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A philosophical analysis of agent-based modelling: a new tool for theory development in nursing

Authors

  • Christine A. Anderson,

    1. Christine A. Anderson PhD RN Clinical Instructor School of Nursing, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
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  • Ann L. Whall

    1. Ann L. Whall PhD RN FAAN
      Allesee Endowed Chair
      School of Nursing, Oakland University, Rochester, Michigan, USA, and
      Professor Emerita
      The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
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C.A. Anderson: e-mail: fauve@med.umich.edu

Abstract

anderson c.a. & whall a.l. (2011) A philosophical analysis of agent-based modelling: a new tool for theory development in nursing. Journal of Advanced Nursing67(4), 904–914.

Abstract

Aim.  In this paper we present a discussion of the nature of agent-based modelling from nursing’s philosophical perspectives and truth criteria as a means of evaluating this methodological tool’s disciplinary fit.

Background.  Agent-based modelling is a new methodological tool used to study complex systems. Researchers from a multitude of disciplines are using agent-based models to enhance understanding of problems that transcend disciplinary and geographical boundaries. Because of the growing interest in complexity science in the discipline of nursing, this new tool may prove useful for nurses engaged in research and theory development.

Data sources.  Electronic indexes and iterative bibliographic searches were used to identify papers, books and abstracts addressing agent-based modelling. In order to trace the emergence of the topic in the literature, date limiting parameters were not used. Selected studies from the international literature were limited to English language reports in the social sciences. The work was completed in 2008.

Discussion.  Recurrent themes concerning the use of agent-base modelling include heterogeneity, dynamics, adaption, emergence and ‘bridging’. The themes were congruent with philosophical views and metanarratives in nursing.

Implications for nursing.  Agent-based models offer practical advantages in the pursuit of new knowledge, including the ability to pilot research studies using simulation or to visualize potential practice changes prior to implementation.

Conclusion.  The use of agent-based modelling as tool for nursing theory development, should be expanded. As nurses and other researchers become more familiar with the use of these models, methodological critique will contribute to the development of increasingly valid models.

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