Agent-based and Individual-based Modeling: A Practical Introduction

Book Objectives

There are a number of books on complex systems, and a few on agent- and individual-based modeling, including our 2005 monograph Individual-based Modeling and Ecology. However, none of these books are really designed as a complete, hands-on, practical textbook to lead college classes or individuals through the basics of designing, implementing, and analyzing models. Our monograph, for example, was intended to provide conceptual and theoretical foundations for the use of individual-based simulation in one scientific field, ecology. While that book has been used in several university courses (including some for non-ecologists), it was not designed as a textbook and it provides little help with one of the most difficult challenges: learning to program individual-based and agent-based models. In fact, at the time we wrote Individual-based Modeling and Ecology we could not offer clear guidance on what software platform was best for beginners to use.

Now, NetLogo is clearly fantastic software for scientists and students to use as they learn agent-based modeling—and to continue using for many kinds of very serious research. Uri Wilensky, the author of NetLogo, and his staff at Northwestern University's Center for Connected Learning have produced an incredibly powerful and easy-to-use platform. Their development of NetLogo into a tool for science as well as education made it easy for us to write a textbook that moves students through programming and into modeling and scientific analysis.

We designed this book to fill the need for an introductory text on agent-based modeling for scientists, for use both in university courses (graduate or upper level undergraduate) and by people teaching themselves. The book is not specific to any particular field of science; instead, we intend it to be useful in fields ranging from social and economic sciences to the natural and biological sciences; any field in which systems of unique, behaving, and interacting entities are of interest.

In fact, our book is designed to be introductory for the instructor as well as the students: we designed it specifically for use by instructors who themselves have little experience with either agent-based modeling or programming. We realize that few professors and scientists have such experience now; one of our main goals is to overcome this barrier to the adoption of agent-based modeling as a research technique.

The book concentrates on four general topics:

  • Modeling in science and research,
  • Designing and analyzing agent-based models,
  • Software skills essential to simulation modeling, and
  • Using NetLogo to implement and analyze agent-based models.

We tried to avoid duplicating the conceptual content of Individual-based Modeling and Ecology or NetLogo's excellent documentation and tutorials. Instead, Agent-based and Individual-based Modeling: A Practical Introduction focuses on the practical skills needed to design models for specific scientific problems, implement them in NetLogo, and then analyze the models to solve the problems.

In a nutshell, we hope that Agent-based and Individual-based Modeling: A Practical Introduction is the book that lets students and scientists add individual- and agent-based modeling to their box of everyday research tools.