Agent-based modeling as a tool for program design and evaluation

Eval Program Plann. 2017 Dec;65:131-138. doi: 10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2017.08.015. Epub 2017 Aug 30.


Recently, systems thinking and systems science approaches have gained popularity in the field of evaluation; however, there has been relatively little exploration of how evaluators could use quantitative tools to assist in the implementation of systems approaches therein. The purpose of this paper is to explore potential uses of one such quantitative tool, agent-based modeling, in evaluation practice. To this end, we define agent-based modeling and offer potential uses for it in typical evaluation activities, including: engaging stakeholders, selecting an intervention, modeling program theory, setting performance targets, and interpreting evaluation results. We provide demonstrative examples from published agent-based modeling efforts both inside and outside the field of evaluation for each of the evaluative activities discussed. We further describe potential pitfalls of this tool and offer cautions for evaluators who may chose to implement it in their practice. Finally, the article concludes with a discussion of the future of agent-based modeling in evaluation practice and a call for more formal exploration of this tool as well as other approaches to simulation modeling in the field.

Keywords: Agent-based modeling; Complexity; Evaluation practice; Systems.

MeSH terms

  • Program Evaluation / methods*
  • Systems Analysis*