Tag Archives: Models and Narratives

ICT challenges for GSS, part 3

Notes from The Saturday ICT workshop (by Patrik Jansson, 2012-11-22)

(Ilan Chabay started out with a summary of the Thursday and Friday Narratives workshops – that part is reported elsewhere.)

Second topic was introduced by Jeremy Gibbons. We need robust modelling – we cannot assume a single shared context. Even for a long-lived single-person project, but more urgently for larger collaborations. We need assumptions to be explicit, documented, transparent, checkable. Challenge 1: make computational science results transparent and repeatable. Challenge 2: provide languages which let you write a high-level model of your program and let the computer generate the low-level code.

Third Michael Resch talked about “Verification and Validation of Simulation Models”. There is a chain (or tower) of models from theory, through modelling, numeric modelling (like discretization), programming, running and interpreting the results. To be sure about the validity of the results we need Challenge 3: validation and verification at each step (each level). This is a major challenge with many sub-parts. If we carefully explain all the potential “bugs” which could in principle invalidate our results we could easily project the image that “they have no credibility”. Thus there is the pedagogical Challenge 4: how to present results with uncertainties? There is also a historical dimension as science moves forward and consensus changes (due to improvements of theory, models and data). Journalists dig up old results (which we now know are incorrect) and make headlines based on the “contradictions” found.

Last discussion topic was introduced by David De Roure: “Knowledge Infrastructure for Global Systems Science”. This comes back to the transparency and repeatability (and multiple meanings of that) mentioned by Jeremy. The main message was that methods are as important as the data. Bundles of workflows, documents and data make up “computational research objects”. An important Challenge 5 here is how to represent these research objects so that they can be mixed and matched freely. Some support for automatic curation and repair would also be needed.

Saturday ICT chairs + presenters

  • Patrik Jansson – Chalmers Univ. of Techn., patrikj@chalmers.se
    • Co-chair of “Models and Narratives in GSS”
  • Ilan Chabay
    • Co-chair and talk: “Models and Narratives in Global Systems Science”
  • Jeremy Gibbons
    • Talk: Dependable Modelling
  • Michael Resch
    • Talk: Verification and Validation of Simulation Models
  • David De Roure;
    • Talk: “Knowledge Infrastructure for Global Systems Science”

Other participants:

  • Ulf Dahlsten (first hour)
  • Ralph Dum
  • David Tabara
  • several others (unfortunately I did not make a list)

Models and Narratives (2)

Ilan Chabay, Heinz Gutscher, David De Roure, Sarah Wolf, Armin Haas, Achim Maas, Vittorio Loreto, Filippo Addarii, Steven Bishop, Trista Patterson, David Chavalarias, Patrik Jansson, Ralph Dum, Kurt Dopfer, David Tuckett, Jason Greenlaw, Zhangang Han, Ralph Dum, Laszlo Pinter, Merijn Terheggen, Joan David Tabara.

– We are required to create a narrative for GSS. But this is more the objective of the conference. Most often scientists tell the world why they are going to build a model (although they may have a different narrative in private). A narrative created to get funding for building models is not the same as a narrative to make models useful to the public. How do we explain models to a big global community? Pragmatically, we need a narrative first to understand how what we do, as scientists, fits into the global systems science narrative. Different scientists have different processes. Two examples of different processes might be:
1. problem -> narrative -> model
2. model -> narrative -> problem
In this workshop however, the focus is more to consider narratives as a subject of study in their own right.
– Narratives should be used to understand limitations and context dependency of models. They can package research for general audiences and can convey complex ideas. They can reach globally through local contexts. The audience of a narrative needs to be considered.
– ICT and narratives are now intimately connected; new media produces new images and narratives very cheaply. For example, YouTube creates narratives with just a camera, which, if they get taken up, can shape the views of future generations. Online games are another source of creation and interaction of narratives (see Insite project).
– Automatic translation of narratives as an ICT contribution. Also semantic analysis (computational linguistics). Perhaps the a task is to not only analyse the grammatical structure in a given sentence, but the ‘grammatical structure’ of the narrative as a whole, in order to map an argument.
– It’s not just a matter of getting feedback from a narrative after the modelling process. We need to engage with stakeholders during the research phase to understand that we are studying the right question.
– Narratives are traditionally enacted in a theatre. What is the theatre for these types of narratives? We need to present them in the right context (place, time, format)
– Narratives can be descriptive or prescriptive (esp with policy-makers). We can render a lot of good science useless by being too prescriptive.
– We need to get serious and engage professionals who already study and create narratives. How do we start connecting with these people?
– Narratives are the primary means of humans making sense of the world. But we don’t know how they work, how they spread and how they stop spreading. A large fundamental study is required to gain insights into all of these. It’s intuitive that narratives should be linked with heuristics but this needs to be better understood. We should begin to focus on how narratives really matter. Not ‘how do people think about what scientists think?’, but ‘how do people think about climate, finance, etc?’ ICT provides us for the first time with tools for studying narratives. You can’t impose narratives, we need to understand them on a fundamental level.
– We are far from understanding the right science and the right model – how can we construct the right narrative?
– We don’t always need to create narratives – there are many out there already. How can you find a narrative that underpins (or even contradicts) what your analytics show you?
– There is a connection between this discussion and the future of scholarly communication. What is ‘beyond the pdf’? Can we define knowledge sized chunks? What chunks are required? A human readable component surely but what about a machine readable component? If we only work in units the size of a human narrative, will this restrict us in terms of what we can comprehend?
– Narratives can be right and wrong. Sometimes it is just about power – which narratives are stronger than others? It seems vital who is first, how they spread etc. What are the decisive factors to determine the dominant narrative in the end? What makes a narrative powerful? Can we understand these under the context of an ecology of narratives?
– We sometimes believe counter narratives as fact. Sometimes we know they are counter factual, but they may retain function so we keep using them. There is a large literature in social psychology on debunking myths. There are other bodies of work that we should be paying attention to from a range of diverse backgrounds.
– There is a danger of self-fulfilling narratives: Narratives can create models and then those models confirm the narratives (c.f. economics).
– If there is a feedback process (empirical testing process) then you can keep calibrating. If you don’t do this, you might end up in a dead end. What are the mechanisms for doing this?
– A good problem analysis attempts to capture multiple narratives about what the problem is. At what point do you decide when you have collected enough narratives?
– Cartoons in newspapers: fascinating to see how some people can condense often many narratives into one picture.
– It is not always about the content. You may pick up that people are concerned about something which they are not aware of by understanding their narrative.
– There is a useful distinction to make between creating narratives and analysing narratives. In analysing narratives, the role of ICT is quite clear. How can ICT be used in the process of creating narratives? Digital artwork, ICT environments where rich narratives can emerge (e.g. YouTube), visualisation.

Models and Narratives (1)

Steven Bishop, David Tuckett, Peter Baudains, David Chavalarias, Wanglin Yan, Gertjan Storm, Diana Mangalagiu, Jason Greenlaw, Ilan Chabay, Armin Haas, Ricardo Herranz, Jon Reades, Kurt Dobfer, Paul Ormerod, Andrzej Nowak, Nils Ferrand, Achim Maas, Armin Leopold, Sarah Wolf, Hannes Kutza, Heinz Gutscher, Laszlo Pinter

– The context under which financial managers make decisions have extremely high levels of uncertainty. They construct a narrative to convince themselves to take a certain action. This story needs attractors and anti-repellors (defined as something in the narrative to manage repellors which cause anxiety and doubt).
– Can we look for the shift or sudden transition in narratives e.g. ‘dot com’?
– Narrative of neo-classical economics is dominant in policy-making.
– Construction of narratives as a scientific process. Bayesian: observe and then update your views.
– Narratives as a starting point for the construction of a model. We need to be aware of limitations of that model.
– Narratives link with social dynamics – there is a feedback loop between narratives and psychological factors that lead to behaviour change.
– GSS needs to be aware it is constructing a narrative. What is it?
– An ‘ecosystem of narratives’: there is competition, which ones win? Why are some counter-factual narratives successful? E.g. finding someone to blame. E.g. Eurozone has two competing narratives: stability versus collapse. The situation won’t be resolved until one of these gets global traction.
– As soon as it is recognised that a narrative has some social impact, the status of the narrative changes.
– A tendency in science to respond to negative narratives (negative in terms of what we believe) by throwing more data and analysis at it. In terms of people, this has no impact. ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’. How are narratives connected to objective reality?
– It is likely that we need different narratives for different cultures. Perhaps this is the role of art.
– Self-fulfilling narratives? Three possible ways in which this can happen: 1. A very good prediction of the future, 2. Accepted globally, so people begin to act on narrative (e.g. economics), 3. An institution (e.g. state) pursues a narrative with force.
– Science and policy reinforcing themselves through a narrative.
– ICT tools to track narratives and their social dynamics automatically. How can we use this to enhance our narratives for policy-makers? How are some narratives very powerful and others are not? Can we move to ‘narrative engineering’?
– Narratives attached to models versus narratives as models.

Narratives, models and scholarly communication

The focus of our discussion in the Global Systems Science “narratives” workshop has been on the narrative as a lens onto a model, for consumption by decision-maker and citizen. I’d like to make a connection with a related discussion in scholarly communication – where the narrative is instead for the scholar, but some of the issues are pertinent, particularly to do with the narrative as a social object and digital object.

There is much discussion in the scholarly communications (and future of research communication) community just now about “Beyond the PDF”. One approach is to ask how the academic paper (a mechanism about 350 years old) evolves with modern digital practice. Another – and this is my provocation – is to ask what will be the shared digital artefact that scholars will be exchanging in the future?

There is already evidence of new practice and new objects – for example, aggregations of data and procedural knowledge which may be executable. These research objects are compound digital objects but also social objects around which discourse occurs and social networks form, and they are produced and consumed by humans and machines: they typically contain narratives.

What does this mean for us?  I suggest four points:

  1. We should consider if narratives are also to be consumed and produced by machine, and if this is achieved through text processing or bundling with machine-processable forms.  Even if not machine-generated, the lifecycle of narratives might surely be machine-assisted;
  2. The social life of narratives is an interesting thing to instrument and analyse; e.g. their provenance, usage, evolution. If nothing else this helps us use narratives more effectively, but also it enables analysis of collaboration in the complex sociotechnical ecosystem that is Global Systems Science;
  3. As we think of narratives throughout their lifecycle we can think also of their inter-relationships and associations with the other digital artefacts of Global Systems Science, such as the models, the experiments, the dataflows, …;
  4. Research Objects themselves may be of interest, as they are a mechanism for sharing methods, for reproducible science, for automation to handle scale and assistive systems to enable human creativity – all things we need for Global Systems Science.

A closing thought re (3). One criticism of papers is that they enforce exchange of “human sized chunks of knowledge” and are only targetted  at specific audiences, so might actually act to constrain our science.  A model that is bundled with multiple narratives might serve better, behaving as a boundary object which can be exchanged between communities – with a common core and multiple interpretations for different users.

I shall mention some of this in my talk Knowledge Infrastructure for Global Systems Science in the Information Society, Models and Narratives session on Saturday morning.  For more on the Future of Research Communication check out FORCE11, and there is an emerging literature on research objects.

— Dave


Professor David De Roure
Director, Oxford e-Research Centre

UK National Strategic Director for Digital Social Research
University of Oxford 

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?


First Open Global Systems Science Conference

Dear colleagues,

We are pleased to invite you to the First Open Global Systems Science Conference, to be held in Brussels at the Stanhope Hotel, November 8 – 10th 2012. The aim of the Conference is to contribute to the development of Global Systems Science (GSS). The study of problems as diverse as global climate change and global financial crises is currently converging towards a new kind of research – Global Systems Science.

GSS could not emerge without substantial advances in information and communication technology (ICT). The use of computer models, digitized data, and global virtual networks are vital for GSS, and GSS can provide a key domain for socially useful ICT developments.

GSS builds on economics as well as on climatology, on history as well as on geography and on a variety of further disciplines. However, it is no attempt to renew the failed pursuit for a single unified science. It simply integrates insights and methods that are useful in studying global systems and develops them further for that purpose.
Important examples of global systems are:

  • the energy, water and food supply systems
  • the internet
  • the global financial system
  • the agents, resources and mechanisms involved in climate policy
  • the web of military forces and relations
  • globally spreading diseases
  • the scientific community

The conference is organized by the EU project Global Systems Dynamics and Policy (www.gsdp.eu), a project coordinated by the Global Climate Forum (www.globalclimateforum.org), and carried out by a team involving a transdisciplinary group of institutions based in Europe and other parts of the world.

GSS is one of those fields of inquiry where a separation between basic and applied science is misleading. The community of researchers engaged in GSS will evolve in a close dialogue with practitioners, policy-makers and other stakeholders. Therefore, – following the experience of previous successful GSDP meetings (Berlin 2011, Barcelona 2012) – this conference will bring together a unique cohort of researchers and practitioners relevant for GSS.

We look forward to meeting you in Brussels and to engage with you in this challenging and exciting conference.

On behalf of the GSDP steering committee,


Further Information: