Complexity and uncertainty: Rethinking the modelling activity

M. Brugnach, C. Pahl-Wostl, K.E. Lindenschmidt, J.A.E.B. Janssen, T. Filatova, A. Mouton, G. Holtz, P. van der Keur, N. Gaber

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in bookResearchpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


The complexity and uncertainty inherent in environmental models must be considered and managed in an appropriate manner. This chapter presents a conceptual approach to deal with uncertainty, which considers the context of the purpose for which the model is developed. The four major modelling purposes identified - prediction, exploratory analysis, communication and learning - each focus on different modelling characteristics and roles of uncertainty. The notion of uncertainty is broadened, from being an attribute associated with the quality of information to also comprise modellers' beliefs and experiences. The chapter proposes ways in which uncertainty should be handled for each of the four modelling purposes and presents examples that illustrate the concepts. Various sources of uncertainty are considered relevant when modelling complex systems, and each source manifests differently in the data, structure or frame of the model.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEnvironmental modelling, software and decision support
EditorsA.J. Jakeman, A.A. Voinov, A.E. Rizzoli, S.H. Chen
Number of pages20
ISBN (Print)978-0-08-056886-7
Publication statusPublished - 2008

Publication series

SeriesDevelopments in Integrated Environmental Assessment


  • complexity
  • uncertainty management
  • uncertainty sources

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 2: Water Resources


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