About the Center on Social Dynamics and Policy

The Burk Center on Social Dynamics and Policy applies complex systems science to the study of social dynamics and their implications for policy, mainly through the use of computational modeling and simulation. In a policy setting, complexity refers to situations in which responses to policy change may not be uniform or intuitive, due in part to feedback effects, time delays, interconnectedness, and non-linearity. In such situations, approaches from complex systems science can offer important advantages for the understanding of emergent social phenomena and the crafting of effective policy.

Agent-Based Modeling

A central technique used at CSDP is agent-based computational modeling (ABM). This approach uses artificial societies, constructed on computers, to study how key social dynamics may be generated “from the bottom up” and how such dynamics may respond to policy changes. Data generated in the ABM models can be directly compared to, and validated against, real-world data. This bottom-up approach often provides important insights into the causal mechanisms driving the outcomes of interest, and also provides a powerful and unique computational laboratory for policy experimentation. The computational environmental allows researchers to quickly and cost-effectively design and test a wide range of policy interventions.

Application to Policy Research

To design effective policies in an increasingly complex, interdependent world, better understanding of causal mechanisms is needed—we must understand not just what factors play a role in a given phenomena, but how and why these factors matter. Social dynamics are key drivers in the systems underlying many policy challenges--from the obesity epidemic to financial reform to ethnic conflict—and understanding such dynamics is the central focus of CSDP.

Research Agenda

The Center's research is based on the work of a number of Burk Scholars and a broader network of external researchers.

  • CSDP participates in a research network of the National Collaborative on Childhood Obesity Research (NCCOR), a joint project of the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the United States Department of Agriculture to address the problem of childhood obesity in America. CSDP Director Solomon has served on the steering committee of the network’s Envision project computational modeling group.

  • CSDP Director Solomon is a member of the multidisciplinary National Institutes of Health Network on Inequality, Complexity, and Health (NICH). The network’s goal has been to apply state-of-the-art conceptual and computational models to the understanding of the origins of health disparities, and to the design of policy interventions to reduce such disparities. The group is currently at work on a book.

  • CSDP research studies the important role social networks and social influence can play in both infectious and chronic public health challenges, from obesity and smoking to influenza pandemics

  • CSDP is part of an international team studying and modeling whole-of-community childhood obesity interventions in the COMPACT project– Childhood Obesity Modeling for Prevention and Community Transformation. The project aims to develop and test insights about the mechanisms driving effectiveness of these interventions, informed by several past and ongoing examples, and to inform novel design choices for development of future interventions.

  • With collaborators from Washington University, CSDP researchers have developed the TobaccoTown model of spatial tobacco retail dynamics, used to anticipate the effects (intended or unintended) of a variety of point-of-sale tobacco-control policies.

  • CSDP is working with collaborators at Emory University to model racial/ethnic disparities in HIV incidence among intravenous drug users. This project considers the relationship between place characteristics and social networks relevant to HIV incidence, and seeks to use an understanding of these relationships to generate and test new interventions to reduce these disparities.

  • CSDP is exploring the application of complex systems modeling techniques to study the dynamics of early-childhood literacy development and its responsiveness to interventions.

  • CSDP is conducting ongoing research on the determinants and dynamics of public trust—in institutions, in government, and in public health. Low trust can undermine the effectiveness of institutional reforms, of efforts to reduce corruption or conflict, and of both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical public health interventions


Executive Leadership

Mr. David Solomon

Mr. David Solomon

Mrs. Linda Colette

Mrs. Linda Colette

Division of Operations

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