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Social Simulation at The James Hutton Institute

The James Hutton Institute has a long history of inter- and trans-disciplinary collaboration around agent-based models.


Social simulation is an interdisciplinary domain involving collaborations of computer and social and/or ecological scientists. Also known as agent-based social simulation, multi-agent simulation and agent-based modelling, social simulation is computer simulation involving the explicit representation of individuals and the influences they have on each other. Individuals can be people, households, businesses, and even countries; in the ecological rather than social sciences, individuals can be non-human animals, plants, cells, and proteins. Interactions are any behaviour of the individuals that has a potential effect on the future behaviour of others. As well as direct communication (where one agent observes, or gives information or instruction to another), indirect, or stigmergic communication can be used, in which agents change the simulated space around them, and other agents respond accordingly. Examples of stigmergic interaction include ant trails, and signposts.

The James Hutton Institute's Information and Computational Sciences and Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences departments have a long history of collaborating on social simulation work, especially in projects funded by the European Commission, though most of our work has been funded through the Scottish Government's Strategic Research Programmes. We are an 'institutional member' of the European Social Simulation Association, and many of our people have been active in that community and its events.

Our research efforts are currently focused on developing the tools and methods needed to mainstream empirical applications of agent-based modelling. You can read more about our strategy for doing so and the research themes we think need to be addressed in an open-access journal article in Geoinformatica, but the main ideas are outlined in the diagram below (which appears in that article). The article explores the 'chasm' between visionaries and pragmatists that needs to be crossed for social simulation to achieve more widespread adoption. (It is still not routinely taught in social science undergraduate courses.)

Graphical representation of the seven research themes in the Geoinformatica article: meta-study, complexity, transparency, ethics, semantics, integration and implementation sciences, and empiricism

Separate pages summarize selected projects, provide links to software we've produced, and a bibliography of our contributions to the social simulation and agent-based modelling literature.


People doing or associated with agent-based modelling work who are current members of staff at The James Hutton Institute are listed below. Those for whom agent-based modelling is their main specialism are indicated with an asterisk (*).


Areas of Interest

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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.