Call for Projects

Systems Analysis Forum

2015 Call for Exploratory Projects


IIASA’s Systems Analysis Forum (SAF) facilitates and catalyzes methodological research at IIASA. IIASA’s mission “to find solutions to global problems for the benefit of humankind” requires continuous innovation in, and matching investments into, the body of scientific approaches, methods, and tools. The instrument of SAF exploratory projects, inaugurated in 2013, is devised to stimulate cutting-edge innovative studies in light of rising levels of data availability and problem complexity underlying contemporary global and universal challenges. These small-scale projects promote methodological advances that push the envelope of scientific excellence in systems analysis at an international level, introduce new approaches broadening IIASA’s systems-analysis capabilities, and/or innovatively demonstrate the applicability of promising methods to new targets. Some of these projects may – and are even expected to – be high-risk/high-gain.

The 2015 call for SAF exploratory projects is framed in terms of the themes that have emerged through the extensive consultative process for designing the Systems Analysis 2015 conference. On this basis, proposals for SAF exploratory projects are invited from IIASA teams in collaboration with external (non-IIASA) researchers. These researchers may, in particular, include external speakers and participants of the Systems Analysis 2015 conference. The call’s details are specified below.


The following five themes from the Systems Analysis 2015 conference provide guidance for the scope of exploratory projects solicited through this call:

Trans-disciplinary inspiration in systems thinking. Projects could capitalize on the diversity of conceptual approaches that different fields of natural and social science have developed for defining and analyzing systems. Promoting trans-disciplinary inspiration in systems thinking, projects could draw on alternative systems perspectives across research areas as disparate as neuroscience, quantum theory, engineering sciences, ecology, economics, psychology, sociology, and computer science, focusing on key ideas concerning system elements, system interconnectedness, system boundaries, and system dynamics.

The art and craft of systems analysis. Both art and craft are involved in all major steps of systems analysis – from posing a specific research question, to specifying the assumptions underlying a model, to transforming those assumptions into mathematical or computational form, and to representing and communicating the results. Projects could build on the creative tensions inherent in this process by touching on the following questions. What modern approaches can be recommended for model selection, calibration, and validation? How are systems boundaries best to be defined, emergent phenomena tackled, robustness checks designed, and validity limits delineated? How can multiple models be compared, interfaced, and integrated? In any of these regards, are best-practice recommendations becoming available that the project could develop further to help delineate a safe operating space for systems analysis?

New methods for understanding complex systems. The system analyst’s tool chest can be expanded in three ways: by taking advantage of as-yet untapped advances in mathematics and computer science, by the gradual honing of tools applied and developed in a disciplinary context, and by the aforementioned transdisciplinary innovation and cross-fertilization. Projects could therefore be based on a horizon scan of new methods and approaches that have potential for strengthening systems analysis in the 21st century.

Addressing diversity in social systems. Scientific insights into global transformations invariably require accounting for a plurality of stakeholder groups and interests. Contemporary applications of systems analysis are breaking new ground by explicitly incorporating such diversity, as well as the associated complexity of human behavior. Participatory processes engaging stakeholders and policy makers in the whole cycle of designing and implementing research have proven invaluable for promoting a wider acceptance of scientific analyses. The interfacing of science with art is also increasingly recognized as a powerful conduit for reaching broader audiences. Projects could elaborate on these developments, e.g., by focusing on methodological approaches that facilitate stakeholder involvement and promote accounting for stakeholder diversity.

Devising integrated solutions. Systems-based models have been used to analyze and compare alternative policy options at various levels of governance. Governmental and international organizations have been customers of these analyses. Projects could develop a methodological angle on these science-for-policy challenges and reflect on best practices for successfully structuring the communication between scientists, decision-makers, and the public.

More specifically, according to the IIASA Research Plan 2016-2020, methodological challenges of contemporary systems analysis include decentralized decision-making and bounded rationality, compounding uncertainties and systemic risks, nonlinearities and regime shifts, social interactions and collective phenomena, spatial hierarchies and network dynamics, synergisms and antagonisms across multiple objectives, as well as innovative scientific visualization and communication. In the Systems Analysis 2015 conference program, this summary is complemented by highlighting nonlinearities and path dependence, surprises and tipping points, process uncertainty and model uncertainty, macroscopic patterns emerging from microscopic processes, massive availability of highly multivariate yet often unstructured and imprecise data, bounded rationality driving exchanges among social and economic actors, and impacts cascading across extended and interconnected networks. While these lists are indicative and not meant to be exhaustive, the mentioned challenges are well suited to inspire the design of projects.


SAF exploratory projects should cut across at least two IIASA Research Programs, involve leading external experts, be innovative in methodology and/or application, and provide a basis for further collaboration beyond this call. Projects should have an indicative budget of up to 60,000 Euros and a duration of up to one year.


Teams should submit project proposals to Pavel Kabat via email by 31 January 2016. The proposals should not exceed 1,000 words and include the following headings:

  • Title
  • Team (IIASA and external)
  • Goal
  • Duration
  • Budget (broken down into specific costs)
  • Background
  • Methodology (the novelty should be highlighted)
  • Research plan (broken down into tasks)
  • Expected outcome and future strategy


The 2015 call for SAF exploratory projects is again planned to support about five projects. The selection of projects will be coordinated by Pavel Kabat, based on consultations with internal and external experts. Decisions about the projects to be supported will be finalized by 1 March 2016. Projects can start as of 1 April 2016.