All posts by Ralph Dum

some random notes and thoughts from GSS conference

random notes from the GSS conference


Some quotes that characterise GSS very well

‘ICT will not lead to sustainability it will lead to behavioural change towards sustainability’. The role of technology cannot be to help make our unsustainable lifestyle sustainable; it has to be to help us change this lifestyle.

‘A research agenda of GSS should be driven by ‘Pasteur’s principle’; that it is global challenges (like global warming, energy crisis, financial crisis) that drive a highly ambitious research agenda in close connection with society. Scientists should not be in love with their models but with the eventual usefulness of them.

GSS should contribute via models and data and their dissemination to global reasoning on global challenges. 

‘Prediction’: What does it mean in a constantly branching world (no repeatable experiment)?  (‘You cannot buy Apple stock today at the price of 10 years ago’)

GSS should link the top-down and bottom-up aspects of governance and decision making in society. GSS should make use of institutions (they are of use in a society and evolved as something useful) and make use of citizen-driven initiatives.

Data are artefacts: They are created for use and their functionality is defined by usage

Data are social objects: They cannot be seen independently of their use

Simulation can be wrong: How to account for that in policy decisions? What to do with probabilistic results in policy decisions? What about lower and upper bounds of prediction?

At the core of GSS is an understanding what it means and how to interpret results of models and data analysis.

Software is doing what it is programmed to do not what it is supposed to do


Models and data: big, unstructured, and constantly growing. Cost per GB of data is going constantly down (see eg Human genome) and cost has shifted towards data analytics.

Data platforms on data form third world countries (most of data that could drive a GSS agenda are form developed countries)

Ocean of unstructured data: How to make sense of these data (need for data analytics is today more urgent than need for data gathering).

Data are as much numerical as procedural. In particular agent-based modelling strongly depends on procedural data.


Simulation should not be over interpreted  beyond their validity range. One has to understand underlying assumptions.

Need for model integration

‘Eternity of models and data’: How to ensure that models and data are usable in the future.  What about data (like Twitter) that cannot be stored?

Workshop on narratives

‘Narratives are a primary means for people to make sense of the world’

A very useful distinction regarding the use of ICT in narratives is to distinguish

ICT as a tool to analyse narratives – ICT as a tool to help create/form narratives

The analysis part includes ICT tools of analysing online media (blogs, twitter etc) in terms of expressions of public sentiment. The ICT tools here are semantic analysis, network analysis, Bayesian methods and more.

The use of I CT in creation of narratives includes data visualisation, games, use of online media to enhance messages etc. Often the use of ICT can be seen less as a means to create narratives but as a means to spread and enhance narratives (e.g. youtube).

WRT the use of narratives as a means to convey messages, there seems a strong feeling of possible abuse of narratives.  It might in the light of this fear be good to distinguish between prescriptive and descriptive narratives (or more highflying normative and ontological). That is narratives that are supposed to make clearer a concept and narratives as a means to incite to action.

Narratives are used in the linkage of decisions in society and models/data driven knowledge in several ways:

- condense the message form the findings of models and data analysis (at the risk of oversimplifying). This need to condense the message is related in part to the fact that there is little evidence that policy makers base their decisions regularly on existing data. Mainly probably because data are not presented to them in a way that would allow them to guide their decision.

-to help decisions makers navigate in uncertain situations, narratives as a form of heuristics.

-narratives as a tool for traders

-Narratives as a guiding principle of action within a community. Banking was mentioned and the fact that the banking narratives evolved over the years (from making a reasonable living towards making an insane amount of money) and is now becoming a societal narrative no longer restricted to banking profession.

Colin Harrisson:

Can we develop a science of cities and what is the role of GSS in cities planning.

What can ICT do to reduce energy consumption (it is more to that than putting sensors everywhere)

Workshop on global Markets

EC official from DG MARKT (the directorate General in charge among others of financial regulation) were present and (as should be the case in GSS) there needs were driving the discussion of a possible research agenda.

Their main immediate need is a better understanding of the highly entangled banking networks. Their suggestion is to develop a research programme that identifies  the data needed (and thereby would guide EC regulation on what data should be made obligatory to provide for banks) and based on this data allows EC to better understand banking networks (in particular in shadow banking and the networks of transfer of risks).

From this immediate need (responding to which would be a case in point for GSS) there could be more long-term agendas like better understanding the issue of trust in financial systems via agent models.


‘Global Systems Science’ Conference (Ralph Dum)

The conference will help ‘Global Systems Science’ to develop an agenda of action both in research (in ICT and beyond) and in policy (as a coordinating concept). GSS has as ambition to unite different strands of research and policies trying to cope with global challenges. The attached document is an attempt to do so, based on preceding consultations. The conference will ideally help to evolve and expand this preliminary document. (Ralph Dum)

Towards a ‘Global Systems Science’ : how this conference should contribute