Contested Modelling


  • Mike Yearworth University of Bristol
  • Sarah Cornell Stockholm Resilience Centre


systems thinking, systems practice, expert modelling, scientific modelling, ontology, praxis, purpose


We suggest that the role and function of expert computational modelling in real-world decision-making needs scrutiny and practices need to change. We discuss some empirical and theory-based improvements to the coupling of the modelling process and the real world, including social and behavioural processes, which we have expressed as a set of questions that we believe need to be answered by all projects engaged in such modelling.  These are based on a systems analysis of four research initiatives, covering different scales and timeframes, and addressing the complexity of intervention in a sustainability context. Our proposed improvements require new approaches for analysing the relationship between a project’s models and its publics.  They reflect what we believe is a necessary and beneficial dialogue between the realms of expert scientific modelling and systems thinking.  This paper is an attempt to start that process, itself reflecting a robust dialogue between two practitioners sat within differing traditions, puzzling how to integrate perspectives and achieve wider participation in researching this problem space. 

Author Biographies

Mike Yearworth, University of Bristol

Dr Mike Yearworth is a Reader in Engineering Systems at the University of Bristol where he is responsible for developing research strategy and is course director for Advanced Systems and Research Methods teaching. His research is focused on the development and application of systems based methods for working with complex socio-technical problems. Prior to joining the University he was Senior Research Manager at Hewlett-Packard’s European Research Laboratory and previously Director of the Intelligent Computer Systems Centre at the University of the West of England. He is a Chartered Engineer and holds an MBA from the University of Bath and BSc and PhD degrees in Physics from the University of Southampton.

Sarah Cornell, Stockholm Resilience Centre

Dr Sarah Cornell is the Coordinator of the Planetary Boundaries initiative, in the Global and Cross-scale Dynamics research theme. Prior to joining the centre, she was the science manager and a core team scientist for the UK Natural Environment Research Council's multi-consortium programme for Earth system science, QUEST (Quantifying and Understanding the Earth System). Sarah's research background is in marine and atmospheric biogeochemistry. Over the last decade, she has become more engaged in use-oriented transdisciplinary research, with a particular focus on conceptualisations of humans in the Earth system. Her interests are in anthropogenic global changes, environmental governance and management, and the philosophy and methodology of integrative research.



How to Cite

Yearworth, M., & Cornell, S. (2012). Contested Modelling. Proceedings of the 56th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2012, San Jose, CA, USA. Retrieved from



Systems Modeling and Simulation