Modelling and Simulation

Modelling, or building a model, is a well-recognised way of understanding the world: something we do all the time but which science and social science has refined and formalised. A model is a simplification – smaller, less detailed, less complex, or all of these together – of some other structure or system. A model aeroplane is recognisable as an aeroplane, even if it is much smaller than a real aeroplane and has none of its complex control systems.

Simulation is a particular type of modelling. Simulations have “inputs” entered by the researcher and “outputs” which are observed as simulation runs. Simulation is therefore akin to an experimental methodology. One can set up a simulation model and then execute it many times, varying the conditions in which it runs and thus exploring the effects of different parameters. However, while simulation has similarities with experimentation, it is not the same. The major difference is that while in an experiment one is controlling the actual object of interest, in a simulation one is experimenting with a model rather than the phenomenon itself.

(Source: Gilbert & Troitzsch (2005), Chapter 1)


This work was funded by a NERC Postgraduate and Professional Skills Development Award.

Course Authors

Dr. Christof Knoeri
Dr. Jonathan Busch
Dr. Catherine Bale