CECAN Webinar (July 2021) Case-based modelling and scenario simulation for ex-post evaluation -- Further adventures with COMPLEX-IT

The following documents and links are in support of the CECAN Webinar (July 2021) run by Corey Schimpf, Peter Barbrook-Johnson and myself.

We focused on how to use the scenario simulation tab in COMPLEX-IT. It was titled, appropriately enough:Case-based modelling and scenario simulation for ex-post evaluation -- Further adventures with COMPLEX-IT

To begin, we would like to thank CECAN and our respective universities and methods centres: CECAN, University at Buffalo (The State University of New York), Oxford University, and the Durham Research Methods Centre. 


Our presentation is based on a recent paper we published:

Despite 20 years of increasing acceptance, implementing complexity-appropriate methods for expost evaluation remains a challenge: instead of focusing on complex interventions, methods need to help evaluators better explore how policies (no matter how simple) take place in real-world, open, dynamic systems where many intertwined factors about the cases being targeted affect outcomes in numerous ways. To assist in this advance, we developed case-based scenario simulation, a new visually intuitive evaluation tool grounded in a data-driven, case-based, computational modelling approach, which evaluators can use to explore counterfactuals, status-quo trends, and what-if scenarios for some potential set of real or imagined interventions. To demonstrate the value and versatility of case-based scenario simulation we explore four published evaluations that differ in design (cross sectional, longitudinal, and experimental) and purpose (learning or accountability), and present a prospective view of how case-based scenario simulation could support and enhance evaluators’ efforts in these complex contexts.


  • CLICK HERE for the YOUTUBE VIDEO of our presentation





Western Civilization and its Global Discontents in Pandemic: COVID-19 vs 1918 Flu – How technology changed our world!

Tim Fowler and I would like to thank the Body and Medicine in Latin Poetry Network for the opportunity to present at their one-day marathon webinar, Disease, Community and Communication from Antiquity to Today (19 June, 2021). In particular, we would like to thank Chiara Blanco (Trinity College, Oxford), Michael Goyette (Eckerd College), Allegra Hahn (Durham University), and Simona Martorana (Durham University).

The title of our talk was, Western Civilization and its Global Discontents in Pandemic: COVID-19 vs 1918 Flu – How technology changed our world!

Here is an abridged version of our argument -- CLICK HERE FOR THE POWERPOINT.
  • For this talk we used the symmetry between the 1918 Flu Pandemic and the 2020 COIVD-19 to explore in what ways our current pandemic is similar to recent pandemics and in what ways it is different. 

  • Examples of similarities include the way both pandemics revealed significant health disparities and social inequalities amongst western societies of the global north, particularly along lines of social class, gender, and ethnicity.
  • Other similarities include how both pandemics involved a series of epidemiological waves, along with a focus on addressing the airborne nature of both infectious diseases, including mask wearing, quarantine, social distancing, and hand washing


  • One key differences is that, while several vaccinations were created to address COVID-19, no vaccinations emerged to address the H1N1 virus upon which the 1918 pandemic was based.
  • The result was a massive loss of life during the 1918 pandemic, to such an extent that medical historians are not sure on the exact number of morbidity and mortality.
    • It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with the virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide.
  • Probably one of the most important differences is that while the 1918 flu pandemic was a very modern phenomenon, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic is a very postmodern phenomenon. 
  • Our argument is that, while there were some key changes in western societies of the global north as a function of COVID-19, the primary social determinant of change is technology. Without these technological advances, life post COVID-19 would probably not look much different to 2019. With them the world is profoundly different.
  • Examples of changes not driven by technology include  
    • New public health involvement in policy and politics. 
    • The new approach to government – get pragmatic or face ruin. 
    • A renewed commitment to infectious disease. 
    • The messy adaptability amongst citizens to life in pandemic.
  • The key technologies presently changing our world(s) are:
    • Medical Science and Vaccinations.
    • Amazon Society, Gig Services, and the Work-at-Home Economy.
    • Zoom Culture and Global Social Networks.
    • Virtual Science -- Simulating Public Health Issues. 
  • These technological innovations are not necessarily new. They have been making this impact for a few decades. The pandemic allowed them to emerge to the forefront of daily life in a way that they otherwise would not have.

In this short blog, we do not have time to unpack this argument. Our goal is to write a more in-depth summary for a general audience. We will post once it is published.




Exploring trajectories of comorbid depression and physical health -- Centre for Urban Mental Health and IAS Lecture University of Amsterdam

I want to thank the Centre for Urban Mental Health and
Prof. dr. C. L. (Claudi) Bockting, as well as the Institute of Advanced Study at the University of Amsterdam for the opportunity to lecture and to be a fellow during the 2021-2022 year.

The topic for this lecture was an article my colleagues and I published in 2018, Exploring trajectories of comorbid depression and physical health



My presentation was organised as follows:

1. First, I introduced the challenge of modelling co-morbid depression and physical health across time and linking that temporal co-evolution to a profile of key social and psychological determinants. 

2. Second, I provided a summary of how the tools of case-based complexity can be used to model such complexity. And how this approach is an advance over current method.

3. Third, I explored how we used case-based complexity to arrive at novel insights into the dynamics of depression and co-morbid physical health and the profile of social and psychological determinants that helps to explain these dynamics.

4. I ended by showing how COMPLEX-IT can be used to conduct a similar analysis of co-morbid depression and physical health. COMPLEX-IT is a mixed-methods online R-studio software package that my colleagues and I developed for employing a case-based complexity approach. Written and video tutorials on how to use COMPLEX-IT can be found by clicking this link.

CLICK HERE to download our recent publication summarising how COMPLEX-IT works.


Click here for an INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO on how to use COMPLEX-IT for modelling policy data. Specifically, the video discussed how we modelled COVID-19 trends for the North East of England Spring 2020 for the local councils and the NHS. COVID-19 EXAMPLE FOR LONGITUDINAL CLUSTERING OF DYNAMIC TRENDS.

CLICK HERE to download a copy of our article using case-based complexity to study allostatic load.

CLICK HERE to download a copy of the SpringerBrief book we wrote applying case-based complexity to a public health study in the midwest in the United States.

CLICK HERE for addtional papers on case-based complexity, the SACS Tookit and COMPLEX-IT. 

CLICK HERE for a link to an R Shiny App we developed Spring 2020 to intially model COVID-19 trends in the North East of England based on trends taking place two to three weeks earlier in the provinces of Italy.


What if Michelangelo had an Instagram account?

The past couple weeks I've been re-reading one of my favourite books, Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, which is a wonderful daily account of the four painstaking years Michelangelo spent painting the Sistine Chapel. At the same time I just happened to be setting up an Instagram account to provide updates of some of the art I've been working on, to share with family and friends. 

That is when it hit me: what if Michelangelo had an Instagram account or was on Twitter? How weird would that be? 

Perhaps not that weird. One of the things I really enjoy about Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling is its portrayal of this genius as a flesh-and-blood person. We get to see the daily life of a real human being, as opposed to some mythic figure, creating one of the greatest works of art in the history of human society.

Let's face it, Michelangelo was not exactly a social butterfly. Solitary and melancholy are probably good words to describe him, perhaps even chronically grumpy! If alive today he most likely would despise social media. Michelangelo did however have his gripes, and he was obsessed with documenting the minutiae of his daily life -- groceries, art supply purchases, etc. It is not entirely improbable to think he might have enjoyed the exacting nature of daily posts, as well as the opportunity to 'air his complaints and grievances' about the people who got on his nerves!

Plus, even though it was the 1500s, artists of his stature did have their audience. Not Frida Kahlo or Pablo Picasso level fame. But the Renaissance was the birth of the artist as rock star. So as I read Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling I kept hearing in my mind's ear the Twitter posts he might have shared:



More important, I could see the incredible images he would share on Instagram! This, more than anything, would draw me into his account.



What's my point?

Perhaps my imagination has gotten the best of me, and maybe the Twitter posts would be a bit much (LOL!), but life is tough. Art brings us joy, it makes us think, it gives us permission to feel, to be inspired, to realise why this whole mortal coil thing is worth it, and why life is so precious and wonderful. Genius like Michelangelo only happens every now and then. Most of us will never get to see the art in person. To have a front row seat to its unfolding, even if only on social media, would be a real joy.