Huge thanks to Professor Peter Davis who gave an engaging, humorous and thought provoking seminar at BEIS in Whitehall, on micro-simulation techniques for policy making.
You can now watch the seminar online.
Peter briefly summarised his career history, which spans 30 years in a medical school environment as a social scientist and the challenges that presented in terms of sociologists being viewed as 'lacking reality, not engaging with the real world.' He also highlighted the fact that even in a medical environment there was an acute need for evidence, in both medicine and policy spheres.
Peter then took the audience through a series of case studies to help explain micro-simulations (computer models that look like society) and how these techniques allow social scientists and policy analysts to ask the necessary counterfactuals.
He feels micro-simulation is under-developed and under-intellectualised, especially because many projects involving these techniques close without models or data being replicated and made accessible, instead they are hidden within bureaucratically protected silos.
He suggests the greatest use of simulation techniques are in representing social processes (e.g. pension schemes, life course, tax and employment policies), as they are based on real data and real people, and they can represent transitions at the level of individuals. Computer models can also be projected forward or parameters altered to test new scenarios, so you can pursue a policy idea which you couldn't do in the real world, helping envisage what the world would look like in terms of a specific policy framework.
The greatest challenge it seems, according to Peter, is to get better access to archived models and data from past research, policies and evaluations.
He stresses the need to be talking more openly with each other (researchers and government departments), and poses the question of how best to do this.
Thankfully that is part of CECAN's remit and we thank Peter for raising the profile of this challenge!
Peter Davis is Professor of Sociology, specialising in health and well-being, at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, with cross-appointments at that university in the Department of Statistics and in the School of Population Health. He is also founding Director of the COMPASS Research Centre, a grant-funded centre that has promoted the application of advanced methodological techniques in the social sciences for over a decade.
If you would like to learn more about social simulation, and would be interested in attending a CECAN training course in the future, please drop us a line.