CECAN Seminar: Policy Making Using Modelling in a Complex World

bruce edmonds

How do we use policy modelling in a complex world? Professor Bruce Edmonds explored this challenging question in CECAN's second seminar on 18th July, and the session is summed up here by CECAN's Knowledge Integrator, Dr Candice Howarth:

The very nature of complex systems means that they can be impossible to predict, particularly when they exist in the context of structural changes. As complex systems need to be managed in different ways, so do the models that are used in policy development to assess how to navigate the web of challenges that characterise these systems. A complex system is one that is difficult to model (and at times cannot be modelled) and hence processes that occur outside its defined scope, can overwhelm its results. Professor Edmonds explored how issues that arise from modelling often result from confusion about modelling purposeshow models are used and the conditions under which a model is used and useful for a specific purpose.

An overview of an Agent Based Modelling simulation of the rental housing market in Manchester demonstrated the many challenges and opportunities that modelling identifies, which can inform (in this case) local policy. Going forward, a range of issues need to be addressed to enable effective policy modelling in a complex world. What policy actors want often differs from what models can offer, so careful management of this tension and clear definition of roles is required.

Modellers need to find ways to agree that different assumptions in different models will lead to different outcomes, calling for a greater appreciation of iterative processes where learning from mistakes can significantly add value. Institutionalistation means that even an imperfect model can be useful to polocy development if the model is flexible enough to adapt to the evolving policy context. However, improvements to the model may be difficult to conduct if the context it has been used in, is inflexible.

Whilst modelling has its limits, it can help understand the key emergent trends and outcomes that can occur, but we need more clarity on who is making the decisions and who is providing the evidence to inform this.   

Candice Howarth, CECAN Knowledge Integrator

To view the presentation slides from Prof Edmonds' seminar, please click here.