Population Change and Lifecourse

2011 Seminar on Dynamic Computer Modeling

On the Varieties of Computer Modeling: A Toolbox Approach to Analysis and Decision Making

Holiday Inn Plaza La Chaudière
2 Montcalm Street, Gatineau
28 September 2011


This seminar provides a general introduction to computer modeling as a methodology; along with descriptions and illustrations of the large variety of computer modeling tools available to researchers and policy analysts.  These range from conceptual or visual models, through simple spreadsheet or mathematical models, to large, complex microsimulation models.

A central theme of the seminar is that computer models are tools to aid our thinking not substitutes for thought.  And, as with any toolbox, best practice will select the tool most appropriate to the particular purpose at hand, taking into account various constraints such as time, money, and expertise.  In computer modeling as in shoes, 'no one size fits all.'

The seminar covers three broad topics:

  1. the nature and uses of computer modeling;
  2. user-friendly computer modeling software, with an emphasis on dynamic systems models ['top down modeling'];
  3. microsimulation, or 'bottom-up' modeling such as agent-based modeling.


  1. The nature and uses of computer modeling.
    1. What is a model, a computer model?
    2. Types of models: physical; conceptual/verbal; visual; mathematical; systems or process models; deterministic vs. probabilistic models; multivariate statistical models;
    3. Uses of models: description; explanation; prediction; developing insight/intuition; policy formulation; etc.
    4. The toolbox approach to modeling: choosing the right tool for a particular job.
  2. Some user-friendly modeling tools.
    1. Speadsheets
    2. Mathematics software
      1. Mathematica; Mathcad
    3. Systems dynamics modeling software
      1. Vensim; Berkeley Madonna; Goldsim
  3. Microsimulation.
    1. Nature and uses of microsimulation.
    2. Pros and cons.
    3. Combining micro and macro modeling


8:15-8:45 Breakfast
8:45-9:30 Introduction to Computer Modeling Thomas K. Burch
9:30-9:45 Discussion
9:45-10:30 Some User-friendly Computer Modeling Software for Macrosimulation Thomas K. Burch
10:30-10:45 Discussion
10:45-10:55 Break
10:55-11:40 Microsimulation Michael Wolfson
11:40-12:00 Notes from a User of Lifepaths Jacques Legaré
12:00-12:30 Summary and discussion Thomas K. Burch

Resource Materials

Here are some of the resource materials used at this seminar

Documents from 2010 Cluster Workshop on Microsimulation

  1. Alain Belanger, On Teaching Micro-simulation
  2. Govert Bijwaard, Micro-simulation in Europe
  3. Jutta Gampe, Micro-simulation in Europe

Documents Prepared for this Workshop

  1. Yann Décarie, Michaël Boissonneault, Jacques Légaré, An Inventory of Canadian Microsimulation Models. Also available as SEDAP Research Paper No. 298
  2. What's new in 2011 at Statistics Canada - microsimulation related to Population, Health and Lifecourse
  3. Jacques Légaré, Thoughts from a user of results of Statistics Canada’s LifePaths Microsimulation Model