Novel participatory methods for co-building an agent-based model of physical activity with youth

PLoS One. 2020 Nov 10;15(11):e0241108. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0241108. eCollection 2020.


Public health scholarship has increasingly called for the use of system science approaches to understand complex problems, including the use of participatory engagement to inform the modeling process. Some system science traditions, specifically system dynamics modeling, have an established participatory practice tradition. Yet, there remains limited guidance on engagement strategies using other modeling approaches like agent-based models. Our objective is to describe how we engaged adolescent youth in co-building an agent-based model about physical activity. Specifically, we aim to describe how we communicated technical aspects of agent-based models, the participatory activities we developed, and the resulting visual diagrams that were produced. We implemented six sessions with nine adolescent participants. To make technical aspects more accessible, we used an analogy that linked core components of agent-based models to elements of storytelling. We also implemented novel, facilitated activities that engaged youth in the development, annotation, and review of graphs over time, geographical maps, and state charts. The process was well-received by the participants and helped inform the basic structure of an agent-based model. The resulting visual diagrams created space for deeper discussion among participants about patterns of daily activity, important places for physical activity, and interactions between social and built environments. This work lays a foundation to develop and refine engagement strategies, especially for translating qualitative insights into quantitative model specifications such as 'decision rules'.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Public Health / methods
  • Systems Analysis