Standardised and transparent model descriptions for agent-based models

Last month saw initial publication (although officially it is a May publication!) of the paper that came out of the agent-based modelling workshop in which I participated at iEMSs 2014.

Birgit Müller put in some great work to summarise our discussion and bring together the paper which addresses how we describe agent-based models. Standardised and transparent model descriptions for agent-based models: Current status and prospects has several highlights:

  • We describe how agent-based models can be documented with different types of model descriptions.
  • We differentiate eight purposes for which model descriptions are used.
  • We evaluate the different description types on their utility for the different purposes.
  • We conclude that no single description type alone can fulfil all purposes simultaneously.
  • We suggest a minimum standard by combining particular description types.

To present our assessment on how well different purposes are met by alternative description types we produced the figure below. In the figure light grey indicates limited ability, medium grey indicates medium ability and dark grey high ability (an x indicates not applicable). Full details of this assessment are presented in the version of the diagram presented in an online supporting appendix.

Citation and abstract for the paper below. Any questions, or for a reprint, get in touch.

Müller, B., Balbi, S., Buchmann, C.M., de Sousa, L., Dressler, G., Groeneveld, J., Klassert, C.J., Quang Bao Le, Millington, J.D.A., Nolzen, H., Parker, D.C., Polhill, J.G., Schlüter, M., Schulze, J., Schwarz, N., Sun, Z., Taillandier, P. and Weise, H. (2014). Standardised and transparent model descriptions for agent-based models: Current status and prospects. Environmental Modelling & Software, 55, 156-163.

DOI: 10.1016/j.envsoft.2014.01.029

Abstract
Agent-based models are helpful to investigate complex dynamics in coupled human–natural systems. However, model assessment, model comparison and replication are hampered to a large extent by a lack of transparency and comprehensibility in model descriptions. In this article we address the question of whether an ideal standard for describing models exists. We first suggest a classification for structuring types of model descriptions. Secondly, we differentiate purposes for which model descriptions are important. Thirdly, we review the types of model descriptions and evaluate each on their utility for the purposes. Our evaluation finds that the choice of the appropriate model description type is purpose-dependent and that no single description type alone can fulfil all requirements simultaneously. However, we suggest a minimum standard of model description for good modelling practice, namely the provision of source code and an accessible natural language description, and argue for the development of a common standard.

Keywords
Agent-based modelling; Domain specific languages; Graphical representations; Model communication; Model comparison; Model development; Model design; Model replication; Standardised protocols

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