Simulation Tools

International Futures

International Futures is a publicly accessible computer simulation tool that was developed by the University of Denver Josef Korbel School of International Studies. The IF is a flexible tool that consolidate extensive global datasets for many inter-related global variables such as energy, population, food, technology, economics, social policies, etc  required to simulate global trends meaningfully.

International Futures (IFs) with Pardee is a computer simulation of global systems for classroom or research use. It is a large-scale integrated global computer simulation of global systems for classroom or research use. The results from the model can be used to teach or study demographics, economics, food, energy, the environment, international politics and other such issue areas. It is especially suitable for analysis of sustainable development and for examining the human dimensions of global change.  The broad purpose of IFs is to serve as a thinking tool for the analysis of long-term country-specific, regional, and global futures across multiple, interacting issue areas. The center warns that users of this or any other computer simulations should always treat the forecasts as highly contingent scenarios, not as predictions. The following information is from the International Futures website explaining details of the model.

Figure 1: Screenshot of IF Tool


The design of the IF modeling tool is based on this question:

Given the goals of understanding human development systems and investigating the potential for human choice within them, how do we represent such systems in a formal, computer-based model?

Human systems consist of classes of agents and larger structures within which those agents interact.

  1. The structures normally account for a variety of stocks
  2. Stocks include classes such as: people, capital, natural resources, knowledge, culture, etc.and the flows that change those stocks
  3. Agents act on many of the flows, some of which are especially important in changing stock levels
  4. Stock level examples:  births, economic production, or technological innovation
  5. Over time agents and the larger structures evolve in processes of mutual influence and determination
Humans can exist and coexist within society in 3 ways:
  1. As an Individual – Personal development & rights & freedoms
  2. Within a Group – Peace, security, social fairness
  3. Coexisting with the Environment – Sustainable material well being, basic needs are met

Example 1: Humans as individuals within households interact in larger demographic systems or structures

  1. The computer model aspires to represent the behavior of households, such as decisions to have children or to emigrate
  2. The computer model then also represents the larger demographic structures that incorporate the decisions of millions of such households.
  3. This is done with age-sex cohort distributions, altering those stocks via the flows of births, deaths, and migration

Example 2: Households, firms, and the government interact in larger economic and socio-economic systems or structures

The model can represent households:

  1. the use of time for employment and leisure
  2. the use of income for consumption and savings
  3. the specifics of consumption decisions across possible goods and services

Example 3: Markets

  1. the decisions of firms with respect to re-investment or distribution of earnings, markets are key structures that integrate such activities
  2. IFs represents the equilibrating mechanisms of markets in goods and services
  3. key stocks for this are in the form of capital, labor pools, and accumulated technological capability

Example 4: Non-market socio-economic interactions

  1. IFs increasingly represents the behavior of governments with respect to search for income and targeting of transfers and expenditures, domestically and across country borders, in interaction with other agents including households, firms, and international financial institutions (IFIs).
  2. Social Accounting Matrices (SAMs) are structural forms that integrate representation of non-market based financial transfers among such agents with exchanges in a market system.
  3. IFs uses a SAM structure to account for inter-agent flows generally. Financial asset and debt stocks, and not just flows, are also important to maintain as part of this structural system, because they both make possible and motivate behavior of agent-classes.

Example 5: Governments interact with each other in larger inter-state systems that frame the pursuit of security and cooperative interaction

  1. Potential behavioral elements include spending on the military, joining of alliances, or even the development of new institutions
  2. One typical approach to representing such structures is via action-reaction dynamics that are sensitive to power relationships across the actors within them.
  3. IFs represents changing power structures, domestic democracy level, and interstate threat.

Example 6: Human actor classes interact with each other and the broader environment

  1.  Important behavior includes technological innovation and use, as well as resource extraction and emissions release.
  2. The structures of IFs within which all of these occur include a mixture of fixed constraints (for instance, stocks of non-renewable resources), uncertain opportunities for technological change in economic processes, and systems of material flows.


International Futures (IFs) has foundations that rest in:

  1. classes of agents and their behavior
  2. the structures or systems through which those classes of agents interact
  • IFs IS NOT agent-based in the sense of models that represent individual micro-agents following rules and generating structures through their behavior
  • IFs DO REPRESENT both existing macro-agent classes and existing structures (with complex historic path dependencies), attempting to represent some elements of how behavior of those agents can change and how the structures can evolve

In representing the behavior of agent classes and the structures of systems, IFs draws upon large bodies of insight in many theoretical and modeling literatures. While IFs frequently breaks new ground with respect to specific sub-systems, its strengths lie substantially in the integration and synthesis of bodies of earlier work.


Understanding the state of the world

  • Exploring trends and considering where they might be taking us
  • Learning about the dynamics of global systems

Modeling the Global Future

  • Clarifying goals/priorities
  • Developing alternative scenarios (if-then statements) about the future
  • Investigating the leverage various agent-classes may have in shaping the future

Underlying Assumptions of the IF Model

  1. Issues concerning human development systems are growing in scope and scale as human interaction and human impact on the broader environment grow. This mean that attention to the issues must have a global perspective, as well as local and regional ones.
  2. Goals and priorities for human systems are becoming clearer and are more frequently and consistently enunciated. For instance, the UN Millennium Summit and the 2002 conference in Johannesburg (UNDP 2001: 21-24; UNDP 2002: 13-33) set specific goals for 2015 that include many focusing on the human condition. These goals are increasingly guiding a sense of collective human opportunity and responsibility. Also, our ability to measure the human condition relative to these and other goals has improved enormously in recent years with advances in data and measurement.
  3. Understanding of the dynamics of human systems is growing rapidly. IFs development has roots that go back to the 1970s. Understandings of the systems included in the IFs model are remarkably more sophisticated now than they were then.
  4. The domain of human choice and action is broadening. As the scope and scale of interaction increase, goals become clearer, and understanding of underlying systems grows, the potential for useful human intervention increases. The law of unanticipated consequences has by no means been repealed, but the ability of human intervention to achieve human goals has increased. The reason for the creation of IFs is to help in thinking about such intervention and its consequences.

Internal Structure of the IF Model

Figure 1: Block Diagram of IF Major Subsystems and their Inter-relationships


Details of the IF subsystems are shown in the  interactive mindmap below:


General Features

  1. heavily data-based
  2. deeply rooted in theory
  3. represents major agent-classes: households, governments, firms
  4. agent-classes interact in a variety of global structures: demographic, economic, social, and environmental
  5. draws upon standard approaches to modeling specific issue areas whenever possible, extending those as necessary and integrating them across issue areas
  6. menu-driven interface of the software system allows for the display of results from the base case and from alternative scenarios over time horizons from 2005 up to 2100
  7. provides tables, standard graphical formats, and a basic Geographic Information System (GIS) or mapping capability
  8. provides specialized display formats for age-cohort demographic structures and social accounting matrices

Scenario Modeling Features

  1. facilitates scenario development via a scenario-tree that simplifies changes in framing assumptions and agent-class interventions
  2. scenarios can be saved for development and refinement over time
  3. standard framing scenarios, such as those from the United Nations Environment Programme’s GEO 3/4 are available
  4. modeling system provides access to an extensive database for longitudinal and cross-sectional analysis
  5. data represent 183 countries since 1960
  6. facilitates comparison of data with “historic forecasts” over the 1960-2005 period
  7. extensive documentation is available in the Help System of IFs including full documentation through causal diagrams, equations, and computer code