Kirsten Wright

PhD student, University of Waterloo

Photo of Kirsten Wright
Kirsten Wright moved to Waterloo to go to school for engineering. Her background is in robotics and embedded systems and more recently she has worked in social innovation. She is an author of the leading manual for Social Innovation Labs and is currently finishing a PhD in Engineering, studying methods for measuring resilience in agent based models of social innovation. 

Here is a description of Kirsten's more recent work:

"In the study of ecological resilience, the formal language of basins of attraction within dynamical systems has yielded important insights about how systems retain their identity through transformation, or become open to change. Systems ranging from forest Savannah ecosystems to freshwater lakes display alternative stable regimes or patterns of behaviour driven by distinct dominant drivers. They can transition abruptly from forest to grassland, or clear to algae-dominated regimes.

Extending the approach to social systems has proven challenging, however. Frances Westley argues that social innovation can be understood in terms of resilience and opportunity, and the dynamical system model of alternative basins. Because agents can’t be represented in lumped differential equation models, those models can’t represent social innovation by strategic agents. The standard lumped differential equation models can’t represent agents making decisions.

Introducing agents is an important step towards formally modelling social innovation. In social systems, agents struggle to retain features of a system they want and change features they don’t. They navigate towards imagined futures based on ideas they hold. To model these agents, we must model agents attempting to change the system.

This work models the adoption of innovations by social groups, based on perceived benefit and probability of proposed interventions. Agents are embedded in a social network, and communicate their ideas to their network. Individuals and groups (defined in this case as clusters of individuals who are in communication and have similar opinions) decide to act based on their ideas about what is possible and what is desirable. Our central question is "Under what conditions will an innovation be adopted by a group?” It has the potential to give insight into the question of when do groups behave in a way that is informed by evidence, and how may decisions be interfered with, within a certain class of group decision making processes.

Evaluating the systems openness to change and the potential for social innovation involves evaluating systemic measures, like resilience and opportunity, in a high dimensional agent based model. I would use CoMSES for distributing and storing code (as well as potentially for analysis)."