ESSA@work is a meeting concept where any modeller can receive and give support on simulation work in progress. There are different ways ESSA@work can be organised. In all Social Simulation Conferences there are ESSA@work tracks integrated with the conference tracks. Another format is the local ESSA@work workshop, where a group of modellers meet for a few consecutive days. In all ESSA@work formats, a group of participants and experts discuss and provide feedback on the simulation projects of the individual participants (presentation phase) and well as zoom in on topics or questions that arise during the presentation phase (discussion phase). The combination of the involved people, hands-on experts and cutting edge research combined with a good atmosphere make the meetings very valuable for all participants.
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The meeting consists of participants and (one or more) experts. The participants can be anyone working on a social simulation project. The level of experience and academic ranking are no criteria for the group composition – everyone is welcome. Each participant brings his or her own discipline, project, questions, and experience to the group. The diversity of disciplines, experiences and the work discussed provide insights that can be stimulating, refreshing and moves work forward. The participants are thus all peers that make up a unique support group. The experts are academics invited to guarantee methodological support for the participants. An expert is a researcher with profound expertise in (social) simulation and/or related research and is selected according to the preferences and research foci of the participants. Most importantly, the experts give constructive feedback and maintain a supportive atmosphere.
The meeting concerns hands-on simulation work – meaning that you can discuss your work at any stage of your simulation project . This includes rough ideas in the very beginning, hands-on ‘how-to’ discussions about formalising, validation, experimentation or data analysis during your project, i.e. the design, building or validation stages of model development.
Different to a ‘standard’ presentation at a conference, you are not ‘selling’ your work, but ask for the contribution of peers. For instance, when you communicate your results, you do this to discuss/reflect on ’what you can learn from your results’. The aim is to improve the quality of your work, to be able to discuss your thoughts and ideas with people that travel with you into the depths of your code or model when necessary. The clearer you communicate about your work and formulate your questions, the more you get out of it. You should go home with an idea/decision/plan to continue your work, having made a step forward.
A good atmosphere is very important for the quality of the meeting. To be in a (new) group where you share your work before everything is thought trough can feel a little risky. This endeavour might take some mental hurdles to overcome when discussing your work that is not ‘finished’ yet. However, asking and receiving support in the process of developing your work is crucial:
– you win time by not reinventing the wheel,
– you get in touch with people that are valuable for your work,
– you make progress in a quite short amount of time,
– you get new inspiration
– AND gain very much stimulation and fun!
To ensure the good atmosphere, we moderate the meeting. In the end, however, atmosphere is the task of us all. Being part of this group does not mean to lean back and consume, but to actively participate. In other words, being interested and open to new/different ideas, listening to each other, engaging in discussions, asking for clarification and, very importantly, always giving constructive feedback. This is the spirit in which our group functions and succeeds.
ESSA@work originates from a group “simsoc@work” of newbies in social simulation. While attending an introductory course on social simulation in 2007, we realised how valuable these hands-on simulation development discussions and support were. The reason is quite obvious: everyone of us works in a different discipline surrounded by (mostly) non-modellers. Apart from the fact that our research environment did not always understand why you would possibly want to use a computer simulation in the first place, the support was limited to their expertise and that is quite frankly not always enough. To establish a certain quality, avoid wasting time by re-inventing the wheel, we decided to create this critically-minded support group. Since its foundation, the group has existed in the form of monthly online meetings, half yearly face-to-face meetings and any other shape of cooperation we feel necessary. “We”, in that sense, is also dynamic, as the group changes too. The original group grew from only a handful members to now about 50 members. Since our experience and the feedback from the 2012 participants has been so overwhelmingly positive, we want to extend the experience to others. Since 2013, we started to integrate ESSA@work in the annual conferences.