Keywords: causal inference, off-policy evaluation, debiased data-driven optimization
TL;DR: We study a new framework for off-policy evaluation with policy-dependent linear optimization responses, and construct unbiased estimators for the policy-dependent estimand by a perturbation method.
Abstract: The intersection of causal inference and machine learning for decision-making is rapidly expanding, but the default decision criterion remains an average of individual causal outcomes across a population. In practice, various operational restrictions ensure that a decision-maker's utility is not realized as an average but rather as an output of a downstream decision-making problem (such as matching, assignment, network flow, minimizing predictive risk). In this work, we develop a new framework for off-policy evaluation with policy-dependent linear optimization responses: causal outcomes introduce stochasticity in objective function coefficients. Under this framework, a decision-maker's utility depends on the policy-dependent optimization, which introduces a fundamental challenge of optimization bias even for the case of policy evaluation. We construct unbiased estimators for the policy-dependent estimand by a perturbation method, and discuss asymptotic variance properties for a set of adjusted plug-in estimators. Lastly, attaining unbiased policy evaluation allows for policy optimization: we provide a general algorithm for optimizing causal interventions. We corroborate our theoretical results with numerical simulations.
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