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European Social Simulation Association Summer School in Social Simulation 2023

28 August-1 September 2023
at James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen, Scotland, UK
for for PhD students and early career researchers from academia and beyond
Craigiebuckler House in Aberdeen

The European Social Simulation Association’s official 2023 Summer School will be held at The James Hutton Institute’s Craigiebuckler campus in Aberdeen, Scotland in the week before the Social Simulation Conference in Glasgow.

The theme for the summer school is ‘Agent-Based Modelling for Wicked Problems’.


The introductory course is aimed at postgraduate students, early career researchers and analysts from academia, industry and policy, regardless of disciplinary background or specialism. No prior experience with agent-based modelling is required.

We will accept a maximum of 30 participants, who will work in small teams as part of the training, though individual exercises will also feature in the course. Working in teams is an important part of the training for agent-based modelling – it is an inherently interdisciplinary exercise drawing on diverse knowledge and experience.

Course organizers and lecturers

The course will be led by an experienced team of researchers who use agent-based models in their daily activities.

  • Gary Polhill has twenty-five years of experience working on agent-based models, and was the President of the European Social Simulation association from 2016-2020.
  • Matt Hare has extensive experience in academia and as a consultant on participatory modelling for environmental resource management.
  • Doug Salt has a background in industry as a professional computer scientist, and joined The James Hutton Institute in 2016 to work on agent-based modelling, after a Ph. D. on ontologies.
  • Nick Roxburgh has been developing agent-based models for a decade, working on projects around the world relating to agriculture, water, sanitation, and stressors.
  • Samuel Heban finished his PhD in computational social sciences using the agent-based modelling and is currently involved in 3 ABM projects.

  • Jianyu Chen comes from an interdisciplinary research background and is currently involved in research projects using agent-based modelling.

Guest lecturers

The course will include lectures from leading researchers in agent-based modelling, demonstrating their work and the diversity of applications of the approach.

  • Nanda Wijermans (Associate Professor in Data Science, Stockholm University) is an interdisciplinary researcher who uses agent-based social simulation to explore the dynamics of human behaviour in its cognitive, social and biophysical contexts, particularly in social dilemmas.
  • Alison Heppenstall is Professor of Geocomputation at the University of Glasgow and a Fellow of the Alan Turing Institute. She has a strong focus on using data with agent-based models. She is a recognised international expert in the development of spatial agent-based models and was awarded the International Society of Computational Economics prize in 2022 for her ‘outstanding contribution to social simulation and agent-based modelling.
  • Kavin Narasimhan (ESRC Policy Fellow, University of Surrey and Advanced Research Fellow and Data Scientist, Imperial College London) is an interdisciplinary researcher who works in the science-policy interface, interested in developing and applying computational models and communicating results for decision-making in Government and Industry.
  • Émile Chappinis an Associate Professor at the Energy and Industry Group of the department Technology Policy and Management of Delft University of Technology, co-director of the TPM Energy Transition Lab with a research focus on the role of simulation models and games for the energy transition, energy system analysis, and energy policy.


The teaching sessions have been based on the draft programme developed for the summer school webpage, as in the table below, and agreed on 23 March by the organizing team. Key to shading: Course Lecture, Guest Lecture, Group Work, Individual Work.

Session Monday, 28 August 2023  Tuesday, 29 August 2023  Wednesday, 30 August 2023  Thursday, 31 August 2023  Friday, 1 September 2023 
Theme Model purpose and structure Model initialization and data Model dynamics and submodels Model visualization and analysis Open modelling
First thing Welcome and Registration Recap, Q&A Recap, Q&A Recap, Q&A Recap, Q&A
Morning Introduction to agent-based modelling

Working in interdisciplinary teams

Programming in NetLogo Simulating decision-making Reading and processing NetLogo Behavior-Space output in spreadsheets Open modelling
Late Morning Working with stakeholders Collaborating on code

Setting up a model

Implementing model dynamics


Visualizing data from agent-based models Groups prepare talks
After Lunch Guest Lecture:

Nanda Wijermans

Guest Lecture:

Alison Heppenstall 

Guest Lecture:

Kavin Narasimham

Guest Lecture:

Émile Chappin 


Groups present their work
Early Afternoon Specifying a model Programming in NetLogo Experimenting with simulations Visualizing experiment results Groups present their work
Late Afternoon Introduction to NetLogo – interface tab Reading data into your model

Population synthesis

Using BehaviorSpace Presenting agent-based models to diverse audiences Feedback and close
Evening Dinner Optional Dinner Dinner Optional Dinner  

Course Theme – Agent-Based Modelling for Wicked Problems

Rittel and Webber (1973) are generally credited with articulating why some problems are ‘wicked’ – not amenable to wholly rational solution and optimization. The reasons they give for such problems existing include: contested specification of the problem in the first place (including even agreeing that there is a problem); unique features of any particular situation seemingly mattering enough that they cannot be ignored or generalized away; and cascading waves of consequences from any implemented solution that also mean it is hard to experiment with proposals to test their effectiveness. Such issues are common to the challenges we face today around Net Zero, Just Transition, Circular Economy, Food Security, Energy Security, Migration, Epidemiology, and halting Biodiversity Loss.

In our own work at The James Hutton Institute, we have been looking in to how wickedness, and a related issue, complexity, affects our ability to make predictions, and how agent-based simulation can be seen as a tool to augment human cognition when deciding what to do.


The course is taught in English. No experience with agent-based modelling is assumed, nor is there a requirement to have had any programming experience. You will need to have a laptop with you, on which you have permission to install software. You can install the software in advance if you need to do so with your organization’s IT support. If this is a problem, we may be able to arrange a temporary laptop for you to use during the course.

Software to install:

NetLogo (preferably, though not necessarily, installed for your personal use, with permissions for you to edit files in the application’s folder)

LibreOffice (not needed if you already have a Microsoft Office licence that includes Excel)


The cost of the course is £500 for registered students; £600 otherwise. Lunches and two evening meals are included.

The European Social Simulation Association is generously supporting the summer school with bursaries. A small number of bursaries are available that reduce the course fee by £300. Each bursary is awarded based on its own merits on a first-come, first-served basis. You will be told how to apply on application.


Located in Aberdeen’s west end, the Institute’s Craigiebuckler Campus sits in beautiful grounds dating back to 1826, when the mansion house (now part of the Institute’s buildings) was built as a summer residence by James Blaikie, the first Lord Provost of Aberdeen. The grounds contain trees from all over the world, as was fashionable during the Victorian era, which the Institute still maintains.

The estate was bought by Thomas Bassett Macaulay in the 1930s, on behalf of the newly formed Macaulay Institute for Soil Research, which had the remit of improving the productivity of Scottish agriculture. In 1987, MISR was merged with the Hill Farming Research Organisation (HFRO) in Edinburgh, to create the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, which itself merged with the Scottish Crop Research Institute in Dundee to form The James Hutton Institute in 2011.


Aberdeen has a railway station with direct trains to various cities including Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow (the venue for the Social Simulation Conference), Inverness, London and York. Taking the Eurostar, it is possible to get to Aberdeen by train from Brussels and Paris via London – Kings Cross (from where Aberdeen trains depart) is just over the road from St. Pancras – in one long day that nevertheless traverses some of the UK’s most spectacular scenery and takes in the iconic Forth rail bridge. From Euston station (a short walk from St. Pancras) you can also get the Caledonian Sleeper to Aberdeen. There is also an international airport with direct flights to Amsterdam, Bergen, Esbjerg, London and Stavanger, among others.

Details on accommodation options and local transportation will be posted nearer the time.


The Summer School in Social Simulation is sponsored by the European Social Simulation Association.

Reserve your place

To apply to attend the Summer School, please complete an application form. Though the final deadline for applications is 28 July 2023, we would appreciate receiving applications before 1 June 2023 to help with logistics.

You will be invoiced separately if your application is successful. You can cancel, with a full refund if you have paid, any time before 1 June; cancellations from 1 June to 1 August will get a 50% refund. After 1 August, no refund will be given.

For any further question, please contact:

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.