Building A Modelling Community


This document will inform the design of the Rich Internet Application being built by the modelling4all project team.

The excellent book Community Building on the Web by Amy Jo Kim will be used to guide the design:

This document will be updated regularly to reflect the evolving ideas of the design team.

From Community Building on the Web:
1. As a community designer, one of the most damaging mistakes you can make is to over-design your community up front and invest too heavily in a design paradigm or technology platform that can't easily be changed and updated. Successful, long-lasting communities almost always start off small, simple and focused, and then grow organically over time—adding breadth, depth and complexity in response to the changing needs of the members, and the changing conditions of the environment. Is the idea that here we will justify our preliminary choices?

2. Closely related to this idea is the second principle: Create and maintain feedback loops. Successful community building is a constant balancing act between the efforts of management (that's you) to plan, organize and run the space, and the ideas, suggestions and needs of your members. To manage this co-evolution, you'll need to keep your finger on the community pulse — and you'll do this by creating and maintaining feedback loops between members and management. These loops will keep you in touch with what your members are saying and doing, and give you the information you need to evolve and update your features and platform.

3. Empower your members over time. Initially, it's up to you to define your purpose, choose your feature set, and set a particular tone, but as your community grows and matures, your members can and should play a progressively larger role in building and maintaining the community culture. If you want to grow a large and thriving community, you'll need to develop a progressive strategy for leveraging the ideas and efforts of your members.

PURPOSE: The Heart of Your Community

Communities come to life when they fulfill an ongoing need in people's lives. To create a successful community, you'll need to first understand why you're building it and who you're building it for - and then express your vision in the design, navigation, technology and policies of your community.

What type of community am I building?

  • Learning/ research and teaching communities primarily aimed at University level education, but with the potential to be extended to schools.

Why am I building it?

  • To support the development of agent-based modelling skills amongst learners/ researchers and teachers
  • To support the sharing and 'publishing' of agent-based models by individuals and groups
  • To promote the activity of modelling (what is the core motivation behind modelling - its a huge amount of effort, what pushes people to make the effort?

Who am I building it for?

  • Formal taught courses in Universities and Colleges e.g. Economics (Schelling/ Sugar scape), Epidemiology (Spread of disease), Sociology (Extremism), Biology (flocking and shoals of fish), general science methodology e.g. building and testing models, why create models
  • Students with research and project assignments at universities, colleges and schools
  • Informal learners/ researchers at home

Return on investment (for Eduserv and Oxford):

* Number of users
* Endorsements by teachers
* Endorsements by students

Members needs:

1. To teach agent-based modelling
2. To get an appreciation of modelling
3. To create and explore a system
4. To explore a hypothesis
5. To provide technical and theory support in agent-based modelling classes
6. To illustrate the defects in a model or system description

Owners needs:

University of Oxford: support tutors in giving modelling courses that receive a positive evaluation by students
Eduserv foundation: provide publicly available web service for educational use
Mission statements (internal):
Build and maintain a rich-Internet application that supports:

  • The model creation process
  • The sharing and 'publication' of models
  • Interoperability with other information and communication technologies

Mission statements (external):

Educational resource for developing modelling literacy.


  • Observe, hypothesize, construct and validate
  • Wisdom of the crowd
  • Constructionist learning
  • Modelling literacy


  • Third-way of doing science
  • Constructionist learning
  • In-silica experimentation
  • Cognitive load
  • Creative-space
  • Telling-tales
  • Brand personality

PLACES: Bringing People Together

Wherever people gather together for a shared purpose, and start talking amongst themselves, a community can begin take root. Once you've defined your purpose, you'll want to build a flexible, small-scale infrastructure of gathering places, which you'll co-evolve along with your members.

Attracting people to the site:

  • Sign up to a mail alert or newsletter about the progress of the project
  • youtube movie about modelling
  • event in oxford
  • google mailing list
  • exemplar models
  • illustrate gap between voice and text descriptions of systems (possibly through LDs)
  • Opportunity to engage in discrete parts of modelling process e.g. hypothesis, programming, experimentation, documentation,

PROFILES: Getting to Know Your Members

You can get to know your members - and help them get to know each other - by developing robust, evolving and up-to-date member profiles. If handled with integrity, these profiles can help you build trust, foster relationships, and deliver personalized services - while infusing your community with a sense of history and context.

ROLES: From Newcomer to Old-timer

Addressing the needs of newcomers without alienating the regulars is an ongoing balancing act. As your community grows, it will become increasingly important to provide guidance to newcomers – while offering leadership, ownership and commerce opportunities to more experienced members.

Idea: We could use statistics about user activity to control what they can do. For instance be able to create models that successfully use a subset of microbehaviours could then be given access to a new library. This constrained access could aide learning, and motivate progression onto using more complex MBs.

LEADERSHIP: The Buck Stops Here

Community leaders are the fuel in your engine: they greet visitors, encourage newbies, teach classes, answer questions, and deal with trouble-makers before they destroy the fun for everyone else. An effective leadership program requires careful planning and ongoing management, but the results can be well worth the investment.

ETIQUETTE:Rules to Live By

Every community has it’s share of internal squabbling. If handled well, conflict can be invigorating - but disagreements often spin out of control, and tear a community apart. To avoid this, it’s crucial to develop some ground-rules for participation, and set up systems that allow you to enforce and evolve your community standards.

EVENTS: Meetings, Performances & Competitions

Communities come together around regular events: sitting down to dinner, going to church on Sunday, attending a monthly meeting or a yearly off-site. To develop a loyal following, and foster deeper relationships among your members, you'll want to establish regular on-line events, and help your members develop and run their own events.


RITUALS: Handshakes, Holidays & Rites of Passage

All communities use rituals to acknowledge their members, and celebrate important social transitions. By celebrating holiday marking seasonal changes, and integrating personal transitions and rites of passage, you’ll be laying the foundation for a true online culture.

SUBGROUPS: Committees, Clubs & Clans

If your goal is to grow a large-scale community, you'll want to provide enabling technologies to help your members create and run subgroups. It's a substantial undertaking — but this powerful feature can drive lasting member loyalty, and help to distinguish you community from it's competition.

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