to discuss and address those issues together. We have been part of groups that worked on consulting projects involving air pollution and other risk analysis problems. These group efforts were always fun.
Creative win-win solutions
An interesting characteristic is Ralph’s ability to find creative win-win solutions that are good for all parties involved, often in situations where many people would assume that negotiations would not be successful. Within a group, he is good at getting everyone involved in a positive way.
Ralph brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the table, and is very creative. It’s hard not to get caught up in his enthusiasm and creativity, and as a result it’s a lot of fun to work with him or more generally, just to interact with him.”
Robert L. Winkler
James B. Duke Professor
Professor, Duke University: The Fuqua School of Business
Paul Slovic, Professor, University of Oregon, and Head of Decision Research
“We worked to define ‘Acceptable Risk’ which is a novel concept…”
“Ralph worked with us (Baruch Fischhoff, Sarah Lichtenstein and me) to think clearly about how to define “acceptable risk” and it is the title for our jointly authored book. In contrast to those who would define acceptable risk as some magic number, Ralph helped us argue the case that it was, instead, the risk that is associated with an acceptable decision. This is a novel and valuable idea.
In recent years Ralph has been educating many on the role that value-focused thinking plays in improving decision-making.
World problems and issues
Ralph, Robin Gregory and I have attempted to educate policy makers about the importance of value-structuring in difficult decisions, for example about whether or not to intervene to prevent genocide and mass atrocities. Ralph’s advice and encouragement in this effort and many other forays into valuing human lives is greatly appreciated.
I have always admired the way Ralph reached out and rescued a decision analyst and his family who were fleeing persecution in Russia. Ralph’s willingness to sponsor the family and find employment for the analyst in the U.S. was truly life-saving for them and an example of great compassion.”
Professor, University of Oregon and Founder, President of Decision Research
Jim Dyer, Professor, University of Texas, McCombs School of Business
“He and Howard Raiffa created a new field and Ralph continues to have a broad and significant impact…”
Creative questions and insights
“Working with Ralph is fun! That’s the first word that comes to my mind, because he’s always in a good mood, but he channels that enthusiasm into creative questions and insights. In that sense, it’s really not work at all.
Creation of new fields
Ralph and Howard Raiffa created the field of multi-attribute utility theory in their stunning book, Decisions with Multiple Objectives, and simultaneously closed it in the sense that the book was so complete and so comprehensive, that there was little left unsaid. There have been many other papers written on this topic, of course, but very little has been done that has practical implications for practice that isn’t in that book. It was amazing in the sense that the field became “mature” the day it was published.
The classic book is probably Ralph’s most noteworthy achievement, but a close second is Value-Focused Thinking. The thing that I like about the Value-Focused Thinking book is the distinction that he makes between an objectives hierarchy and a means-ends objectives network. Prior to that sharp distinction, I think many practitioners had been aware of the fact that their “objectives hierarchy” contained wasn’t really made up exclusively of value-focused objectives, but it also seemed intuitive to include “means” of achieving those objectives. Those notions needed to be sorted out, and Ralph accomplished that in a book that also has reached a wider audience due to its more informal writing style.
Broad impact and deep contributions
Ralph has been a major figure in the Decision Analysis Society, and a mentor to many young people in the field. He has written papers with many younger scholars and therefore influenced their careers in a positive direction. In addition, he has made significant contributions to issues of national importance by analyzing problems related to health care, pollution, global warming, facilities siting, and other social issues. The impacts of these studies have influenced individuals and policies in positive ways.
Ralph is an excellent speaker, and is probably at his best when he is illustrating the ideas of “value-focused thinking” in the context of a major policy issue. I think his talk on that topic that is available on YouTube is a great example of looking ahead and what he can contribute as a speaker.”
Professor, Energy Management and Innovation Center
Information, Risk, and Operations Mgmt.
University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business
Howard Kunreuther, Professor, University of Pennsylvania, Wharton
“Ralph makes important contributions. One key contribution is in getting people to think about their objectives…”
Decision-making and risk
“Ralph Keeney has a unique way of approaching personal decision problems by suggesting ways that people can and should think more logically. One example is his paper in Operations Research “Personal Decisions Are the Leading Cause of Death”. There he carefully documents all the ways that people could take more control of their lives so as to avoid premature death. At the same time, he points out that one should consider the impact on social welfare of extending ones life expectancy. I remember Ralph reminding me that there was a cost that I need to be aware of when I cycled to Penn (university) every day.
As his friends and family know, he is and has been willing to engage in risky and dare-devil activities himself where there is some probability that something serious could happen, such as motorcycling at high speeds or skiing in steep terrain, neither of which I notice get mentioned in the above paper as activities to avoid. There are tradeoffs in life, and Ralph knows how to make them.
Ralph’s value-focused thinking is an important contribution by getting people to think about the importance of their goals and objectives before considering alternatives and outcomes. It highlights how Ralph has reflected on the importance of avoiding a Type III error by asking the right questions initially. In my course on Risk Analysis and Environmental Management, I use Chapter 1 of the Value-Focused Thinking book and my students have commented how useful it has been for them in looking at risk-related problems.
Two areas of Ralph’s research that I have found particularly relevant for projects in which I have been involved are policy and social issues:
• Papers on the value tradeoffs with respect to siting the high level radioactive waste repository at Yucca Mountain.
• Published research with Detlof von Winterfeldt and Robin Gregory on eliciting decision-makers values and making relevant tradeoffs in choosing between alternatives when struggling with societal decision-making problems.
Ralph has made major contributions to the broad area of risk analysis and decision-making under uncertainty and he is a giant in the field. On a personal level, I have appreciated his concern for others and his willingness to give of himself. I feel fortunate to have Ralph as a friend and colleague.
Looking to the future, I suggest Ralph write a paper on “Using value-focused thinking for managing low probability high consequence events” where there is a tendency to say it will never happen to me until it actually does. I would be pleased to provide input into this process.”
The James G. Dinan Professor
Professor of Operations, Information and Decisions and
Professor of Decision Sciences and Business Economics and Public Policy
And Co-Director, Risk Management and Decision Processes Center at Wharton, University of Pennsylvania
Tim McDaniels, Professor, University of British Columbia, Canada
“Many people have reasons to say that Ralph Keeney changed their lives…”
“I met Ralph Keeney in the late 1980s and he changed my life. That seems like a lot of weight to put onto one person, but I believe that many people may have reason to say the same thing.
Ralph, as all readers here know, has been recognized for over 40 years as being at the very pinnacle of decision analysis in terms of both theory and practice. He is also an inspiring and highly entertaining person, perhaps the most memorable and impressive I have met.
I got to know Ralph through his participation in a professional education course at the Banff Centre in Alberta. Robin Gregory organized the course and invited both Ralph and me as faculty members for the 25 or so professionals seeking to learn about risk management. For me, the chance to hear Ralph talk about risk issues with some embedded decision analysis training was delightful and a tremendous learning experience. Ralph then did some professional training at BC Hydro on dam safety and invited me along to listen. Again I got to hear Ralph’s anecdotes, lessons and insights, many of which I still think about and use often in teaching and practice.
After that, I was lucky enough to join forces with Ralph on various proposals and studies, for BC Hydro on reliability, for BC Gas on integrated resource planning, on learning within climate change research and in other contexts. These ongoing projects basically served as a means for me to obtain post-doctoral level training and collaborative opportunities with Ralph that shaped my whole career. To have publications with Ralph is like having a golden key to open contacts with Ralph’s followers and co-authors around the world.
Spending time with Ralph also provided me with a many life lessons in conversations that have helped me and stuck with me. He talked about the importance of humility and warmth in support of the audience or clients in one’s work, qualities he indicated he valued in Howard Raiffa. He showed me the importance of focused concentration on the task at hand. I learned from Ralph the power of dictation in getting reports and papers written clearly and quickly. I learned to appreciate the benefits of being very slim, to the point of constrained caloric intake, for enhancing longevity (this is a quality I am hoping to master but am still far from it). I learned the benefit of having “only one beer” the evening before a work event. I learned that “…you do not want to watch too much TV.” These are not big concepts, but they stick with me today.
One of the most impressive and endearing qualities about Ralph is his commitment to friendship. I learned how he maintains his childhood friendships from Montana, how he has maintained friendships from among his professional colleagues for decades, and how much his friends mean to him. His writing about what Howard Raiffa meant to him says a great deal about Ralph himself.
The obvious ways in which Ralph changed my life are in providing the intellectual and practice basis for what has been a very rewarding career. I always knew I had something great to teach the students, or use in practical contexts, given I could draw on Ralph’s writing on Value-focused Thinking, Smart Choices, and all the wonderful cases he has worked on. As Ralph said to me long ago, if you can write an article on a decision analysis application it will always find a home in a publication. I attribute a large share of any academic success I have had to basic concepts I learned from Ralph. But beyond the professional side, I learned from Ralph some lessons that only a few can provide: how to be a better, more interesting, healthier, lively and dynamic person.”
Professor, University of British Columbia, Canada
L. Robin Keller, Professor, Operations & Decision Technologies, University of California, Irvine
“Ralph has the rare ability to reach technical, student and layperson audiences…”
Impact on generations of doctoral and graduate business students
“Ralph has the rare ability to reach both technical research audiences as well as student and layperson audiences by his combination of research-heavy journal articles and books and popular press books. His book with Hammond and Raiffa Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions is the only class text book I have ever assigned that students had read on their own before even signing up for the class. I use many examples in my classes from Ralph’s works, from planning when to begin to attempt to become pregnant (co-authored with Dinah Vernik in Decision Analysis), to the objectives for naming Ralph and Janet’s son, to having students identify their personal and professional objectives (from Value-focused Thinking).
Advice from Ralph Keeney
“Don’t say yes immediately, think about how the activity fits in with your personal & professional objectives”
“Value-focused thinking: Creatively organize where & how you live”
“Do some “real” projects”
Ralph Keeney as decision guru
When we were planning to launch the new Decision Analysis journal, Ralph facilitated a strategic planning retreat at his SF home. We formulated our objectives and got over some potential planning hurdles while building an editor team and enjoying spectacular bridge views. Ralph’s calm and positive style of asking probing questions without being pushy allowed us to make progress at a critical stage of the process.
Ralph Keeney as role model
For those making personal and professional decisions, Ralph is a strong role model. He thinks clearly about his objectives, identifies out-of-the box alternatives, and negotiates agreements good for himself and the other involved parties. By setting a good example and asking subtle nudging questions, he serves as a decision coach for many people.”
L. Robin Keller
Professor, Operations & Decision Technologies
Paul Merage School of Business
University of California, Irvine
Robin Gregory, Decision Research and University of British Columbia, Institute for Resources, Environment, and Sustainability
“He helps others with Value-Focused Thinking- for individuals and for organizations…”
Integrates work and fun
“Working with Ralph means I get to spend time in the company of a confident, comfortable human being who is fun to work with because he likes people. As smart as he is, Ralph is also – honestly – a Montanan who never has lost his enjoyment of spending time with people, no matter whether they are like him or don’t like him. Ralph can drink beer or coffee with just about anyone; he can take a walk up a hillside or along a city street with just about anyone; he can find a way to agree with at least a part of what almost anyone is saying and, with that as a base, find a way to move on and introduce a question or recommend a different alternative that may not have been thought about before.
Contributions – values, analytics, and listening
Ralph’s main contribution to the field is through the careful attention he gives to what people say and think, in ways that help them to discover a little more about their own preferences and to ask new questions of the world. This comes in part through the value-focused thinking concepts that he has developed and numerous analytical tools to which he has contributed. Yet the aspect of Ralph’s career that I find so remarkable, is that someone with the enormous mathematical and quantitative skills is also a great listener, and goes deeply into topics so he is able to help other people to discover their own ideas more fully and via visual diagrams, to communicate these ideas and opinions to others. Ralph treats everyone much the same and he doesn’t feel that he needs to impress anyone, a highly refreshing trait in a world where so many focus their energies on making good impressions.
A thinker who is an outdoor guy
Ralph is a thinker who enjoys the physical world. Ralph likes to walk and ski and play squash and get outdoors to places where the sun shines or the snow blows. In so many ways, Ralph is exceptional because he is so normal; he has been a good friend, mentor, and I very much look forward to my next installment of Ralph’s good energy; long may his signature voice and his laugh continue to signal fun times are ahead.”
Senior Researcher at Decision Research and Director of Value Scope Research consulting and adjunct professor in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia.
Laura Kornish, Associate Professor, University of Colorado at Boulder
“He is amazingly good at stripping away the unessential details and revealing the core of an issue…”
Focuses on the core issues
“I treasure Ralph as a colleague and collaborator. He is such a sensible, clear thinker.
In academia, it often feels that people value complexity for complexity’s sake. Ralph is the opposite of that. He really wants to understand, or help you understand, the essence of a problem.
He is amazingly good at stripping away the unessential details and revealing the core of an issue.
The world could use more people like Ralph.”
Associate Professor at Leeds School of Business
University of Colorado at Boulder
Jim Tien, Professor, former Dean of Electrical, Computer and Systems Engineering, University of Miami
“Ralph has an uncanny ability to suggest win-win solutions…”
“Back in June 1966, Ralph and I first met at Bell Telephone Laboratories (BTL), where we took a summer course in Probability and Statistics in preparation for our one-year on campus (OYOC) MS in OR program at MIT. We became fast friends and decided to room together in September 1966. Indeed, there was a handful of us attending the BTL course before we all left to go to MIT; from the beginning, Ralph’s intellect and intensity were obvious.
At the outset of our MIT MS experience, Ralph was already focusing on pursuing his PhD; he received his doctorate (working with Professor Howard Raiffa, the Harvard mentor he wound up with after an extensive review of possible MIT/Harvard advisors) in 1969, the year I returned to MIT as a doctoral candidate. I was not only impressed with Ralph’s diligence but also in his ability to convince Bell Telephone Labs (BTL) to fully fund a 3-year MS/PhD program, a first for BTL!
Ralph’s ability to think broadly, to zero in on the problem, and then to suggest a win-win solution is uncanny. I remember Ralph telling me how he convinced his single Mom to dismiss the babysitter so that he could share half of the sitter’s fee by promising to behave! Yes, I checked this claim with his Mom and was assured that it was true!
Obviously Ralph is professionally gifted, having given dozens of plenary talks, presented hundreds of papers, and published almost a dozen award-winning books. Since 1976, he has been honored with professional awards, national recognitions, and international prizes. It has been my honor to be among his colleagues and friends.
It is obvious that Ralph has achieved much and has been lauded by his colleagues. However, I think Ralph can achieve an even higher recognition by working on a truly international conflict or decision, worthy of his abilities. For example, I am confident that Ralph can resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma.”
James M. Tien
Dean of the College of Engineering, University of Miami
Baruch Fischhoff, Professor, Institute for Politics and Strategy, Carnegie Mellon
“He advocates for the essence of Decision-Analysis to be utilized as an aid to judgment, not a replacement for it…”
“I believe that my only joint project with Ralph was writing the book that became Acceptable Risk, and began as Nuclear Regulatory Commission technical report (NUREG 1614). As best I can remember, Ralph provided the organizing insight, which was to practice what we preach, and adopt a decision-making perspective to choosing decision-making methods.
I think that Ralph was the first person from Montana whom I ever met (coming from Detroit). He set high expectations for those who followed, which have generally been rewarded. Perhaps there’s a state ethos of open-mindedness, kindness, and practicality.
Judgment plus Decision Analysis
To me, Ralph’s approach captures the essence of decision analysis, as an aid to judgment and decision-making, rather than as a replacement. His work is grounded in a deep respect for the people he engages. He believes that they can understand their problems better, with a little help from sympathetic analysts. That empowering perspective recognizes the limits to decision-making identified by psychological research as a challenge that analysis can overcome, rather than a reason for giving up on people.
Future for regulatory decision-making process
I’d like to see Ralph rewrite the guidance for regulatory analyses, from scratch, so that they facilitate informed decision-making, rather than litigation.”
Howard Heinz University Professor, Social and Decision Sciences and Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University
Carl Spetzler, Chief Executive Officer, Strategic Decisions Group
“Ralph is an esteemed thought leader…”
Unites the field
“Ralph Keeney has given of himself to the broad Decision Analysis community for decades. The whole profession owes him for his leadership and positions of high integrity. He is “Uniter” and never out for himself. He is an esteemed thought leader in the profession. Ralph is one who has always married ideas with action.
Ralph is unusual as a big thinker with careful attention to detail and follow-through. He has made many contributions that we (in our field) use daily. In particular, the ideas of Value-Focused Thinking and that people usually miss half the alternatives and objectives if they just list what comes to mind.
Recently, I have attempted to bring the essence of Decision Quality to lay audiences. I have gained a special appreciation for Smart Choices. If Ralph is an author of a paper or book, I can count on practical and theoretically sound content.”
CEO, Strategic Decisions Group
Raimo Hamalainen, Professor, Applied Mathematics and Operations Research Aalto University, Finland
“Ralph’s work is widely used in many fields and importantly he can work and make contributions to environmental issues…”
Practitioner as well as a theoretician
“Ralph is both a true analytical thinker and theoretician as well as a skillful practitioner. This is a most important combination of skills, and a set that very few other people have.
Work applied to environmental decision-making
Ralph’s basic research in the seminal book, co-authored with professor Howard Raiffa on Decision Analysis, Decisions with Multiple Objectives is still a most relevant and valid reference for decision theory. His later works, in particular in Value-Focused Thinking have really been influential in the practice of Decision Analysis. I have myself benefited from these in my own applied work in environmental decision-making projects.
Contributes to behavioral insights
The “Even Swaps” method that Ralph and his colleagues have taught and used for decision-making have recently been a stimulating topic of research when studying behavioral issues in the decision-making behavior of people.
Skillful in working with organizations
In order to influence better decision-making, Ralph works with people and with organizations using his methods for “Value-Focused Thinking” and structuring of objectives. He did an introductory analysis in the Finnish Environment Institute in which I was able to be present in the sessions. It was really great to see his exceptional skills in working with the managers and specialists. He was able to keep the participants engaged and actively reflecting. He summarized the results in a very clear structure, making it very easy to continue the process. I got the impression that the people in the Institute were quite impressed by the process.
Apprentice skills training
In this project, I realized how very skillful he really is. I thought that it would be extremely valuable if he could somehow pass these skills to the next generation of decision analysts. I think there would be room and wide interest for an apprentice program where Ralph would train and supervise young scholars and professionals from all over the world with a “hands on approach”.
The admirable characteristics of Ralph include modesty, positivity, respect towards others, seriousness, and a commitment to what is promised. He is a very straightforward and clear communicator.
Influential in management science, operations research and environmental decision-making
Ralph has been very influential in the Management Science and Operations Research communities. His work is also very widely used by people in the area of environmental decision-making. This very important impact on environmental policies is easily forgotten and should not be. Ralph is an agent in making this planet a better place to live with more sustainable wise policies.”
Doctor of Technology, Director of the Laboratory
Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland
John Lathrop, Executive Principal Analyst, Innovative Decisions
“He is focused on insights not just analysis…”
Work with major utility firm
“Ralph and I had just completed a project where we had developed important decision advice for a major electric utility. That advice was summarized in a spreadsheet where the alternatives were evaluated and ranked, with the top-ranked alternative, let’s say Alternative 7, clearly the recommended one.
We were about to walk into a meeting to present our results. Ralph turned to me and said, “You know, John, what I’d really like to do is walk in there, show them the spreadsheet (at a distance), then walk over to a trash can, rip up the spreadsheet and drop it into the trash can. The client would say “What are you doing? We spent money getting that spreadsheet!’ Then Ralph would respond: “Yes, and what alternative will you be choosing?” The client would say “Alternative 7.” Then Ralph said he would like to reply: “Yes, Alternative 7. Now tell me why Alternative 7 is the best one”. Then the client would list all the reasons why Alternative 7 is the best one. Then Ralph would reply: “Yes, that’s right, and our job is done. Our job was not to generate the spreadsheet, it was to work with you and our tools to develop insights into the decision until the best alternative became clear to you. The product of our work is not the spreadsheet — it is the insights that made it clear to you that Alternative 7 is the one to be selected.That conversation has stayed with me for my entire career, and served me well.
Influence and going the extra mile for others
I’m pretty sure Ralph convinced Detlof von Winterfeldt to nominate me to be the next American analyst to be stationed at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, IIASA (near Vienna, Austria), in 1979. It was also Ralph who then advised me to defer my IIASA appointment for a few months until I finished my Ph.D. thesis. In those ways Ralph made a huge contribution to my career. He did it by going out of his way to help me, simply because he thought it was the right thing to do. Then as if that weren’t enough, Ralph also arranged for a position for me at the consulting firm he worked for, Woodward Clyde Consultants, as a place for me to land upon returning to the U.S. from IIASA. Enough said.”
Executive Principal Analyst at Innovative Decisions, Inc.
John Little, Professor, MIT, Sloan School of Management
“Ralph is an innovative thinker…”
Unique brand of thinking
“I am a fan of Ralph. My initial thought is to recall Ralph’s piece in “The Operations Research Center at MIT” p. 23-30 by Ingrid Larson (ed.) Topics in OR Series, 2007, (https://www.informs.org/Pubs/Topics-in-OR/Book-List/The-Operations-Research-Center-at-MIT) this certainly belongs on his website and is still available from INFORMS (via https://online.informs.org).
A second thought is his paper: “Personal Decisions are the Leading Cause of Death.” It is has only 34 Google citations, but it is typical counter-intuitive Ralph Keeney and I would include that along with his book, Smart Choices for those wanting to know about Ralph’s thinking.”
John C. Little
MIT Sloan School of Management
Larry Phillips, Emeritus Professor of Decision Sciences, London School of Economics
“Ralph’s work with Howard Raiffa changed the way we worked and opened a way forward…”
Changed the way we worked with clients
“Ralph’s 1976 book with Howard Raiffa, Decisions with Multiple Objectives was life changing for me. That’s because I had increasingly found that decision tree modelling wasn’t getting at the heart of my clients’ issues, which weren’t so much about uncertainty, but rather the difficulty of managing the conflicts imposed by conflicting values. With my calculator, I could deal with a table of options as rows and criteria as columns, but face-to-face interactions with clients weren’t very successful as they waited for me to calculate the weighted averages with my hand-held calculator; desk-top computers hadn’t yet appeared!
Ward Edwards and I managed for a while by programming the HP41C and saving the programs on magnetic strips, which the clip-on reader would read and ‘download’ the program, and start a Q&A sequence for a hierarchical MCDA model (Ward’s program) or a decision tree with multiple criteria at the end points (my program).
Made software decision products possible
Then along came Keeney and Raiffa and we knew better what we were doing right, and wrong (e.g., assessing weights as the importance of the criteria; swing weights only sunk in later). From then on, it was an upward learning curve, especially as Decisions and Designs Inc (DDI), developed the first MCDA programs, “Eval”, for evaluating options using a hierarchical model of criteria, and “Design”, for choosing combinations of options drawn from different budget categories to create an efficient frontier for a mixture of objectives.
When DDI decided not to go into the software business, my Decision Analysis Unit at the London School of Economics (LSE) acquired the rights to those programs and Scott Barclay came to England where he programmed “Hiview” and “Equity”, later versions of which are still available and used today.
So there are two products which are a legacy of Keeney and Raiffa; the two of you made it possible!
Helps clients be more strategic
Ralph’s book, Value-focused Thinking helps to clarify the connections between preference and value, which enables me to help my clients think more strategically: what and why before tackling how and when. You can bask in the knowledge that your contributions to our discipline will outlast you in their effects; sometimes good decisions result in good outcomes.”
Emeritus Professor of Decision Sciences, London School of Economics
and consultant, Facilitations Limited
George Wu, Professor, University of Chicago, Booth School of Business
“He is inspiring…”
An academic hero
“I had taken some operations research and decision theory classes in college, and Ralph was one of my academic heroes. Ralph has been a great inspiration to me—in written work, and, even more, in the way he lives life.”
John P. and Lillian A. Gould Professor of Behavioral Science, University of Chicago, Booth School of Business
Craig Kirkwood, Professor Emeritus, Arizona State University
“Ralph is known for high quality applications of decision theory…”
Advocate for realistic risk assessment
“Over his long and distinguished career, Ralph Keeney has been a consistent advocate for the importance of values and realistic risk assessment in decision-making. His early contributions to both the theory and practice of decision analysis with multiple objectives were important in moving the field from theoretical curiosity to a practical approach for analyzing real-world decisions. He has continued to publish high quality decision-oriented applications work, as well as related books aimed at an increasingly broad audience. These have been very valuable in helping to prepare the next generation of researchers and practitioners, and in making clearer to non-specialists the importance of a systematic approach to decision making with multiple objectives and uncertainty.
His early work on multi-attribute utility theory, the Mexico City airport study, and the publication with Howard Raiffa of Decisions with Multiple Objectives, all played key roles in establishing theory and practical methods to logically analyze decisions with multiple objectives. The continuing use of these approaches by a broad range of people, including Ralph, to address many different types of decisions demonstrates the long-term value of this work.
Excellence in collaboration
He is excellent to work with because Ralph always has useful ideas about how to advance the work and pitches in to do the actual work without imposing a predetermined solution. When Ralph is working, he is really working, and when he is playing, he is really playing! On a more personal note, having Ralph as a mentor and colleague when I was in graduate school and at Woodward-Clyde Consultants played a major role in setting the direction of my professional life.”
WPC Supply Chain Management, Arizona State University
Johannes Siebert, Faculty of Law, Business and Economics, University of Bayreuth, Germany
“He profoundly influences the thinking of many…”
Changes lives professionally and personally
“Ralph changed my life substantially, both professionally and personally.
When I first met Ralph, I was surprised and happy that Ralph, one of the two fathers of multi-attribute utility theory, was so kind as to give me advice regarding the publication of my dissertation work. The proactive way in which he addressed decision situations impressed me. I became enthused about the core ideas of value-focused thinking and realized that the powerful concept of value-focused thinking was often not addressed appropriately in decision situations and in decision-making textbooks.
Ralph’s books are published in many languages, however, Ralph’s book, Value-Focused Thinking is not in German. I found out that Ralph, among other accomplishments, had spent time working at universities in Heidelberg and Passau, was an original research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, and has served as consultant for the German government.
I concluded that Ralph might be interested to have the key ideas of value-focused thinking also published in German. In Germany, together we carried out a couple of experiments and our paper has been published in a well-known journal. We consulted for a key decision-maker of a major European energy supplier and also worked to contribute to policy ideas in California.
Ralph inspired me and his way of thinking influenced my own thinking substantially and continues to do so.”
Akademischer Oberrat, University of Bayreuth, Germany
Jyrki Wallenius, Professor, Aalto University, School of Business, Helsinki, Finland
“His advice and counsel is multi-disciplinary and crosses boundaries…”
Scholarly and practical
“Ralph looks at the world through the lens of a decision analyst, but he has always been a much broader thinker. Ralph is focused, scholarly, yet practical. I value Ralph’s desire to develop something useful. His contributions include the foundations of multi-attribute utility theory, negotiation science, and more recently, value-focused thinking. He is theoretically based, yet interested in something that can find wide applicability. I like his high ambitions.
I find Ralph to be a bridge builder. His advice and comments easily cross boundaries. I find them useful, even though I myself do not centrally work in multi-attribute utility theory. I very much like Ralph’s desire to base his work on a solid theoretical foundation, yet it always has a goal of being applicable.
I would recommend Ralph as a decision consultant to major organizations facing strategic choices. Organizations can make many serious strategic mistakes. I cannot help thinking that if they would be open to advice from Ralph Keeney, it could make a big difference.”
Professor of Management Science, Department Head
Department of Information and Service Economy
Aalto University School of Business, Helsinki, Finland
Helmut Jungermann, Professor, Technische University, Berlin, Germany
“Values at the center is Ralph’s most powerful idea…”
“I have read his books and papers, I have listened to his talks, and I have had discussions with him – and I have always learned something from Ralph. First, there are Ralph’s ideas, his approach to thinking about and analyzing problems. His is a transparent and rational approach which acknowledges that all our decisions are based on values and goals, and therefore that all analysis has to begin with their reflection. This approach has been shown to be universally applicable – and acceptable by those who have to deal with real-world decision problems.
Importance of attitude
Equally important and impressive, there is Ralph’s way of presenting and communicating his ideas. He doesn’t impose his work on others, he doesn’t pretend to have solutions, rather, he offers his work as a method to find solutions. This unpretentious and consciousness-raising attitude makes it also very easy and interesting to argue with Ralph.
In summary, the substance of Ralph’s work as well as his personality definitely have had a strong influence on my research, and also have had a strong impact on the world.”
Professor Behavioral Economics, Technische Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Ahti Salo, Professor, Systems Analysis Laboratory, Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland
“Broad enduring influence…”
“There are many times when Ralph’s work on Value-Focused Thinking has been a great source of inspiration to me and also a reminder of how important it is to focus on what is of enduring value in life, not only professionally but far more broadly.”
Doctor of Technology, Vice Head of Department, Vice Dean of Aalto SCI, research and partner relationships, Aalto University School of Business, Finland
Dick Larson, Professor, and Director of Center for Engineering Systems, MIT
“He influences others thinking…”
“Ralph’s research has made me a devout Bayesian!”
Professor, OR Center, MIT
Mitsui Professor of Engineering Systems and Director of the Center for Engineering Systems Fundamentals at MIT, Founder and Director of MIT LINC (Learning International Networks Consortium), an MIT-based international project that four sponsors initiatives in Africa, China and the Middle East
Kurt Carlson, Professor, Director, Georgetown Institute for Consumer Research and Behavioral Research, Georgetown University
“Ralph remains positive about the possibilities for making a real difference…”
Seeing opportunity to make improvements
“The thing I value most about working with Ralph is his positive attitude. He lives in reality, but while doing so he sees opportunity where others see obstacles.
Making a difference
The thing I value most about Ralph’s work is its prescriptive relevance (helping people make better decisions). It is hard to overstate how much the “deck” is stacked against prescriptive research. When seeing the odds, most researchers (even those who would like to make a difference) shy away from it, but not Ralph. He is one of a kind!!!
Friend to colleagues
The thing I value most about Ralph is his friendship. I am a terribly inconsistent friend, but Ralph puts up with me as I am. I love him for that.”
Professor, Georgetown University, McDonough School of Business, Director of the Georgetown Institute for Consumer Research and Co-Director of the MSB Behavioral Research Lab
Ali Abbas, Professor, Industrial and Systems Engineering, University of Southern California
“Ralph brings complex theory into practical situations…”
Book and work inspired research ever since
“I first learned about Ralph’s work when I picked up the book Decisions with Multiple Objectives from the Terman Engineering Library at Stanford. This was my first introduction to multi-attribute utility theory, and it was an eye-opener that inspired a lot of my research to date. When I was organizing the Decision Analysis colloquium at Stanford, I sent Ralph an email inviting him to present, and that was our first meeting. This must be at least 19 years ago now. I still recall an early conversation with Ralph (during a game of squash), when he explained to me the importance of selecting appropriate objectives, and selecting objectives that facilitate the construction of the utility function. I was a PhD student at the time and was humbled by his willingness to spend the time to explain these concepts to me. Ralph also explained the history of how he derived utility independence conditions. In my view, this approach has shaped the practice and research of utility theory since the 1970s. I know that much of the literature on utility theory was inspired by his work.
Focus on practical life examples
I have always appreciated how Ralph brings his research into practical life situations. In our conversations, he would mention how people often confuse the reasoning about consequences by focusing on only some of its aspects and not others. I recall an example Ralph used to illustrate the point “When people say gambling is a bad decision only because you have a low chance of getting your money back, and forget about the entertainment value associated with it, I tell them that going to the movie theater must be a terrible idea because you have no chance of getting your money back.”
Uses his own principles
I also recall the many value-focused thinking discussions we had while organizing a workshop at Stanford, which included many people in the field such as Ken Arrow and John Pratt. Ralph offered a value-focused discussion on the objectives for the forum, the number of invitees, and the venue. Another important aspect of Ralph’s work was his follow up work on aggregating preferences using cardinal utilities to derive an additive expected utility framework.
Guide to hidden secrets of IIASA
As our friendship grew, Ralph and I spoke about many life decisions and job offers that I received. There is also another important thing about Ralph, and one that many people might not know. When Detlof von Winterfeldt, Ralph and I were at IIASA celebrating Howard Raiffa’s work, (Howard was first Director of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis), Ralph offered an insider’s tour of the palace. (IIASA is housed in the Blauer Hof Palace in Laxenburg, Austria.) We literally walked through hidden corridors behind closed doors, and Ralph knew his way inside and out. If you are going to IIASA, be sure to ask Ralph about that building.”
Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering and Public Policy
Director, Center for Interdisciplinary Decisions and Ethics (DECIDE), USC
Kelly E. See, Associate Professor of Management, University of Colorado
“He is inspiring, thoughtful and profound…”
Leader in decision and risk analysis
“I had the privilege of meeting Ralph Keeney while I was still a doctoral student at Duke University, and we collaborated on a framework for assessing the quality of graduate educational programs. I learned a great deal from Ralph academically, but in addition, he was always an inspiring and thoughtful mentor whose advice I have sought many times over the years on both professional and personal matters. Ralph’s genius and contribution to the fields of decision and risk analysis are undeniable. I consider his work on ‘Value-Focused Thinking’ to be one of the most profound ideas in the field of decision research, and yet it is also elegant in its simplicity, with truly life-changing implications.”
Kelly E. See
Asst. Professor, The Business School, University of Colorado, Denver
Jeff Keisler, Professor, Management Information Systems, University of Massachusetts, Boston
“Ralph will help groups build a model that is useful and workable based on clear thinking…”
Confidence inspiring style
“Ralph mixes making progress with inquiring and learning. He gives you a sense that things will work out and that you are not wasting time. He is serious when he needs to be, but joking when he can. Because of this demeanor and openness, Ralph’s reputation does not intimidate, and when he listens to what you say, it is a great confidence booster. I learned so much from a short time working with him, and I have used his approach to mentorship as a model for when I work with newer decision analysts.
Geographic information system (GIS) simulations and multi–attribute utility functions
I was working at Argonne National Laboratory. I had a project that was an attempt to create a multi-attribute utility function for army base land use management. The trick was, we had promised to connect it to a geographic information system (GIS), so that all the measures in the multi-attribute Utility function (MAU) would be statistics generated by the GIS and land managers would be able to evaluate scenarios by running GIS simulations. Sounds great, but how are we going to get such a utility function? Ralph Keeney agreed to come out and lead a workshop for us and I got to be his sous chef. The first morning was chaos, with different stakeholders and experts chiming in – somewhat skeptically – about all their concerns as well. Ralph told me not to worry. As the working group broke for a lengthy lunch, we ground out a sensible first cut of the value hierarchy from what looked to me like a mess. Back from lunch, the group looked and kind of nodded, and we moved into a positive discussion, refining the model into something pretty good and workable. It contained measures such as “hectares of high quality bobwhite quail habitat,” defined in terms of regions where between 20% and 50% (or some such numbers) of pixels from a remote sensing map indicated grasses, and at least 10% (or some such number) indicated shrub. It all translated nicely into scripts that could be run on the GIS and integrated into a decision support tool. As far as I know, this was the first time such full MAU-GIS model.
Models depend on soundness of the thinking
One abstract idea I derived from the GIS model we developed, is that basically anything can be modeled in a logically correct manner, it is just a matter of getting the definitions right. Ralph’s June 2004 article in the journal Decision Analysis ‘Making Better Decision-Makers’ makes a point that much of what we do as decision analysts is to develop a working language within an organization that allows for unambiguous discussion of decision-related questions about the issues that matter. This way of thinking about the decision analysis process is powerful. Decision Analysis is about words as much as numbers, and there isn’t really another field I can think of that combines these. This combined numeric-verbal (right brain-left brain) sensibility underlies much of Ralph’s work and the approach leads to uniquely effective explorations.
Great steward to the field
Ralph’s personal actions and the example he has set allows graduate students and new faculty members to feel welcome in our field.
If you go down a list of Decision Analysis Society current and former officers and Decision Analysis Journal editorial board members, you will see dozens of people Ralph drew in and helped as they progressed. He has worked generously with numerous people on projects and papers, and he strikes up relationships with them. In my career, he has advised me, pushed me, engaged with me, and guided me toward opportunities and new connections. I am far better off for knowing Ralph. I know he has done the same for many others. It is fair to say that along with benefiting so much from his intellectual contributions, the Decision Analysis community is far better off for knowing Ralph.
Contribution of Value–Focused Thinking
I would be remiss in not mentioning the impact that Value-Focused Thinking has had on me as an individual and as a researcher. When I first met Ralph and heard about his concepts, they made sense but they were not so easy for me to internalize (although Ralph says they were easy for him to internalize). It took a decade or two of practice – often encouraged by Ralph- to revisit the essential questions –but now I always ask myself (and others) explicitly about objectives – for research or work or health or family or whatever – and it always works. As it is supposed to, this has made a positive difference in my life and it has allowed me to make a positive difference in others’ lives.
He should write this down
Ralph has a whole lot more wisdom than even has appeared in print. During the time we overlapped in Helsinki in 2014, I had a series of conversations with Ralph. I kept thinking to myself “he should write this down.” He kept making observations about life, how to live and how to be effective and happy, some of these observations were well-formulated over time and some were spontaneous. While these are all consistent with and to some degree informed by his research, they are best heard as just the way he sees things and not as research. It might be fun to write up such insights in a popular fashion – “Tuesdays with Ralph”.
Connecting theory and the real world
In his more serious time, I am very impressed with the work he has done in the last decade or so on formulating rigorous models for decisions that individuals face in large numbers, e.g., getting the story about decision making under uncertain health and wealth right, the biological clock decision, and so on. Also excellent is the work he is doing on rigorous testing of methods for improving the prescriptive aspects of decision processes, e.g., the work on generating objectives for doctoral dissertations. Both of these strands represent an important future for Decision Analysis – fleshing out the connection between theory and real-world. These developments enhance Ralph’s body of work and are critical to the future success of the field. But the papers I mentioned only scratch the surface, and I think that there is a lot more for Ralph to do along these lines. Thanks to Ralph for all he has done.”
Professor of Management Information Systems,
University of Massachusetts Boston
Keith Hipel, Professor, Systems Design Engineering, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
“Ralph Keeney is a pioneer of concepts used by government agencies, businesses and individuals facing important decisions…”
Promotes better decision-making
“Throughout his career, Ralph Keeney’s work organizes decisions in innovative ways that promote better decision-making. He pioneered the development, use, and dissemination of systems engineering concepts and techniques that help governments, businesses, and individuals facing important decisions. He spent a decade applying systems engineering concepts to international policy problems at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis near Vienna, and at an engineering and environmental consulting firm.
He has published over 175 refereed publications and several books, three of which received awards from professional societies as the best annual publication in the field. His co-authored book, Decisions with Multiple Objectives, and numerous subsequent applications of its ideas, led to his 1995 election to the prestigious National Academy of Engineering for “…contributions to the theory and engineering practice of decision analysis as applied to complex public problems with conflicting objectives”. His books have been recognized as seminal works, and many have been translated in multiple languages for use around the world.
In recognition of his outstanding accomplishments in academia and his contributions to society, I was proud to recommend Ralph for the degree Doctor of Engineering, honoris causa, from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.”
Keith W. Hipel
University Professor, Department of Systems Design Engineering
University of Waterloo
President, Academy of Science, Royal Society of Canada
Robert Oliver, Professor Emeritus, Operations Research and Engineering Science, University of California, Berkeley
“Master of the practice of clear Decision-Making…”
“Decades of years is long enough
for some dude analyzing riddles and bluffs,
to uncover odds from muddled news
for clients that pay for a Bayesian muse.
Preferences and dominance and ordered scores
reveal the traps and open the doors
for clever swaps and desirable choices
that value happiness from multiple voices.
Think Montana and refresh your soul,
get ye back to a fishing hole,
or, now that computers are so routine,
create, mid-flight, fresh thoughts pristine.
Master of the practice, elegant decisions
with new recipes and new provisions;
wrapped in designs that create a stir,
your audiences appreciate logical de rigeur.”
Professor Emeritus of Industrial Engineering & Operations Research, University of California, Berkeley
Larry Neal, Chevron, Decision Analysis Manager and Consultant
“Ralph provides clarity of thought for complex decisions…”
Valuable contributions to clear thinking
“I was working on a project to summarize my employer’s utility function as a means to teach employees how to aggregate the various policies and metrics into a decision-making directive. After talking with Ralph, he spent a month contemplating the various material and came up with a brilliant framework. I was able to utilize the framework to facilitate several very complicated decisions where non-monetary concerns dominated the decision frames. The decision-makers were able to negotiate through the process with a degree of clarity not possible before.
Ralph is one of the few academicians who have taken their work to a pragmatic level. I enjoy roaming through the historical literature of our profession and Ralph’s work always has an immediate application for me. Whether it’s planning the site for a new facility, raising children or investing, Ralph’s work will help you.
Brilliant and curious
Working with Ralph is a never-ending series of discoveries. His natural curiosity and brilliant intellect uncover nuggets in every corner. I truly value my time with Ralph whether it’s work or pleasure.
Opportunities not problems
Ralph’s work is not so much a collection of discoveries, but also a philosophy. His philosophy applies to everyday situations as well as those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. The fact that I use the term “opportunity” rather than “problem” is a direct reflection of Ralph’s philosophy. Every decision is an opportunity and to have opportunity means we have the ability to better the world.
Ideal for difficult decisions
While Ralph and I worked on business decisions for my employer, I believe learning Ralph’s philosophy and its subsequent contribution to my ability to influence the world around me is what more individuals could benefit from. Engaging him on difficult to resolve decisions, especially when they are hard to value, will bring a new level of clarity to the conversation.”
Manager of Decision Analysis at Chevron Corporation, retired