OEAS 658: Participatory and Agent-Based Modeling, Simulations, and Visualization.

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Course: OEAS 658 (CRN 18608) 3 credits
Course title: Participatory and Agent-Based Modeling, Simulations, and Visualization.
Instructors: Dr. Hans-Peter Plag
Dr. Ariel Pinto
Term: Fall 2021, August 30 - December 13, 2021
Time: Mondays, 10:00-12:30 PM
Location: TBD
Office Hours Plag: Mondays, 2:00-4:00 PM and on request.


Many societal challenges are “wicked problems,” i.e., social or cultural problems that are difficult or impossible to solve. The class will introduce the students to the theory of wicked problems, engage them in transdisciplinary approaches to address such problems using collaborative strategies such as participatory modeling combined with conceptual and agent-based models. Scenario-based simulations and visualizations will be used to explore possible futures and to create foresight related to wicked problems.

Wicked problems are social or cultural problems that are difficult or impossible to solve because they do not have a stopping rule, there is no agreement on the problem definition, knowledge is incomplete or contradictory, the number of social agent involved is large, improvements are associated with large economic burden, and there are many links to related problems (Rittel and Webber, 1973). Super wicked problems have four additional characteristics: (1) time is running out; (2) there is no central authority to address the problem; (3) those seeking to solve the problem are also causing it; (4) policies discount the future irrationally (Lewin et al., 2012). Examples of wicked and super wicked problems considered in the 566 and 567 courses include cyber-security, plastic pollution, mitigation of, and adaptation to climate change, adaptation to sea level rise, and conservation under climate change and sea level rise.




The course provides an “Learning by Experience” opportunity to the students. The students will focus on one or two wicked real-world problems. They will form groups and work in each group on one specific problem of their selection collaboratively throughout the course. Each problem will be linked to societal agents actually engaged in addressing the problem.

Each group will start by initiating a participatory modeling (PM) effort, in which students will assume roles of societal agents and work with participating external agents. The first step in the PM effort will lead to an agreement on a goal statement, followed by the development of a conceptual model that represents the relevant system with societal agents, environment, and decision space. Next, the students will explore the translation of the conceptual model into a stock-and-flow model that provides a basis for an agent-based model. The agent-based model will allow the students to carry out scenario-based simulations to explore possible futures of the system considered, and to develop foresight. The results of these simulations will be visualized for the participants in the PM effort so that they can develop foresight and make decisions about actions informed by an understanding of the range of possible futures. Each group will document their PM effort, which will give guidance to the external agents engaged with the group. The final results will be presented to the external stakeholders at the end of the course.