Agent-based modelling for knowledge synthesis and decision support

By Jen Badham

Jen Badham (biography)

The most familiar models are predictive, such as those used to forecast the weather or plan the economy. However, models have many different uses and different modelling techniques are more or less suitable for specific purposes.

Here I present an example of how a game and a computerised agent-based model have been used for knowledge synthesis and decision support.

The game and model were developed by a team from the Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement (CIRAD), a French agricultural research organisation with an international development focus. The issue of interest was land use conflict between crop and cattle farming in the Gnith community in Senegal (D’Aquino et al. 2003).

Agent-based modelling is particularly effective where understanding is more important than prediction. This is because agent-based models can represent the real world in a very natural way, making them more accessible than some other types of models. Continue reading

Complexity and agent-based modelling

By Richard Taylor and John Forrester

richard-taylor
Richard Taylor (biography)

Policy problems are complex and – while sometimes simple solutions can work – complexity tools and complexity thinking have a major part to play in planning effective policy responses. What is ‘complexity’ and what does ‘complexity science’ do? How can agent-based modelling help address the complexity of environment and development policy issues?

Complexity

At the most obvious level, one can take complexity to mean all systems that are not simple, by which we mean that they can be influenced but not controlled. Complexity can be examined through complexity science and complex system models. Continue reading

Models as ‘interested amateurs’

By Pete Barbrook-Johnson

pete-barbrook-johnson
Pete Barbrook-Johnson (biography)

How can we improve the often poor interaction and lack of genuine discussions between policy makers, experts, and those affected by policy?

As a social scientist who makes and uses models, an idea from Daniel Dennett’s (2013) book ‘Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking’ struck a chord with me. Dennett introduces the idea of using lay audiences to aid and improve understanding between experts. Dennett suggests that including lay audiences (which he calls ‘curious nonexperts’) in discussions can entice experts to err on the side of over-explaining their thoughts and positions. When experts are talking only to other experts, Dennett suggests they under-explain, not wanting to insult others or look stupid by going over basic assumptions. This means they can fail to identify areas of disagreement, or to reach consensus, understanding, or conclusions that may be constructive.

For Dennett, the ‘curious nonexperts’ are undergraduate philosophy students, to be included in debates between professors. For me, the book sparked the idea that models could be ‘curious nonexperts’ in policy debates and processes. I prefer and use the term ‘interested amateurs’ over ‘curious nonexperts’, simply because the word ‘amateur’ seems slightly more insulting towards models! Continue reading

ICTAM: Bringing mental models to numerical models

By Sondoss Elsawah

sondoss-elsawah
Sondoss Elsawah (biography)

How can we capture the highly qualitative, subjective and rich nature of people’s thinking – their mental models – and translate it into formal quantitative data to be used in numerical models?

This cannot be addressed by a single method or software tool. We need multi-method approaches that have the capacity to take us through the learning journey of eliciting and representing people’s mental models, analysing them, and generating algorithms that can be incorporated into numerical models.

More importantly, this methodology should allow us to see in a transparent way the progression on this learning journey. Continue reading

La modélisation participative, un lieu privilégié pour l’interdisciplinarité? / Participatory modeling: An ideal place for interdisciplinarity?

By Pierre Bommel

bommel
Pierre Bommel (biography)

An English version of this post is available

La modélisation participative cherche à impliquer un groupe de personnes dans la conception et la révision d’un modèle. L’objectif à terme consiste à mieux caractériser les problèmes actuels et imaginer collectivement comment tenter de les résoudre. Dans le domaine de l’environnement en particulier, il apparaît nécessaire que les acteurs concernés se sentent impliqués dans la démarche de modélisation, afin qu’ils puissent exprimer leurs propres points de vue, mais aussi pour mieux s’engager dans des décisions collectives. De ce fait, pour aborder la gestion intégrée des ressources, il est nécessaire de mettre les acteurs au centre des préoccupations de recherche, à la fois lors de la phase la conception du modèle mais aussi pour l’exploration de ces scénarios. Continue reading