Introducing Agency into Water Resource Simulation Models

Submitted by Sukaina Bharwani | published 25th Mar 2011 | last updated 30th Mar 2011

Making WEAP actor-oriented

Human-environment interactions and feedback are essential to consider in IWRM research particularly where we are concerned with adaptive water management in the context of dynamic vulnerabilities, which will change unpredictably, over time. The heterogeneity in the behaviour of individual actors requires a 'dynamic' representation of the cumulative influence of individual water use decisions at the local level to enhance the quality of information used in developing integrated water management plans. This must take into account the context in which individual water users operate.

We propose that in the context of a water model, such as WEAP, this could be accomplished by incorporating an agent based model to include social and environmental feedback in the context of the simulated state of the water supply system. This document describes a WEAP model of the Guadiana basin, with some hypothetical future scenarios. Socio-economic data that could be integrated within WEAP will be described and methods which might follow to create such an agent-based extension are documented. The benefit of such an approach is that it may improve both agent based social simulations which highly abstract environmental and hydrological processes, as well as ‘water evaluation and planning’ models such as WEAP which eliminate behavioural social processes altogether.

Water resource models

Typically water resources systems models assume that water demand is related solely to climatic factors and ignore the role of decisions taken by actors operating under differing objectives, perceptions and constraints. This heterogeneity poses a problem for water planners trying to develop equitable and sustainable water management plans in a river basin context. The Stockholm Environment Institute’s WEAP model is a comprehensive, easy to use water resources management tool, which supports the information and decision-making needs of water planners and stakeholders by trying to balance water supply and demand under various climatic and hydrologic conditions. It is distinguished by its integrative approach to simulating water resource systems and by its policy- and scenario-driven orientation. WEAP considers components on the demand side of the equation (e.g. water use patterns, equipment efficiencies, re-use, prices, hydropower, and irrigation) as well as the supply side (e.g. stream flow, groundwater, reservoirs, and water transfers). However, the model is limited by the fact that human-environment interactions and feedback as well as the impact of heterogeneity in the behaviour of individual actors on emergent water demand are not considered within the model design.

Improved methods for vulnerability assessment

It is anticipated that emergent water demand estimates based on a 'dynamic' representation of the cumulative influence of individual water use decisions at the local level will enhance the quality of information used in developing integrated water management plans, since the context in which individual water users operate will be considered in the analysis. This will be accomplished by replacing traditional ‘demand nodes’ in WEAP which are based on climate forcing, with an agent based model where the actions of the agents are determined by numerous endogenous and exogenous factors including the socio-economic context as well as the simulated state of the water supply system.

In the agent based modelling paradigm, an agent is a self-contained entity which can control its own actions, based on its perceptions of its environment. The aim of agent design is to create entities, which can for example be individuals, households or institutions, which interact intelligently with their environment responding to signals that are drivers in their decision-making behaviour. These drivers can be identified from empirical observation of the target system, using participatory techniques. The social aspect of agent behaviour means that agents do not succeed or fail based solely on their own characteristics and constraints but additionally on their social networks, while agent activities can also take place against a backdrop of global environmental change. For instance, agents can act based on long-term or short-term climate predictions which will affect access to water resources or water management regimes. Agent based programming can be distinguished from procedural programming in its explicit representation of stakeholders, as agents, and this close correlation between the modelled agents and real actors provides an opportunity for the involvement of stakeholders in the validation of the model. The agent-based modelling process also allows the sharing of viewpoints between stakeholders and actors participating in the model building process and the testing of system perceptions.

First steps for the future of water resource models

The development of WEAP to include an actor-oriented framework is, we believe, a timely and necessary innovation to address current challenges in our field in bridging science and policy. This idea has great relevance for policy and development precisely because it interfaces between the social and physical sciences in a way that facilitates and necessitates communication between the two domains. The transition to an actor-oriented framework – that is, from qualitative data regarding vulnerability to more quantitative data which can represented in a formal model – can be aided by various methods. Our approach is to use an exploratory ‘adaptation-risk screening’ approach to gain an understanding of the issues involved and the vulnerability under study and then a more structured approach using tools for knowledge elicitation (KnETs) which aid the transition from qualitative to quantitative knowledge.

  • Agent-based modelling based on a stylised model - Takeshi Takama Stockholm Environment Institute, UK.
  • Documentation of Groundwater Agent-based Model - Richard Taylor Centre for Policy Modelling, Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Exploring the vulnerability of economic actors within a stylised framework - Jörg Krywkow (UTW)
  • Guadiana WEAP workshop report - Consuelo Varela Ortega Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain.
  • Water Resources And Irrigation Agriculture In Spain: The Policy And Socio-Economic Framework in the Guadiana Basin - Consuelo Varela Ortega Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, Spain.
  • WEAP+: Toward a linked analysis - Tom Downing, Takeshi Takama, Sukaina Bharwani, Stockholm Environment Institute, UK.
  • Knowledge Elicitation Tools (KnETs): Guidelines for Use - Sukaina Bharwani and Michael Fischer Stockholm Environment Institute, UK.
  • Knowledge Elicitation Tools (KnETs) – Sukaina Bharwani and Michael Fischer, Stockholm Environment Institute, UK.
  • NeWater Working Paper 2 – Ionescu, C., R.J.T. Klein, J. Hinkel, K.S. Kavi Kumar and R.Klein, 2005: Towards a Formal Framework of Vulnerability to Climate Change. NeWater Working Paper 2 and FAVAIA Working Paper 1, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany, ii+20 pp.
  • Public Participation and Adaptive Water Management - Assessing the role of System Dynamic Models in the Upper Guadiana Basin in Spain - Chiara Sorisi, Stockholm Environment Institute, UK.
  • Tana WEAP-ABM proposal. Micro-finance for landscape protection to manage energy-water systems. Richard Taylor Stockholm Environment Institute, UK.

--Sukaina Bharwani 16:18, 18 February 2009 (CET)