Models and Narratives

Models and Narratives for Policy in the Digital Age


Conveners: Steven Bishop, Peter Baudains, Ilan Chabay

Raison d’etre

Models are increasingly being used to address problems over different scales, hierarchies, and policy domains to develop a so-called ‘global systems science’. Such models—whether heuristic, analytical, or computational—are approximations tailored to specific contexts and questions. To be useful they must be understood, particularly by decision-makers, but also by society at large and this typically only takes place through the lens of a narrative. Indeed decision-makers often require narratives of policy issues to be prepared for them within a short time-scale.


Model outputs can provide the backbone of a narrative for a particular scenario or policy option. This is then clothed in different forms of expression, argument and storytelling. There is currently insufficient understanding into how such narratives can be constructed in such a way as to also clearly communicate the limitations and assumptions built into that model. We need to explore how to couple models of globally connected systems with narratives in culturally appropriate forms in order to offer insight and options that are generated by the models themselves.


To achieve this coupling, we need a better understanding of the emergence of narratives through social interactions, particularly in the face of a changing media landscape, facilitated by new and ubiquitous digital communication. This is because, as well as being formed directly from a scientific model, narratives can emerge through social interaction. The scientific backbone of a narrative can often be entirely overwhelmed or suppressed by narratives based on social and cultural identity. How can stories, games and art, perhaps embedded in digital communication, be used to bridge the gap between scientific models, policy-makers and citizens? Detecting socially emerging narratives from social media data may lead to the prediction of social trends and enable decision-makers to gauge responses to different policy options on short time-scales.


This workshop will consider how narratives fit into the developing research agenda focused on the use of ICT and models for global policy decisions, with the aim being to identify the crucial research questions for narratives in global systems science from the perspective of both global policy challenges and also ICT.



Workshop format

The first session will begin with an introduction to the workshop. This introduction will comprise of some framing talks by Steven Bishop, Julian Hunt (via video recording) and Ilan Chabay. During these introductory comments, a series of questions (see below) will be introduced, which aim to address the research area to be discussed during the workshop at a relatively high conceptual level. These will be circulated among participants beforehand. The workshop participants will be invited to respond to these questions.


The workshop will firstly discuss whether these questions are appropriate or whether they need to be re-framed. It will be considered whether or not these questions are sufficient, necessary, and specific for the research topic in the context of a science of global systems.


The workshops will then proceed with an open discussion to be chaired by Ilan and Steven, during which each question will be addressed in turn, and specific research challenges that fall under each of the questions will be determined. A list of these research challenges will be recorded during the discussions and displayed on the projector. These will form the basis of the subsequent scientific report.


A provisional agenda is shown below:


Thursday 8th November 17.00 – 19.00

17.00 Introductory talks and questions (Steven Bishop, Julian Hunt, Ilan Chabay)

17.30 Response by participants

18.00 Discussion on suitability of proposed questions

18.50 Agreement on questions


Friday 9th November 14.30 – 16.30

Discussion of each question in turn, specifying specific research challenges.



Proposed Research Questions

The questions we initially pose are outlined below:


  • What are the links between models and scenarios of Global Systems Science and the narratives derived from them, as expressed in different forms, cultures and communities? How can ICT help express such narratives?


  • How might a useful public understanding, including by policy-makers and corporate leaders, of Global Systems Science, via associated narratives, be developed to more effectively support decision-making?


  • How can ICT be used to assess the impact of a narrative on attitudes and collective behaviour change in diverse communities and across spatial and temporal scales?


  • How might digital methods (models, ICT) and their users and analogue methods (performance, non-digital 2 and 3 dimensional art) and their users interact and collaborate in creating narratives in order to initiate positive social change?


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