Thursday, April 11, 2024

Addressing equifinality in agent-based modeling

In the past we have blogged about the challenges of agent-based modeling but one thing we have not written much about is the challenge of uncertainty especailly when it comes to model calibration. This uncertainty is a challenge when it when it comes to situations where various parameter sets fit observed data equally well. This is known as equifinality which is a principle or phenomenon in system theory that implies that different paths can lead to the same final state or outcome. 

In a new paper with paper with Moongi Choi, Neng Wan, Simon Brewer, Thomas Cova and Alexander Hohl entitled "Addressing Equifinality in Agent-based Modeling: A Sequential Parameter Space Search Method Based on Sensitivity Analysis" we explore this issue. More specifically we introduce an Sequential Parameter Space Search (SPS) algorithm to confront the equifinality challenge in calibrating fine-scale agent-based simulations with coarse-scale observed geospatial data, ensuring accurate model selection using a pedestrian movement simulation as a test case.  

If this sounds of interest and you want to find out more, below you can read the abstract to the paper, see the logic of our simulation and some of the results. At the bottom of the page, you can find a link to the paper along with its full reference. Furthermore, Moongi has made the data and codes for indoor pedestrian movement simulation and Sequential Parameter Space search algorithm openly available at and


This study addresses the challenge of equifinality in agent-based modeling (ABM) by introducing a novel sequential calibration approach. Equifinality arises when multiple models equally fit observed data, risking the selection of an inaccurate model. In the context of ABM, such a situation might arise due to limitations in data, such as aggregating observations into coarse spatial units. It can lead to situations where successfully calibrated model parameters may still result in reliability issues due to uncertainties in accurately calibrating the inner mechanisms. To tackle this, we propose a method that sequentially calibrates model parameters using diverse outcomes from multiple datasets. The method aims to identify optimal parameter combinations while mitigating computational intensity. We validate our approach through indoor pedestrian movement simulation, utilizing three distinct outcomes: (1) the count of grid cells crossed by individuals, (2) the number of people in each grid cell over time (fine grid) and (3) the number of people in each grid cell over time (coarse grid). As a result, the optimal calibrated parameter combinations were selected based on high test accuracy to avoid overfitting. This method addresses equifinality while reducing computational intensity of parameter calibration for spatially explicit models, as well as ABM in general. 

Keywords: Agent-based modeling equifinality calibration sequential calibration approach sensitivity analysis.

Detail model structures and process of the simulation.
Pedestrian simulation ((a) Position by ID, Grouped proportion – (b) 0.1, (c) 0.5, (d) 0.9).
Multiple sub-observed data ((a) # grid cells passed by each individual, (b) # individuals in 1x1 grid, (c) # individuals in 2x2 grid cells).

Validation results with train and test dataset ((a) Round 1, (b) Round 2, (c) Round 3).

Full Reference: 

Choi, M., Crooks, A.T., Wan, N., Brewer, S., Cova, T.J. and Hohl, A. (2024), Addressing Equifinality in Agent-based Modeling: A Sequential Parameter Space Search Method Based on Sensitivity Analysis, International Journal of Geographical Information Science. (pdf)

No comments: