Importance Sampling in Stochastic Programming: A Markov Chain Monte Carlo Approach

P. Parpas, B. Ustun, M. Webster, and Q. K. Tran

*INFORMS Journal on Computing* (1 April 2015)

Stochastic programming models are large-scale optimization problems that are used to facilitate decision making under uncertainty. Optimization algorithms for such problems need to evaluate the expected future costs of current decisions, often referred to as the recourse function. In practice, this calculation is computationally difficult as it requires the evaluation of a multidimensional integral whose integrand is an optimization problem. In turn, the recourse function has to be estimated using techniques such as scenario trees or Monte Carlo methods, both of which require numerous functional evaluations to produce accurate results for large-scale problems with multiple periods and high-dimensional uncertainty. In this work, we introduce an importance sampling framework for stochastic programming that can produce accurate estimates of the recourse function using a small number of samples. Our framework combines Markov chain Monte Carlo methods with kernel density estimation algorithms to build a nonparametric importance sampling distribution, which can then be used to produce a lower-variance estimate of the recourse function. We demonstrate the increased accuracy and efficiency of our approach using variants of well-known multistage stochastic programming problems. Our numerical results show that our framework produces more accurate estimates of the optimal value of stochastic programming models, especially for problems with moderate variance, multimodal, or rare-event distributions.