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The Non-Equilibrium Social Science group (NESS)

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In November 2011, our co-ordinated action on Non-Equilibrium Social Science (NESS) received a three year grant from the Commission.

The purpose of NESS ( is to try to ensure that the social sciences are put on a proper footing for the 21st century. A key focus of the group is economics, where the equilibrium approach (though dominant) struggles to capture the economic realities we observe in the world today. But we are interested in all the social sciences.

The Real World Economics Association Newsletter was good enough to carry a piece about NESS shortly after the project started (see p.4 of Issue 2.1).  It is now in its final year, and time for an update.

The topics we have discussed in conferences and workshops have been wide ranging.  Full details are available on the NESS website.  But examples which give a flavour include:  economics for the internet; NESS for policy and business; the concept of agency in complex information systems; re-evaluating the concept of value; standards for validating agent based and social simulation models; media opinion dynamics; macro prudential policy.

We have evolved the style of our meetings. The initial style of the meetings was the more traditional conference format, in which people presented papers, followed by discussion.  Our timetables were more generous than in most conferences, but the meetings were run along standard lines.

We now focus on small workshops, in which individual presentations are limited to around 10 minutes.  The purpose is to facilitate active discussion amongst all participants, and to produce from the meeting a positive document about how to take the particular topic further.  Researchers involved in innovative social science might consider this format.  We need as a community to move things forward, rather than simply having interesting conferences amongst those who have already ‘see the light’ on the need for non-equilibrium social science.

A very positive outcome has been the way in which other groups have welcomed collaboration with NESS.  We have used small amounts of the project money to help finance a number of meetings, which has certainly widened the network of non-equilibrium social science researchers.  For example, the Firenze Manifesto group.  Other examples include the Simulating Knowledge in Innovation Networks group (SKIN), and sessions organised at the European Conference on Complex Systems in both 2013 and 2014.

Such sponsorship has proved to give extremely good value for money in terms of achieving the aims of NESS and has connected us to groups of researchers which might otherwise have been hard to reach.  There may still be a bit of money left for more!

The current project comes to an end in December this year, but we are keen to keep a grouping of this kind in operation.  There are several possibilities at the moment, so watch this space.

       From: p.12 of World Economics Association Newsletter 4(2), April 2014

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