Stockholm university

Are there plenty of fish in the sea? New studies take on societal challenges

Cross-disciplinary research can lead to new types of solutions to societal problems. Nanda Wijermans is up for the challenge. With a strong background in human behaviour and sustainability, she is now looking forward to collaborate with new colleagues in computer and systems sciences.

Genre photo of fish in a bucket. Photo: Jairo Alzate/Unsplash.
Nanda Wijermans is soon off to study fishers and sustainable resource use in Colombia. Photo: Jairo Alzate/Unsplash.

Nanda Wijermans is a researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC), Stockholm University. In October 2022, she was promoted to associate professor in computer and systems sciences, thus linked to the Department of Computer and Systems Sciences (DSV) at Stockholm University.

“I am very excited about my new association with DSV. On an institutional level, I think there are many overlapping interests between SRC and DSV. They could lead to relevant student projects, collaborations and joint research projects. I’m keen to explore and support bridging that”, says Nanda Wijermans.

She is also interested in getting to know more DSV researchers in her new role.

“Are there more people who share my interests in formalising human behaviour, sustainability science and mixed methods research – using qualitative and quantitative data? I am happy to meet the faculty at DSV and look forward to what it may will lead to”, she says.

Portrait photo of Nanda Wijermans. Photo: Cato Lein/Institute for Future Studies.
Nanda Wijermans. Photo: Cato Lein/Institute for Future Studies.

Human behaviour and societal challenges

People and their behaviour are at the centre of Nanda Wijermans’s research attention. She specialises in formalising group behaviour in different contexts – for example in crowds or in natural resource management.

“What I bring to the table is a combination of interdisciplinary skills to engage with different experts, theories, and qualitative and quantitative data to advance our understanding of human behaviour. I often do fundamental research while having a societal challenge in mind.”

We all have assumptions about human behaviour, and one way to challenge these in research is to perform social simulations.

“Simulations are a great means to make the unspoken explicit, but also to experience understanding rather than reading or listening. Simulations can complement the way we engage in problem-oriented science”, Wijermans says.

In one of her current projects, she builds a model of a fishery with the help of relational philosophy. The purpose is to explore how far science can get by adopting a new way of looking at systems in terms of relations and doings, rather than entities and beings. In another model she explores how people are affected by risks and norms and how we collectively navigate pending disasters like pandemics or climate change events.

Field work at sea

Nanda Wijermans is now eager to collect data for developing a simulation model of collective sustainable resource use. She will do this by studying fishers at the Colombian Pacific Coast.

“I am excited and feel extremely privileged about doing field work in Colombia in December. I will collect data to formalise ways in which perception of ecological change may affect how natural resources are used. The project is called AgentEx and combines agent-based modelling and controlled behavioural experiments to advance our understanding of when and how we are collectively able to sustain common pool resources – as we have in fisheries, forestry, and agriculture.”

Wijermans elaborates on what insights she hopes to obtain:

“When do fishers perceive change in the fish stock? If they perceive change, how do they attribute this? And how does that affect their future behaviour? These are the questions I will explore. For me, this will be my research highlight of the year: A deep dive into one project, with amazing colleagues in a completely different space”.

But before travelling to Colombia, Nanda Wijermans will introduce herself and her research to the DSV faculty at a seminar on November 16.

Simulations show possible scenarios

She already has an ongoing collaboration with one person at DSV: associate professor Harko Verhagen. They have been working and writing papers together for a few years and are also both members of the management committee at ESSA, the European Social Simulation Association.

“ESSA is an important and interesting organisation. Some 100 researchers from 30 countries are members, and together we discuss and improve social simulation models. These models can be used to simulate what will happen if a new set of rules is implemented. Simulations show the consequences for citizens, which is important input for politicians and policymakers who make decisions”, says Harko Verhagen, DSV.

Portrait photo of Harko Verhagen. Photo: Åse Karlén.
Harko Verhagen. Photo: Åse Karlén.

He was recently elected as the new president of ESSA for the coming two years. ESSA organizes yearly conferences and other events, offering financial support to PhD students who would like to participate.

“As the president of ESSA, I will continue the work to improve the quality of simulation models and also to make the scientific process more reliable and transparent.”

Sustainability on the agenda

Verhagen is very happy about Nanda Wijermans’s new association with DSV. He thinks that her expertise will make a great complement to the department’s knowledge base.

“Nanda’s research is in close contact with reality, for example with small-scale, sustainable fisheries. So far, sustainability has not been on top of the research and education agenda at DSV. But given the state of the world, we ought to address it more. I hope that Nanda will help inspire us, and that her association with DSV will also open doors to other research areas at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. It would be great if DSV could contribute more to a sustainable society”, says Harko Verhagen.

A shorter version of this article is available in Swedish

More about the research

Nanda Wijermans will present her research during a seminar at DSV on November 16, 2022. The theme is “Agents for simulating social complexity: Increasing behavioural realism of agent decision-making”. A Zoom link is provided to those who wish to join digitally.

Read about the research seminar

More information on Nanda Wijermans is available on the Stockholm Resilience Centre website

She also works for the Institute for Future Studies

Read about Harko Verhagen

More information on ESSA, European Social Simulation Association

Explore DSV, the Department of Computer and Systems Sciences

Text: Åse Karlén