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Learning to Rank for Optimal Treatment Allocation Under Resource Constraints

Fahad Kamran · Maggie Makar · Jenna Wiens

MR1 & MR2 - Number 130
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Thu 2 May 8 a.m. PDT — 8:30 a.m. PDT


Current causal inference approaches for estimating conditional average treatment effects (CATEs) often prioritize accuracy. However, in resource constrained settings, decision makers may only need a ranking of individuals based on their estimated CATE. In these scenarios, exact CATE estimation may be an unnecessarily challenging task, particularly when the underlying function is difficult to learn. In this work, we study the relationship between CATE estimation and optimizing for CATE ranking, demonstrating that optimizing for ranking may be more appropriate than optimizing for accuracy in certain settings. Guided by our analysis, we propose an approach to directly optimize for rankings of individuals to inform treatment assignment that aims to maximize benefit. Our tree-based approach maximizes the expected benefit of the treatment assignment using a novel splitting criteria. In an empirical case-study across synthetic datasets, our approach leads to better treatment assignments compared to CATE estimation methods as measured by expected total benefit. By providing a practical and efficient approach to learning a CATE ranking, this work offers an important step towards bridging the gap between CATE estimation techniques and their downstream applications.

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