I just returned from the Social Simulation conference 2016 (19-23 Sept, Rome – Italy). I will share my impressions with you, but first let’s tell you about this event for those unfamiliar with it.
The social simulation conference is a conference for scientists that use computational modelling as a method for doing social science. For example, research concerned with understanding the role of fisher behaviour within the fishery in terms of species collapse, exploration of regulations using of an agent-based model. It is the main event of the European Social Simulation Association (ESSA). Typically it conference is attended by modellers from all over the world and agent-based modelling (ABM) is the mainstream method used. Note: this conference was previously called ‘the ESSA conference’.
My conference impressions evolve around talks, discussions and initiatives related to maturing ABM as well as the atmosphere of this open and warm community where fun and deep discussions go hand in hand in between all the talks. With maturing ABM I point to the way (standardised rigour) this method is used, has developed and should develop. Let me give two examples that triggered this reflection:
The memorial of Rosaria Conte embedded this implicit reflection. Rosaria has sadly passed away, just a few months ago. She played an important role in the grounding and building of the field of Social Simulation as well as her contributionsto cognitive foundation of normative theory and normative behaviour (e.g. see link). Apart from her immense contributions, she was highly valued as a person. To many she was a dear friend, everlasting discussion partner and a role model. Many of her close colleagues shared warm, striking and characterising descriptions of her. One that resonated with me by Frank Dignum reflects an attitude in science that very much embrace: “You can try to model what you can, try to model what you want to model”.
The keynote of Volker Grimm addressed the maturation of ABM very explicitly by even suggesting a research agenda for what he calls Agent-based Complex Systems(ACS). Volker Grimm argues that the ABM is the major tool to explore complex adaptive systems (CAS). In short, he said that the time is ripe for maturity. We need theory (of CAS) and enable ourselves to predict behaviour from first principles, that is reusable and can be applied to new conditions for which no data exist. This requires, as he argued theory development is essential with a focus adaptive decision making of agents (that is not just from economics – the utility function hides adaptivities too much). Concretely he indicated that more reviews are needed and alternative theories and models for comparison. Overal,l Volker Grimm suggest to make more use of the rigour that has already been developed in ecological modelling for social simulation, e.g. Pattern Oriented Modelling. He actually pointed out that our recent paper is exactly what we need – yay! – (Schlüter et al, 2017).
Overall, the conference was an encouragement to continue with exactly what we are doing here: understanding human behaviour by using and formalising social theory, reflect and use/create our tools and approaches to integrate and embed human behaviour and the underlying processes at different moments and context within their social and ecological environment.