A model is a representation and an abstraction that can be used in investigating and understanding how things work.
This is the definition of “model” that Greg Hill and I use in our E&S paper (in press).
Here are a few sources for this approach:
- “Models are representations and models are compressions.” (Letiche et al. 2011)
- “Models describe how things work, whereas theories explain phenomena.” (Rapoport 1985, as cited in Berkes and Folke 1998)
- “A model is a work object… A model is worked, and it does work.” (Haraway 2016)
In this sense, models are not necessarily mathematical, empirical, or predictive. Rather, they are conceptual tools that may aid in developing insights, identifying questions, and guiding strategic practice. See this post on uses of scientific models.
- I like to pair the famous quip by Box and Draper (1987), “all models are wrong, but some are useful,” with a counterpoint by Holling et al. (2002) that mental models are “not wrong, just incomplete.” Similarly, Leonard and Clemson (1984) wrote, “Any two different perspectives (or models) about a system will reveal truths about that system that are neither entirely independent nor entirely compatible.”
- With regard to the word “representation,” in the definition at top, “a model is a representation and an abstraction,” I’m thinking also of fictional representation or even misrepresentation. See, for example, Frigg (2010) Models and Fiction (pdf).
- This gallery is a work in progress. Your favorite model missing? Other thoughts? Please get in touch: howard AT solvingforpattern DOT org or in the comment thread below.
- These images are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Many of them are by me; some of the better ones are by design friends Wade Larsen and Andrew Fuller.
- My shortlist of additional references on models:
- Frigg, R. and S. Hartmann. 2012. Models in science. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
- Holland, J. H., et al. 1987. Induction: processes of inference, learning, and discovery.
- Page, S. E. 2014. Model thinking. Coursera.
- Rosen, R. 1991/2005. Life Itself. Columbia University Press.
- Zellmer, A. J., et al. 2006. The nature of ecological complexity: A protocol for building the narrative. Ecological Complexity (pdf).