Completed Projects

Complexity of social construction: Bridging contemporary meta-theories in social sciences

Nigel Gilbert and Ozge Dilaver

Constructed Complexities – A Network of Scholars and A Workshop Series

Complexity theory and social constructionism are two important meta-theories that have evolved from very different worldviews and knowledge bases. The two meta-theories are also associated with very different research objectives, approaches and methods. Yet, there are some important similarities between the core arguments of the two meta-theories and these similarities are largely neglected in methodological debates.

In essence, both meta-theories reject reductionist, time, space and relationship-free analyses of positivist or Newtonian social science. While social constructionism reveal existence of multiple realities and viewpoints, history and context dependence of reality and the role of social embeddedness; complexity theory studies heterogeneous populations and the role of stochasticity, path-dependence of processes, the role of interactions and interdependencies and properties of social networks.

Hence, there are interesting similarities between the two meta-theories, which can be important for interdisciplinary or intermeta-theory social research. At the same time, integration of research at both sides may not necessarily be seamless or instantaneous. Complexity theorists and social constructionists approach these issues with different interpretations and research objectives. There are important differences between the ontological and epistemological assumptions underlying the two meta-theories. This project aims to initiate an international network of scholars working together to identify conflicts or differences as well as links and similarities between complexity theory and social constructionism. As a first route, the network of scholars will follow existing connections in institutional approaches and exchange ideas at three workshops and a final conference. These events will be organized by Manchester and Surrey Universities and the project has co-investigators from University of Maryland, Arizona State University, University of Chicago, University of California, Los Angeles (USA), University of Brescia (Italy) and Eindhoven University of Technology (Netherlands). The first workshop will be in May 2013 and the events will continue until the final conference in September 2013.

Funding: ESRC

Duration: May 2013 to April 2015

The complexity science for the real world network

The Complexity Science for the Real World Network will synthesise the knowledge gained from the four existing EPSRC projects (ENFOLD-ing, ERIE, SCID and The Care life Cycle) that have been funded under the Complexity Science for the Real World theme and disseminate it to those involved in the creation of public policy, as well as to the wider public. It will also provide channels for knowledge exchange between these audiences and the four projects. A second objective of the Network is to enhance the communication between the four projects, providing a forum for the discussion of common tools, techniques and issues. The Network will also offer workshops and other help to the 20 doctoral students associated with the projects.

Funding: EPSRC

Duration: June 2011 to June 2014

Computational Social Science and Social Computer Science: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Tina Balke

This workshop brings together experts from the social sciences, humanities and behavioural sciences with social simulation specialists and computational model builders. It focuses on artificial sociality rather than intelligence and tries to address the following two points in particular:

  1. The operationalisation of human behaviour in realistic settings (where perfect rationality is not applicable anymore), as well as
  2. The Investigation of the interplay of bottom-up and top-down approaches to study complex systems.

The workshop aims to lead the way to a research agenda that can harness the power of social science theories for the modelling community in a more thorough way than was hereto possible, aided by advances in computer technology and modelling experience. We invite contributions from all research disciplines that:

  1. Describe social science theory-inspired computational models of human behaviour in realistic settings, or
  2. Present theories of human behaviour in computational form, or
  3. Examine models focussing on computational social science, social computer science and the relation between the two.

The workshop aims to provide a meeting point for researchers with the aim of facilitating future interactions and research.

Funding: IAS, University of Surrey

Duration: 23-24 June 2014

Models and Mathematics in Life and Social Sciences (MILES)

Nigel Gilbert, Rebecca Hoyle (Maths), Paul Krause (Computing), Johnjoe McFadden (Microbial Sciences)

This project, worth nearly £800,000 over three years aims to stimulate new collaborations within the University between mathematics, computing, the physical sciences and engineering and the life and social sciences. It plans to generate new research projects from the collaboration and hopes to support greater interaction across the discipline boundaries that will be sustainable in the longer term.

The project, which is led by Dr Rebecca Hoyle (Maths) with Professors Nigel Gilbert (Sociology), Paul Krause (Computing) and Johnjoe McFadden (Microbial Sciences) will have 'modelling' as its theme, exploring the ways in which models inform the development of knowledge in science, social science and even the humanities. There will be a particular focus on the exchange of ideas and modelling approaches between the life and social sciences.

The EPSRC funds will support a wide variety of activities across the University, all aimed at helping interesting discussions and collaborations to flourish, including multidisciplinary workshops and networking events, a visiting scholar programme, sandpits and funding for feasibility studies. The project will be administered as part of the University's Institute of Advanced Studies and will start at the beginning of the 2010/11 academic year.

Funding: EPSRC

Duration: March 2010 to February 2014


On the Influence of Norms and Sanctions on Socio-Technical Systems Governance - An Agent-based Simulation Approach


Tina Balke and Nigel Gilbert have been awarded a grant from the UPGN scheme for a project in collaboration with the Universities of São Paulo and North Carolina State to study the influence of norms and sanctions on governance. Society is increasing its dependence on information technology in order to deal with more complex environments, such as socio-technical systems.

These systems are complex adaptive systems in which social entities and technologies co-evolve. One natural form to implement governance in these systems is through the use of norms and sanctions. While the concept of a norm is already well defined, sanctioning lacks a precise definition in the socio-technical domain. Moreover, it is known that both concepts influence socio-technical systems’ behaviour; however, their influence is difficult to measure in a real environment. The project will analyse how norms and sanctions influence systems behaviour through an agent-based simulation approach. The analysis will be applied to energy infrastructure to identify what combination of norms and sanctions promote a reduction in consumers' energy consumption.


TELL ME was a 3 year (to January 2015) EU funded collaborative project about effective communication before, during and after infectious disease crises (particularly influenza epidemics). It collected evidence about:

  • attitudes toward vaccination, hand hygiene and other protective behaviour;
  • and communication during the 2009 H1N1 epidemic.

This evidence was used to develop advice about effective communication and other communication tools. Project outputs included a framework for communication, a series of documents about aspects such as stigma, and an online course for medical professionals.

CRESS was responsible for developing a prototype computer simulation to assist planners to assess the effect of different communication options on people's behaviour and hence the impact on a hypothetical epidemic.

The model file and user guide can be downloaded from the CRESS website at The user guide describes how to install the software, how to use the simulation, and guidance through some training scenarios. The prototype was developed in NetLogo, freely available open source software. It also relies on the eXtraWidgets NetLogo extension. They can be downloaded from and respectively.

Evolution and Resilience of Industrial Ecosystems (ERIE)

ERIE will address a series of fundamental questions relating to the application of complexity science to social and economic systems. The programme aims to embed cutting-edge complexity science methods and techniques within prototype computational tools that will provide policymakers with realistic and reliable platforms for strategy-testing in real-world socio-economic systems.

The ERIE programme is a £4.2 million research venture funded by the EPSRC, involving investigators from the Departments of Sociology, Mathematics, and Computing and the Centre for Environmental Strategy.

Using mathematical and computational approaches we will model the layered, nested, multiscale systems of two case studies: "The Development of an Industrial Ecosystem on the South Humber Bank, North Lincolnshire" and "Resilient Food Supply Chains to Support Food Security and Global Sustainable Development".

The vision is to provide models of multi-level socio-economic systems that are useful for decision-makers aiming to 'steer' towards policy-relevant goals.

ERIE project is part of the Complexity Science for the Real World Group (CSRWG)

Engineering the policy making life cycle (ePolicy)

ePolicy is aimed at supporting policy makers in their decision process across a multi-disciplinary effort aimed at engineering the policy making life-cycle. For the first time, global and individual perspectives on the decision process are merged and integrated. The project focuses on regional planning and promotes the assessment of economic, social and environmental impacts during the policy making process (at both the global and individual levels). For the individual aspects, ePOLICY aims at deriving social impacts through opinion mining on e-participation data extracted from the web. To aid policy makers, citizens and stakeholders, ePOLICY heavily relies on visualization tools providing an easy access to data, impacts and political choices.


The ePOLICY project provides a decision support system for aiding policy makers in their decision process across the engineering of a policy making life-cycle. The life-cycle integrates, in a unique way, global and individual perspectives on the decision process, bringing to the policy maker’s attention both global concerns (e.g., impacts, budget constraints and objectives), and individual concerns (i.e. opinions, reactions), giving guidance towards better policy implementation strategies. Global and individual perspectives relies on extensive use of optimization and decision support techniques and social simulation. An innovative game theoretical approach guides the interaction and conflict management between these two levels. In addition, the ePOLICY project proposes the evaluation of the economical, social and environmental impacts of policy at both the global and individual levels. Social impacts are derived from data retrieved by e-participation tools and social networks. Both policy maker and citizens are assisted in the decision-making and participation processes through advanced visualization tools. The proof of concept of ePOLICY will be an open source decision support system specifically designed for regional planning. In particular, the energy plan of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy will be modeled by taking into account strategic directions in the energy production from renewable energy sources. EU guidelines such as the 20 20 20 initiatives will be considered as well as social impacts and implementation costs.

The ePolicy project is supported by the European Commission's Framework Programme 7 from October 2011 to September 2014.

The Global Dynamics of Extortion Racket Systems

The GLODERS research project is directed towards development of an ICT model for understanding a specific aspect of the dynamics of the global financial system: Extortion Racket Systems (ERSs). ERSs, of which the Mafia is but one example, are spreading globally from a small number of seed locations, causing massive disruption to economies. Yet there is no good understanding of their dynamics and thus how they may be countered. ERSs are not only powerful criminal organizations, operating at several hierarchical levels, but also prosperous economic enterprises and highly dynamic systems, likely to reinvest in new markets.  If stakeholders - legislators and law enforcers - are to be successful in attacking ERSs, they need the much better understanding of the evolution of ERSs that computational models and ICT tools can give them.

GLODERS will provide a theory-driven set of computational tools, developed through a process of participatory modelling with stakeholders, to study, monitor, and possibly predict the dynamics of ERSs, as they spread from local through regional into global influence.

The research will draw on expertise already developed in the small, but highly experienced multidisciplinary consortium to use:

computer-assisted qualitative text mining of documentary evidence;

guided semi-automatic semantic analysis of stakeholder narratives and other textual data; and

multi-level, stakeholder-centred agent-based modelling of the distributed negotiations between normative agents.

These methods will advance the state of the art for using data to inform policy decisions.

Throughout, the project will interact with a large, international group of stakeholder representatives from EU Ministries of Justice and police forces. The output will provide a set of ICT tools to facilitate strategic policies that could prevent the further penetration and extension of the global menace posed by ERSs.

The GLODERS project is supported by the European Commission's Framework Programme 7 from October 2012 to September 2015.

QLectives (Quality Collectives)

QLectives is a project bringing together top social modelers, peer-to-peer engineers and physicists to design and deploy next generation self-organising socially intelligent information systems.

The project aims to combine three recent trends within information systems:

  • Social networks - in which people link to others over the Internet to gain value and facilitate collaboration (think of Facebook)
  • Peer production - in which people collectively produce informational products and experiences without traditional hierarchies or market incentives (think Wikipedia)
  • Peer-to-Peer systems - in which software clients running on user machines distribute media and other information without a central server or administrative control (think of BitTorrent)

QLectves aims to bring these together to form Quality Collectives, i.e. functional decentralised communities that self-organise and self-maintain for the benefit of the people who comprise them. We aim to generate theory at the social level, design algorithms and deploy prototypes targeted towards two application domains:

  • QMedia - an interactive peer-to-peer media distribution system (including live streaming), providing fully distributed social filtering and recommendation for quality (think of social television 2.0)
  • QScience - a distributed platform for scientists allowing them to locate or form new communities and quality reviewing mechanisms, which are transparent and promote quality (think of Slashdot for any particular discipline or sub-discipline)

The approach of the QLectives project is unique in that it brings together a highly inter-disciplinary team applied to specific real world problems. The aim is to apply a scientific approach to the designs by formulating theories, applying them to real systems and then performing detailed measurements of system and user behaviour to validate or modify the theories if necessary.


IMAGES was a EU project that developed a simulation model for EU policymakers to help them design better 'Agri-Environmental Measures' (contracts with farmers that pay them to farm in a more environmentally desirable way).



Simulation of self-organising Innovation Networks was an EU project that developed a theory of innovation networks, expressed as a computational model.

The project also carryied out case studies of biotechnology, web designers, combined heat and power, and mobile communications research to examine the role of innovation networks.


The Freshwater Integrated Resource Management with Agents (FIRMA) project

FIRMA, from 1 March 1999 - 28 February 2003, was concerned with improving water resource planning by developing and applying agent-based modelling to integrate physical, hydrological, social and economic aspects of water resource management.

Innovation networks in Biotechnology-based industries

A comparative German/British model 2002 - 2004

This project was supported by the British Council and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)

The project is analysing the reasons for the differences in the organisation of the biotechnology industries in Germany and Britain. The conclusions will be used to develop a computer model grounded in existing industrial survey data that will reproduce qualitative aspects of the dynamics of the developments in the two countries. The work will help to inform government policy that aims to encourage technological innovation.


SimWeb (IST-2001-34651) was a three-year project to provide European businesses in the digital contents sector with insights and tools which will enable them to take informed business strategy decisions and become more competitive by adapting their traditional business models to the new, demanding reality. To achieve this objective, SimWeb has designed and implemented sector models based on reusable multi-agent simulation technology.

SimWeb (IST-2001-34651) project was co-funded by the 5th Framework Programme of the European Community - managed by the European Commission - and forms part of the Information Society Technologies (IST) activities.

The strategic objective of the Information Society Technologies (IST) Programme is to realise the benefits of the information society for Europe both by accelerating its emergence and by ensuring that the needs of individuals and enterprises are met. 


Summary (from the project description): The main task of SocSimNet project is to diminish the disproportion between social and engineering science specialists in a democratic and economically profitable way. 

The main expected project results are an interdisciplinary master's programme and the preparation of a Social Systems Simulation Technologies and Tools course. Simplified course models will be used for professional orientation needs.

Experimental introductory results are mostly aimed at use in the travel business, environmental health, business systems and applications management. The audience of the SocSimNet consists of the professional and academic higher educational institutions of Europe and the world (universities, colleges, training centres etc.), which prepare specialists in social sciences, and which are interested in the specialisation of ICTE tracks.


New and Emergent World Models Through Individual, Evolutionary and Social Learning (FP6-IST-3752-FET) is a three year, collaborative project that will grow a virtual society developed by agent-based simulation. 

The project will evolve an artificial society capable of exploring the environment and developing its own image of this environment and the society through cooperation and interaction. Working with virtual grid worlds and environments that are sufficiently complex and demanding that communication and cooperation are necessary to adapt to the given tasks, it is hoped the virtual society will exhibit individual learning, evolutionary learning, and social learning.

Agent Based Simulations of Market and Consumer Behaviour

This project, funded by Unilever Corporate Research, is investigating the usefulness of agent based simulations for modelling consumer behaviour and the potential value and insights it can add to traditional marketing methods.

In January 2006, CRESS began a project funded by Unilever Corporate Research which is investigating the usefulness of agent based simulations for modelling consumer behaviour and showing the potential value and insights it can add to traditional marketing methods.

Network Models, Governance and R&D collaboration networks (NEMO)

NEMO will investigate the interplay between political governance, structure and function of politically induced R&D collaboration networks, in particular the networks that have emerged in the European Framework Programmes.

NEMO is a project supported by the New and Emerging Science and Technology programme of the sixth Framework Programme of the European Commission. It started on 1st September 2006 and continues for three years.

Project partners are: ARC systems research GmbH (ARC sys), Vienna University of Technology, Institute of Discrete Mathematics and Geometry (TU Wien), Universidade da Madeira, Centro de Ciências Matemáticas – CCM (UMa), University of Bielefeld, Department of Physics/Research Center BiBoS (UniBi), Maastricht University, UNU-MERIT (MERIT), Université du Luxembourg, Faculty of Law, Economics and Finance (UniLu), University of Bremen, Economics Department (UniHB), and University of Hamburg, Research Centre Media and Politics (UniHH).

The objective of NEMO is to investigate the interplay between political governance, structure and function of politically induced R&D collaboration networks, in particular the networks that have emerged in the European Framework Programmes. The ultimate goal is to identify ways to create and to appraise desirable ('optimal') network structures for typical functions of such R&D collaboration networks (e.g. knowledge creation, transfer and (distribution). This will aid policymakers at all political levels in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of network-based policy instruments at promoting the knowledge economy in Europe.


Emergence in the loop (EMIL)

EMIL aims to understand and develop design strategies able to cope with the complex two-way dynamics of emergent and immergent processes: the emergence from interaction among individual agents to the aggregate level, and the immergence of entities (norms) at the aggregate level onto agents.

EMIL is a project supported by the New and Emerging Science and Technology programme of the sixth Framework Programme of the European Commission. It started on 1st September 2006 and continues for three years.

The main objective of this project is to understand and develop design strategies able to cope with the complex 2-way dynamics of sociality, consisting of emergent and immergent processes: from interaction among individual agents to aggregate level, and immergence of entities (norms) at the aggregate level into agents' minds. In particular, we plan to focus on norm innovation. As research priorities, beside dealing with incompleteness and uncertainty, we intend to contribute to the understanding and description of hierarchic systems by describing agents acting on multiple, i.e. individual, communitarian and institutional levels.

Project partners are: Institute of Cognitive Science and Technology, National Research Council CNR-ISTC Italy, University of Bayreuth, Dept. of Philosophy UBT Germany, Universität Koblenz-Landau KL Germany, Manchester Metropolitan University, Centre for Policy Modelling MMU United Kingdom, and AITIA International Informatics Inc. AITIA Hungary.


The SIMIAN (Simulation: a Node) project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council to promote and develop social simulation in the UK. The project was started in the summer of 2008, and involves a collaboration between CRESS and Dr Edmund Chattoe-Brown at the University of Leicester. SIMIAN is a node of the National Research Methods Centre.

The project involves three "demonstrator" simulations chosen to address important social science challenges:

  1. Interaction: Where many theories exist across the social sciences, how can simulation be used to integrate and compare them so that social science as a whole can progress?

  2. Novelty: How can simulation develop theories in which meanings and capabilities of objects are not "given" but change and develop in use and social interaction?

  3. Norms: Different social sciences understand and measure norms in different ways. How can they be integrated to produce effective theories?

These three demonstrators will form the basis for a range of training and capacity building activities:

  1. Taster courses to show what simulation can do.

  2. Build-a-model courses to show how to build a first working simulation.

  3. Specialised courses to train advanced users in specific topics.

In addition, there will be presentations at conferences and workshops, user fellowships to encourage collaboration between users and academics, and international exchange visits.

PATRES: Pattern Resilience

In February 2007, CRESS joined a new project, PATRES, funded by the European Commission to develop new methods and tools for defining action policies in order to maintain or restore desired pattern dynamics in a complex system. Our role in this project is mainly concerned with a case study about social networking sites on the Internet, such as Facebook and Flickr.

PATRES is a project supported by the New and Emerging Science and Technology programme of the sixth Framework Programme of the European Commission. It started on 1st February 2007 and continues for three years.

The project objectives are:

  • to develop new methods and tools for defining synthetic (i.e. in low dimensions) descriptions of complex dynamics, based on robust pattern dynamics,
  • to develop new methods and tools for defining action policies in order to maintain or restore desired pattern dynamics in a complex system,
  • to test and illustrate these innovations on a set of case studies.

The project will develop methods and prototype software tools for modelling and managing pattern resilience in complex systems. Pattern resilience is understood as the capacity of the system to maintain or to recover some desired pattern dynamics (which are related to useful functions) in a changing environment. The pattern dynamics are evolving statistical regularities which are generated by the interconnected components of the system. We shall build on statistical physics and Pattern Oriented Modelling techniques to develop a set of robust techniques to express such pattern dynamics in state spaces of relatively small dimensionality. Viability theory will provide a framework for an inclusive, rigorous and practical definition of resilience, which give possibilities to find sets of actions to maintain or restore the satisfactory pattern dynamics in a system.

Our contributions are case studies on innovation networks in biotechnology, and on "Web 2.0" sites such as Wikipedia and Flickr.