Methodological issues of spatial agent-based models

Steven Manson, Li An, Keith C. Clarke, Alison Heppenstall, Jennifer Koch, Brittany Krzyzanowski, Fraser Morgan, David O’sullivan, Bryan C. Runck, Eric Shook, Leigh Tesfatsion

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Agent based modeling (ABM) is a standard tool that is useful across many disciplines. Despite widespread and mounting interest in ABM, even broader adoption has been hindered by a set of methodological challenges that run from issues around basic tools to the need for a more complete conceptual foundation for the approach. After several decades of progress, ABMs remain difficult to develop and use for many students, scholars, and policy makers. This difficulty holds especially true for models designed to represent spatial patterns and processes across a broad range of human, natural, and human-environment systems. In this paper, we describe the methodological challenges facing further development and use of spatial ABM (SABM) and suggest some potential solutions from multiple disciplines. We first define SABM to narrow our object of inquiry, and then explore how spatiality is a source of both advantages and challenges. We examine how time interacts with space in models and delve into issues of model development in general and modeling frameworks and tools specifically. We draw on lessons and insights from fields with a history of ABM contributions, including economics, ecology, geography, ecology, anthropology, and spatial science with the goal of identifying promising ways forward for this powerful means of modeling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work is supported in part by the United States National Science Foundation (NSF) Method, Measure & Statistics (MMS) and Geography and Spatial Sciences (GSS) programs (BCS #1638446); the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-supported Minnesota Population Center (R24 HD041023); NIH National Spatiotemporal Population Research Infrastructure (2R01HD057929-11); ESRC-Alan Turing Fellowship (ES/R007918/1); and the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (C09X1307). The authors gratefully acknowledge comments and input from the participants of Methodological Issues of Spatial ABMs Workshop at the ABM 17 Symposium ( and the assistance of the editor and anonymous reviewers. Responsibility for the opinions expressed herein is solely that of the authors.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, University of Surrey. All rights reserved.


  • Agent-based model
  • Human-environment systems
  • Methods
  • Spatial


Dive into the research topics of 'Methodological issues of spatial agent-based models'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this