Towards Integrating Everything (well at least: ABM, data-mining, qualitative and quantitative data, networks and complexity science)Bruce Edmonds
Centre for Policy Modelling, Manchester Metropolitan University
Presented at: the 3rd SKIN workshop on "Joining Complexity Science and Social Simulation for Policy", May 2014, Budapest. (http://cress.soc.surrey.ac.uk/SKIN/events/third-skin-workshop)
Innovation or other policy-orientated research has tended to take one of two strategies: (a) work with high-level abstractions of macro-level variables or (b) focus on micro-level aspects/areas with simpler mechanisms. Whilst (a) may provide some comfort in the form of forecasts, these are almost useless for policy since they can only be relied upon if nothing much has changed. Although approach (b) may produce some interesting studies which show how complex even small aspects of the involved processes are, with maybe interesting emergent effects, it provides only a small part of the overall picture and little to guide decision making.Slides available at: http://www.slideshare.net/BruceEdmonds/towards-integrating-everything-well-at-least-abm-datamining-qualquant-data-networks-and-complexity-science
Rather, I (with others) suggest a different approach. Instead of aiming to produce some kind of "adequate" theory (usually in the form of a model along with its interpretation), that instead we aim at integrating different kinds of evidence and find the best ways to present these to policy makers in order to help policy-makers 'drive' by providing views of what is happening. Thus (1) utilising the greatest possible range of evidence and (2) providing rich, relevant but synthetic views of this evidence to the policy makers. Any projections should be 'possibilistic' rather than 'probabilistic' - showing the different ways in which social processes might unfold, and help inform the analysis of risks. The talk looks at some of the ways in which this might be done, to integrate micro-level narrative data, time-series data, survey data, network data, big data using a variety of techniques. In this view, models do not disappear, but rather have a different purpose and hence be developed and checked differently.
This shift will involve a change in attitude and approach from both researchers and those in the policy world. Researchers will have to give up the playing for general or abstract theory, satisfying themselves with more gentle and incremental abstraction, whilst also accepting and working with a greater variety of kinds of evidence. They will also have to stop 'conning' the policy world with forecasts, and refuse to provide these as more dangerous than helpful. The policy world will have to stop looking for a magic 'crutch' that will reduce uncertainty (or provide justification for chosen policies) and move towards greater openness with both data and models.