Simulation Modeling for Foresight
During the Foresight4Food Montpellier workshop, organised in March 2023, various network members discussed the topic of quantitative and qualitative ‘handshake’ within foresight approaches. In the discussions, a dilemma question was posed: ‘Integrating the worlds of participatory scenario development and quantitative data modelling – are these worlds converging or diverging’? In response to this, a number of observations were made. Some said that this generally seems to be converging but that it is a mixed picture. It was also mentioned that the ‘handshake’ between qualitative and quantitative methods can be improved. There was an awareness that data alone does not change mindsets and that a collaborative multi-stakeholder process is needed to convert evidence to emotion and policy.
The Montpellier group saw that stronger integration of simulation models with participatory processes are needed to enhance foresight contributions to food systems transformation. We see more and more mixed approaches being used already, with both challenges and opportunities arising (as shared by WUR colleagues on the Dhaka Urban Food Agenda). However, there is also the need to understand underlying implications of power, discontinuities and unknowns that arise as a consequence of choices for use of certain mixed methods in foresight (Jahel et al, 2023).
There are a wide range of simulation models developed and used globally. Members within the Foresight4Food community shared that though models have various advantages, it is not always clear what questions they offer the best answers to. For instance, how can stakeholders meaningfully choose the right models depending on the questions, purpose and parameters they are working with? There is a need for overview and supportive criteria to help people to sort through the different simulation models. Foresight4Food Initiative seeks to convene a ‘Working Group’ to further explore and tackle these questions.
The goal of this working group is to bring together a core group experts and practitioners (initially online but potentially also face-to-face) to engage in further unpacking the value of simulation models in food systems (with an initial focus on economic simulation models and related modelling tools with which they work) and how to integrate these better with other (more qualitative) foresight approaches.
As such, the objective of this group is to create anoverview of existing simulation models and their applications in foresight and based on this, and with further consultation, to gather insights on use cases, opportunities, challenges and guidance on how to use them effectively within foresight processes. This framework will be helpful to modelling practitioners to exchange with each other on what is being done, and for stakeholders to understand better how modelling fits within foresight processes.
Ideally, the working group will move in 2 steps. Steps 1 and 2 will be ‘short-term efforts’ (of no more than 6 months each) to develop the working group outputs. F4F will select 2 co-chairs to lead the implementation and plan tasks. The steps are built up as follows:
- Co-chairs define the scope and criteria for the cataloging of simulation models together with a small group of experts and then assemble an overview based on the objectives and research questions
- Based on the initial overview assembled by the core team, a participatory community dialogue refines the framework and develops the searchable catalog/database of the simulation model further, to be posted on the F4F resource portal with links to other interested organizations/websites
The following research questions are suggested to be explored by the group:
- What simulation models are currently being used in the food systems domain?
- What are the differences per model: their purposes and what outputs can they deliver?
- In what ways are mixed methods applied in what part of the foresight process and what are challenges and opportunities?
- Use of quantitative knowledge systems in the decision-making making process: How to bring out the lessons of data models to improve the science-policy interface and support decision-making?
- How can qualitative and quantitative experts work together to improve the ‘handshake’?
For implementing these two steps we seek to build on the following contributions:
- Keith Wiebe (IFPRI) and Aline Mosnier (FABLE), in the lead, supported by Monika Zurek (University of Oxford, F4F) prepare the scope and key selection criteria. Based on input from a few selected additional resource persons, then gather an overview reaching out to key simulation modelling experts for input;
- The core group, upon finalising step 1, reaches out to wider network members (both quantitative/qualitative and users/practitioners) for contributions and insights, potentially leading to a live workshop to further develop final outputs.
- Given the alignment of these activities with ongoing work of the CGIAR Foresight Initiative and SDSN/FABLE, the core group in consultation with F4F will consider options for joint branding of this work as appropriate.
This group proposes two outputs. The first is an operational inventory database, containing an overview of existing simulation models and their use cases in foresight. The second, based on further consultation, is to develop a briefing paper that gathers insights on opportunities, challenges and guidance on how to use them effectively within foresight processes. The paper would also offer guidance reflections on enhancing the qualitative and quantitative handshake based on this framework. Further outputs may be generated by the working group based on progressive insights and commitments. We will seek to link up with other F4F working groups and stakeholders working on qualitative foresight processes, policy engagement and mixed methods.
Foresight4Food has some (limited) resources available to support working group leads with a number of days to put time into this. Furthermore, F4F will be able to support the organisation of a live workshop in 2024 to finalise the output of this work. F4F research officer, Bhawana Gupta, will be available to support with a few days’ work for scanning and supporting population of the database.