Super Session: Diversifying the Toolkit: Role and Future of Agent-Based Modeling and Simulation in Policy Analysis
(Methods and Tools of Analysis)

Saturday, November 9, 2019: 10:15 AM-11:45 AM
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Ballroom A & B (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Organizer:  Cale Reeves, University of Texas, Austin
Moderator:  Varun Rai, University of Texas, Austin
Speakers:  Robert Axtell, George Mason University, Carolyn J. Heinrich, Vanderbilt University and Spiro Maroulis, Arizona State University

As APPAM turns its focus to engaging diverse perspectives on evidence, recent methodological developments have the potential to upend the conventional understanding of what constitutes evidence. A new suite of computational simulation-based modeling tools are becoming increasingly accessible to policy researchers, and with these new tools come new ways of exploring phenomena and even new epistemological foundations for conducting policy science. 

This Super Session proposes to convene four leading scholars at the intersection of policy science and simulation methods. Robert Axtell, Chair of the Department of Computational Social Science at George Mason University and one of the founders of agent-based modeling; Carolyn Heinrich, Patricia and Rodes Hart Professor of Public Policy, Education and Economics at Vanderbilt University and past President of APPAM; Varun Rai, Director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin and recipient of the 2016 David N. Kershaw award; and Spiro Maroulis, Associate Professor in the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University, have agreed to participate in this discussion.

Across policy areas, simulation-based approaches have generated valuable insights to policy design and program implementation by capturing the complex interactions of individuals in a policy context at a systems-level. However, the path forward for the widespread acceptance and use of these tools in policy is punctuated by deeply fundamental questions whose answers have not yet been articulated by those central to the study of public policy. 

Questions that rise to the fore include: What contributions have these new methods made so far to policy research and practice?  What potential for future contributions do these methods have, and what barriers must be overcome to unlock them? Which aspects of simulation-based methods are similar to conventional methods, and which are different? Can simulation methods, as new tools for policy research, herald a shift in the paradigm of policy science?  

The broad applicability of these new tools across policy areas and an outstanding set of panelists ensures that this session will have large-scale appeal for the APPAM audience. Together, as representatives of a diverse research community, this session addresses this year’s theme by rising to the challenge of plotting the future of computational simulation in public policy.

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