Agent-based Modeling Demonstration

Zachary Neal
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology 
Michigan State University

Dr. Zachary Neal is assistant professor of psychology and global urban studies at Michigan State University. He also serves as editor of Routledge's Metropolis and Modern Life book series, as well as two journals: Global Networks and Journal of Urban Affairs. His research focuses on using system science methods—primarily network analysis and agent-based models—to understand urban phenomena at multiple scales ranging from friendship in neighborhoods to trade relations in world regions. He is the author of The Connected City: How Networks are Shaping the Modern Metropolis (Routledge, 2013), which provides an overview of network-based approaches to understanding modern cities. He is also the editor of the Routledge Handbook of Applied System Science (Routledge, 2016), which showcases examples of network analysis, agent-based models, and system dynamics models applied to solve real-world problems.

Session Description

The methodological tools that are often called system science methods are rapidly gaining attention as useful in community-based research for their unique ability to capture ecological and contextual effects in a holistic way. Agent-based models are a specific variety of system science methods, which are designed to simulate the behaviors of agents (e.g., people) as they interact with one another in particular settings. In this session, I introduce the basic features of agent-based models in a nontechnical way, focusing on the approach’s epistemology, assumptions, and basic steps, using Schelling’s (1969) model of residential segregation as an example. We will explore how agent-based models can be particularly useful for community-based research, focusing on a few key challenges that community-based researchers often encounter and considering the solutions that agent-based models offer. Translating these solutions into practice, we will examine the use of an agent-based model to evaluate a hypothetical public space-building program as a potential intervention for cultivating sense of community.

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