Agent-Based Models as “Interested Amateurs”

Barbrook-Johnson, P. 2015. Agent-Based Models as “Interested Amateurs”. Land. 4 (2), pp. 281-299.

TitleAgent-Based Models as “Interested Amateurs”
TypeJournal article
AuthorsBarbrook-Johnson, P.

This paper proposes the use of agent-based models (ABMs) as “interested amateurs” in policy making, and uses the example of the SWAP model of soil and water conservation adoption to demonstrate the potential of this approach. Daniel Dennett suggests experts often talk past or misunderstand each other, seek to avoid offending each other or appearing ill-informed and generally err on the side of under-explaining a topic. Dennett suggests that these issues can be overcome by including “interested amateurs” in discussions between experts. In the context of land use policy debates, and policy making more generally, this paper suggests that ABMs have particular characteristics that make them excellent potential “interested amateurs” in discussions between our experts: policy stakeholders. This is demonstrated using the SWAP (Soil and Water Conservation Adoption) model, which was used with policy stakeholders in Ethiopia. The model was successful in focussing discussion, inviting criticism, dealing with sensitive topics and drawing out understanding between stakeholders. However, policy stakeholders were still hesitant about using such a tool. This paper reflects on these findings and attempts to plot a way forward for the use of ABMs as “interested amateurs” and, in the process, make clear the differences in approach to other participatory modelling efforts.

Keywordsagent-based models; participatory modelling; policy making; soil and water conservation; interested amateurs
Journal citation4 (2), pp. 281-299
Publisher's version
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Web address (URL)
Publication dates
Published14 Apr 2015
LicenseCC BY 4.0

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