How to escape the dilemmas of complex systems modelling in public health: A users guide and map. 18th Social Simulation Conference (SSC)

I would like to thank Corinna Elsenbroich and team for organising the 18th Social Simulation Conference, which was hosted by the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit University of Glasgow, 4-8th September 2023. Thanks also for inviting me to be one of the keynote speakers. Also, thanks to the audience for the great dialogue and engagement. The conference is one of the key activities of the European Social Simulation Association (ESSA) to promote social simulation and computational social science in Europe and elsewhere.


Here is the title and abstract of my talk:


How to escape the dilemmas of complex systems modelling in public health:

A users guide and map


The current literature is clear: there is an urgent need to apply a complex systems modelling approach to public health. What is less clear is how to do this effectively. Research and practice have shown mixed results, due to a series of dilemmas. A short list includes: a strong tendency to model public health issues instead of interrogating the development, implementation and evaluation of systems-level interventions; public health practitioners and funding organisations being biased toward simple, individual-level, short-term solutions based on clinical trials; modellers being tone deaf about the roadblocks to applying simulations to public health; the need to focus on stakeholder engagement; and an overemphasis on computational models over qualitative methods. Fortunately, a small but growing global network of scholars are charting new territory. They are part of a fresh turn in complexity and modelling, the social science turn, which fosters a transdisciplinary, social complexity imagination that, in one way or another, addresses the field’s current dilemmas to create new areas of disruptive and highly innovative social inquiry. The Atlas of social complexity – written with Lasse Gerrits, forthcoming 2024 Edward Elgar – charts this new territory, seeking to map its present future; which we do by outlining a set of ‘best practices’ (with examples of scholars doing this work) for applying social complexity to public health modelling. These include: (1) challenging social physics and reductionism, (2) rethinking complex causality and system dynamics, (3) emphasising co-creation and context, (4) understanding real-world policy making, (5) modelling at multiple levels and with multiple models, (6) developing interdisciplinary methods and using qualitative data, (7) grounding models in rigorous social science, and (8) accepting the limits of what modelling can do. 


CLICK HERE for a link to the PDF of my presentation




CLICK HERE for a link to the Map of the Complexity Sciences



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