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From cases to general principles: A call for theory development through agent-based modeling

Lorscheid, Iris, Berger, Uta, Grimm, Volker, Meyer, Matthias
Ecological modelling 2019 v.393 pp. 153-156
biodiversity, decision making, economic crises, models
Virtually all current major social and environmental challenges such as financial crises, migration, the erosion of democratic institutions, and the loss of biodiversity involve complex systems comprising decision-making, interacting, adaptive agents. To understand how such agent-based complex systems function and respond to change and disturbances, agent-based modeling (ABM) is increasingly recognized as the main way forward. Many motivating examples of agent-based models exist that are realistic enough to successfully support the management of complex systems, but these solutions are case-specific and contribute few general insights into the functioning of systems. General theory, though, is highly needed because we cannot model each system and question. Still, across disciplines, a critical mass of expertise has accumulated that could transform ABM into a more coherent and efficient approach to discover the functioning of complex social-economic-ecological systems. To this end, we need a cross-disciplinary discussion among researchers and a goal-oriented synthesis to identify the general principles and theories essential to improve our understanding and management of complex systems.