Is their an intuitive way of finding feature importances without just using the random forest feature importances method?

I have a binary logistic regression problem where I have binary features (1 or 0) and a binary target (1 or 0).

I want to see which features are most important towards predicting the target and somehow rank them.

I did an odds ratio for each feature, which gave me some idea of importance.

Are there any other methods?

  • $\begingroup$ are you looking for global or local explanations? $\endgroup$ Jul 25, 2020 at 12:27

2 Answers 2


There are many ways to try to estimate feature importance. Personally I think the random forest measures get overused simply due to the fact that they have “importance” in their name and many people have heard of them. However, what people don’t realize is that those features that the random forest deems important are important for the random forest. They are good at predicting your feature of interest in a random forest setting. Taking this and blindly applying it to non random forest problems is dangerous. What might be predictive for a random forest may not be for some other algorithm. Also these random forest importance measures are not without their faults, for example they are biased towards variables with wide ranges.

There are many other methods available for variable importance such as information gain and relief. I suggest you read this paper by Robnik-Sikonja


It covers many different methods.


Global Explanation:

The overall importance of a feature in a decision tree(and also applied to random forest and GBDT) can be computed in the following way:

  • ‘weight’: the number of times a feature is used to split the data across all trees.

  • ‘gain’: the average gain across all splits the feature is used in.

  • ‘cover’: the average coverage across all splits the feature is used in.

  • ‘total_gain’: the total gain across all splits the feature is used in.

  • ‘total_cover’: the total coverage across all splits the feature is used in.

This is extracted from the xgboost API.

Local Explanations If you want to get individual examples of why a prediction was made you can use either

There are plenty of ways to achieve a better model explainability and accountability. I recommend you this book.

  • $\begingroup$ Do Shapley Values only work with XGBoost models? i.e. Is it model agnostic? $\endgroup$
    – Eisen
    Jul 27, 2020 at 18:53
  • $\begingroup$ It works with xgb, see the GitHub example $\endgroup$ Jul 28, 2020 at 13:37
  • $\begingroup$ I see the github example, but I was wondering if I can use shapley values without creating an xgbmodel. $\endgroup$
    – Eisen
    Jul 28, 2020 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ it works with differetn type of models $\endgroup$ Jul 28, 2020 at 14:38

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