Social Simulation conference & summerschool 2014

(by Nanda and Kirill)

Winter is coming in Stockholm and more and more do our minds drift off to warmer times. One particular (warm) summer memory was attending the social simulation conference and/or summerschool 2014 in Barcelona by some of us (Maja, Emilie, Nanda (conference) and Kirill (summer school)). Let us give you some information on what these events are and some of our impressions.

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 of the adoption of a new farming practice, such as organic farming with use of an agent-based model. It is the main event of the European Social Simulation Association (ESSA). Note: this conference was  previously called ‘the ESSA conference YYYY’. Typically it conference is attended by modellers from all over the world and agent-based modelling (ABM) is the mainstream method used.

This year the conference was co-organised with the communities of Artificial Economics (AE) and Simulating the past to understand human history (SPUHH). This resulted in an even wider mix of scientists than the usual diverse disciplinary population of researchers attending this conference. The topics of the presentations evolved around: cognitive models, methodology, spatial and ecological economic issues, social contagion and qualitative data based ABM.
Some impressions from our perspective:

  • There were some interesting new developments in modelling cognition, e.g. modeling social learning, or including a broader diversity of behavioural strategies that go beyond the classic homo economicus.

    Closing activity ESSA@work

    Most work related to social-ecological systems was about agriculture (e.g. adoption of organic farming), energy (e.g. energy efficiency), and a few on common pool resources.

  • Models were either theoretically or empirically grounded, seldom combined.
  • There is a diversity of ways to participate and benefit from the conference:
    • ESSA@work: a workshop prior to the conference that aims at providing a forum for discussing research and questions from ]any stage of modelling, but presenting results.
    • Conference: presenting and receiving feedback, thought provoking questions and discussions.


The ESSA summerschool 2014 is a week-long series of lectures and practical exercises  targeted at social scientists as well as practitioners who are interested in learning more about using agent-based simulations for understanding complex social phenomena. The summer school traditionally is carried out  by researchers experienced with simulation modelling in various fields (from sociology to economics and computer sciences) who give lectures on different aspects of implementing and communicating agent-based models.

A typical day of the summer school involved morning lectures and afternoon hands-on tutorials and workshops aimed to teach students the basics of NetLogo software used to implement agent-based models. During the school students were also given the opportunity to work in groups and design their very own simulation models from scratch.

Some impressions from the summer school: 

  • Interesting lectures that provided an explanation of what agent-based simulations are good for, how to design, validate and communicate your agent based models – all framed within the perspective of social sciences.
  • Diverse backgrounds of students (from economics to political science and archaeology) which presented a challenge, but also an opportunity to learn how to work in interdisciplinary settings and communicate your model to researchers with a different background.
  • Different amount of experience (from none to relatively extensive) with agent-based modelling and NetLogo among students was both an advantage and a disadvantage. While students could learn from each other, the pace of the school was more suited to less experienced students.
  • NetLogo tutorials and workshops were somewhat basic and good for students with little to no experience with simulation software and programming in general.
  • Group assignment (designing your own model) was perfect for practicing and polishing your newly acquired NetLogo skills and thinking about how to apply the method to research questions related to social phenomena.

FYI: ESSA summerschool 2015, Wageningen, The Netherlands