By Fabian Lorig1*, Bart de Bruin2, Melania Borit3, Frank Dignum4, Bruce Edmonds5, Sinéad M. Madden6, Mario Paolucci7, Nicolas Payette8, Loïs Vanhée4
1 Internet of Things and People Research Center, Malmö University, Sweden
2 Delft University of Technology, Netherlands
3 CRAFT Lab, Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway
4 Department of Computing Science, Umeå University, Sweden
5 Centre for Policy Modelling, Manchester Metropolitan University Business School, UK
6 School of Engineering, University of Limerick, Ireland
7 Laboratory of Agent Based Social Simulation, ISTC/CNR, Italy
8 Complex Human-Environmental Systems Simulation Laboratory, University of Oxford, UK
The Need for an ICM
Most crises and disasters do occur suddenly and hit the society while it is unprepared. This makes it particularly challenging to react quick to their occurrence, to adapt to the resulting new situation, to minimize the societal impact, and to recover from the disturbance. A recent example was the Covid-19 crisis, which revealed weak points of our crisis preparedness. Governments were trying to put restrictions in place to limit the spread of the virus while ensuring the well-being of the population and at the same time preserving economic stability. It quickly became clear that interventions which worked well in some countries did not seem to have the intended effect in other countries and the reason for this is that the success of interventions to a great extent depends on individual human behavior.
Agent-based Social Simulations (ABSS) explicitly model the behavior of the individuals and their interactions in the population and allow us to better understand social phenomena. Thus, ABSS are perfectly suited for investigating how our society might be affected by different crisis scenarios and how policies might affect the societal impact and consequences of these disturbances. Particularly during the Covid-19 crisis, a great number of ABSS have been developed to inform policy making around the globe (e.g., Dignum et al. 2020, Balkely et al. 2021, Lorig et al. 2021). However, weaknesses in creating useful and explainable simulations in a short time also became apparent and there is still a lack of consistency to be better prepared for the next crisis (Squazzoni et al. 2020). Especially, ABSS development approaches are, at this moment, more geared towards simulating one particular situation and validating the simulation using data from that situation. In order to be prepared for a crisis, instead, one needs to simulate many different scenarios for which data might not yet be available. They also typically need a more interactive interface where stake holders can experiment with different settings, policies, etc.
For ABSS to become an established, reliable, and well-esteemed method for supporting crisis management, we need to organize and consolidate the available competences and resources. It is not sufficient to react once a crisis occurs but instead, we need to proactively make sure that we are prepared for future disturbances and disasters. For this purpose, we also need to systematically address more fundamental problems of ABSS as a method of inquiry and particularly consider the specific requirements for the use of ABSS to support policy making, which may differ from the use of ABSS in academic research. We therefore see the need for establishing an Institute for Crisis Modelling (ICM), a resilience center to ensure sustained crisis modeling capability.
The vision of starting an Institute for Crisis Modelling was the result of the discussions and working groups at the Lorentz Center workshop on “Agent Based Simulations for Societal Resilience in Crisis Situations” that took place in Leiden, Netherlands from 27 February to 3 March 2023**.
Vision of the ICM
“To have tools suitable to support policy actors in situations that are of
big uncertainty, large consequences, and dependent on human behavior.”
The ICM consists of a taskforce for quickly and efficiently supporting policy actors (e.g., decision makers, policy makers, policy analysts) in situations that are of big uncertainty, large consequences, and dependent on human behavior. For this purpose, the taskforce consists of a larger (informal) network of associates that contribute with their knowledge, skills, models, tools, and networks. The group of associates is composed of a core group of multidisciplinary modeling experts (ranging from social scientists and formal modelers to programmers) as well as of partners that can contribute to specific focus areas (like epidemiology, water management, etc.). The vision of ICM is to consolidate and institutionalize the use of ABSS as a method for crisis management. Although physically ABSS competences may be distributed over a variety of universities, research centers, and other institutions, the ICM serves as a virtual location that coordinates research developments and provides a basic level of funding and communication channel for ABSS for crisis management. This does not only provide policy actors with a single point of contact, making it easier for them to identify who to reach when simulation expertise is needed and to develop long-term trust relationships. It also enables us to jointly and systematically evolve ABSS to become a valuable and established tool for crisis response. The center combines all necessary resources, competences, and tools to quickly develop new models, to adapt existing models, and to efficiently react to new situations.
To achieve this goal and to evolve and establish ABSS as a valuable tool for policy makers in crisis situations, research is needed in different areas. This includes the collection, development, critical analysis, and review of fundamental principles, theories, methods, and tools used in agent-based modeling. This also includes research on data handling (analysis, sharing, access, protection, visualization), data repositories, ontologies, user-interfaces, methodologies, documentation, and ethical principles. Some of these points are concisely described in (Dignum, 2021, Ch. 14 and 15).
The ICM shall be able to provide a wide portfolio of models, methods, techniques, design patterns, and components required to quickly and effectively facilitate the work of policy actors in crisis situations by providing them with adequate simulation models. For the purpose of being able to provide specialized support, the institute will coordinate the human effort (e.g., the modelers) and have specific focus areas for which expertise and models are available. This might be, for instance, pandemics, natural disasters, or financial crises. For each of these focus areas, the center will develop different use cases, which ensures and facilitates rapid responses due to the availability of models, knowledge, and networks.
Objectives of the ICM
To achieve this vision, there are a series of objectives that a resilience center for sustained crisis modeling capability in crisis situations needs to address:
1) Coordinate and promote research
Providing quick and appropriate support for policy actors in crisis situations requires not only a profound knowledge on existing models, methods, tools, and theories but also the systematic development of new approaches and methodologies. This is to advance and evolve ABSS for being better prepared for future crises and will serve as a beacon for organizing the ABSS research oriented towards practical applications.
2) Enable trusted connections with policy actors
Sustainable collaborations and interactions with decision-makers and policy analysts as well as other relevant stakeholders is a great challenge in ABSS. Getting in contact with the right actors, “speaking the same language”, and having realistic expectations are only some of the common problems that need to be addressed. Thus, the ICM should not only connect to policy actors in times of crises, but have continuous interactions, provide sample simulations, develop use cases, and train the policy actors wherever possible.
3) Enable sustainability of the institute itself
Classic funding schemes are unfit for responding in crises, which require fast responses with always-available resources as well as the continuous build-up of knowledge, skills, network, and technological buildup requires long-term. Sustainable funding is needed that for enabling such a continuity, for which the IBM provides a demarked, unifying frame.
4) Actively maintain the network of associates
Maintaining a network of experts is challenging because it requires different competences and experiences. PhD candidates, for instance, might have a great practical experience in using different simulation frameworks, however, after their graduation, some might leave academia and others might continue to other positions where they do not have the opportunity to use their simulation expertise. Thus, new experts need to be acquired continuously to form a resilient and balanced network.
5) Inform policy actors
The most advanced and profound models cannot do any good in crisis situations in case of a lacking demand from policy actors. Many modelers perceive a certain hesitation from policy actors regarding the use of ABSS which might be due to them being unfamiliar with the potential benefits and use-cases of ABSS, lacking trust in the method itself, or simply due to a lack of awareness that ABSS actually exists. Hence, the center needs to educate policy makers and raise awareness as well as improve trust in ABSS.
6) Train the next generation of experts
To quickly develop suitable ABSS models in critical situations requires a variety of expertise. In addition to objective 4, the acquisition of associates, it is also of great importance to educate and train the next generation of experts. ABSS research is still a niche and not taught as an inherent part of the spectrum of methods of most disciplines. The center shall promote and strengthen ABSS education to ensure the training of the next generation of experts.
7) Engage the general public
Finally, the success of ABSS does not only depend on the trust of policy actors but also on how it is perceived by the general public. When developing interventions during the Covid-19 crisis and giving recommendations, the trust in the method was a crucial success factor. Also, developing realistic models requires the active participation of the general public.
For ABSS to become a valuable and established tool for supporting policy actors in crisis situations, we are convinced that our efforts need to be institutionalized. This allows us to consolidate available competences, models, and tools as well as to coordinate research endeavors and the development of new approaches required to ensure a sustained crisis modeling capability.
To further pursue this vision, a Special Interest Group (SIG) on Building ResilienCe with Social Simulations (BRICSS) was established at the European Social Simulation Association (ESSA). Moreover, Special Tracks will be organized at the 2023 Social Simulation Conference (SSC) to bring together interested experts.
However, for this vision to become reality, the next steps towards establishing an Institute for Crisis Modelling consist of bringing together ambitious and competent associates as well as identifying core funding opportunities for the center. If the readers feel motivated to contribute in any way to this topic, they are encouraged to contact Frank Dignum, Umeå University, Sweden or any of the authors of this article.
This piece is a result of discussions at the Lorentz workshop on “Agent Based Simulations for Societal Resilience in Crisis Situations” at Leiden, NL in earlier this year! We are grateful to the organisers of the workshop and to the Lorentz Center as funders and hosts for such a productive enterprise. The final report of the workshop as well as more information can be found on the webpage of the Lorentz Center: https://www.lorentzcenter.nl/agent-based-simulations-for-societal-resilience-in-crisis-situations.html
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Lorig, F., de Bruin, B., Borit, M., Dignum, F., Edmonds, B., Madden, S.M., Paolucci, M., Payette, N. and Vanhée, L. (2023) An Institute for Crisis Modelling (ICM) –
Towards a resilience center for sustained crisis modeling capability. Review of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, 22 May 2023. https://rofasss.org/2023/05/22/icm
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