Professor Robin Purshouse

Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering

Professor of Decision Sciences

Professor Robin Purshouse
+44 114 222 5618

Full contact details

Professor Robin Purshouse
Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering
Amy Johnson Building
Portobello Street
S1 4DW

Robin Purshouse received the MEng degree in Control Systems Engineering in 1999 and a PhD in Control Systems in 2004 for his research on evolutionary many-objective optimisation under the supervision of Peter Fleming. Commercial experience includes Logica plc (1999-2000), PA Consulting Group (2003-2007) and Rolls-Royce plc (2007-2008). He returned to the University of Sheffield in 2008 - initially as a Research Fellow in the School of Health and Related Research and, since 2010, as a Lecturer in the Department of Automatic Control & Systems Engineering.

Robin was a principal architect of the Sheffield Alcohol Policy Model, alongside Alan Brennan, Rachid Rafia, and Petra Meier. He was the holder of an ESRC Future Research Leaders grant award (October 2012 - September 2014) and, with Peter Fleming and Carlos Fonseca, was General Chair of the seventh international conference in the world-leading series on Evolutionary Multi-Criterion Optimization (EMO) held in Sheffield in March 2013.

Research interests

Robin's research aims to help improve how we identify and choose between possible solutions to a problem, with a particular focus on the process of policy appraisal. There are a number of factors that make policy appraisal a challenging research area:

Multiple trade-offs When deciding on a best course of action, there is usually more than one performance criterion, or objective, to be considered. If these objectives are in conflict with each other, then we are faced with multiple ‘best’ solutions offering different trade-offs between the objectives. In decision analysis we often use methods that attempt to identify these trade-offs, but if there are more than three objectives to consider then some of the most popular methods are likely to fail at this task.
Multiple stakeholders In order to identify a single best solution, we need to introduce subjective preferences for different trade-offs between objectives. Most decisions will affect a multitude of different stakeholders, so we need to use methods that can build a consensus or arbitrate between different sets of values. Some of the best practice methods for achieving this are quite unpopular with the stakeholders themselves. Open questions exist for government decisions: should the preferences be those of society? How do we measure these? How do we achieve consistency between different decisions?
Deep uncertainty In decision analysis, we try to measure how well each possible solution performs against each objective. For engineering design problems, we can often build mathematical models that can predict quite precisely how an option will perform once implemented. However, when considering social policy, our current models of social processes are subject to much more uncertainty. We need to develop methods that can improve our quantitative understanding of social systems and also think more about how to integrate attitudes to risk, and the value of delaying a decision to reduce uncertainty, into trade-off analysis methods.
Cognitive challenge In decision analysis, the aims are to provide support to the individuals tasked with making a decision and to help develop a shared understanding of the problem and its potential solutions. Communication of trade-offs is vital to these aims, and this task starts to become challenging as the number of objectives rises beyond three. If our predictions are precise, then visualisation methods are available – but when our predictions are uncertain then these current methods are of limited value.

Journal articles


Conference proceedings papers


  • Salomon S, Avigad G, Fleming PJ & Purshouse RC (2013) Active Robust Optimization - Enhancing Robustness to Uncertain Environments View this article in WRRO RIS download Bibtex download
Funder Project Dates Funding
NIAAA Calibrated Agent Simulations for Combined Analysis of Drinking Etiologies (CASCADE), with investigators A. Brennan, P. Meier, M. Strong, G. Valentine 2016-2021 $2,313,250
EPSRC / JLR Optimization for robust design: Integrating model-based systems engineering with multi-criteria decision-making support in a distributed framework, with investigators P. Fleming, V. Kadirkamanathan, I. Giagkiozis 2014-2018 £1,074,420
EPSRC Value-based Bayesian sequential analysis for fault monitoring, with investigator A. Mills 2013-2014 £18,099
ESRC Complex systems modelling of alcohol consumption dynamics in the British population 2012-2014 £173,428
MRC Alcohol policy modelling and evaluation, with investigators P. Meier, A. Booth, A. Brennan, R. Maheshwaran and M. Hernandez 2010-2013 £1,034,163
Teaching activities

ACS125 Systems Modelling and Simulation

Jointly led by George Panoutsos and Robin Purshouse, this module aims to provide students with an introductory systems perspective on both the science and art of mathematical modelling. Robin provides an introduction to discrete, stochastic and hybrid systems in the Spring Semester. The module motivates the need for mathematical modelling through a series of six major case studies, spread throughout the academic year. A diverse range of systems is considered, with the Spring Semester focusing on the pharmacoeconomics of HIV treatment options, the effect of environmental variability on an automotive suspension system, and the digital control of a hydraulic extrusion press.

ACS108 Laboratory and Professional Skills

Robin leads on the Employability Theme within this wider module on professional and laboratory skills taught by the Level 1 team at ACSE. Within the theme, through a series on engagements spread across the academic year, students are encouraged to reflect on the competencies needed to be professional systems engineers and active citizens. Our current industrial guest speakers on the module are Marion Carrabin from Transport for London and Luke Creasey from Iconsys.