The complex problem of food safety : Applying agent-based modeling to the policy process
Many problems facing policymakers are complex and cannot be understood by reducing them to their component parts. However, many of the policy responses to complex problems continue to be based on simple, reductionist methods. Agent-based modeling (ABM) is one alternative method for informing policy that is well-suited to analyzing complex problems. ABM has practical implications for different stages of the policy process, such as testing alternatives, assisting with evaluation by setting up a counterfactual, and agenda setting. The objective of the research presented in this dissertation is to explore the opportunity for using ABM to examine complex problems of relevance for policy. To do so, three separate models were developed to investigate different aspects of food safety inspection systems. Complex problems involve interrelated feedback loops, many actors, exponential growth, asymmetric information, and uncertainty in outcomes and data, and food safety exhibits these traits, providing an interesting case study for the use of ABM. The first model explores three inspection scenarios incorporating access to information. The main finding was that the number of sick consumers is greatly reduced by giving consumers and inspectors more information about whether a retail outlet is contaminated, even if that information may be uncertain. The second model incorporated theories on risk and the role of transparency in encouraging consumer trust by giving consumers access to inspection scores. Overall, the findings were more nuanced: having access to restaurant inspection scores results in a slightly higher mean number of sick consumers, but less variation overall in the number of sick consumers. As well, a greater number of compliant restaurants results in fewer sick consumers. Rather than investigating the structure of the inspection system, the third model examines the potential for mobile technology to crowdsource information about suspected foodborne illness. This model illustrates the potential for health-oriented mobile technologies to improve the surveillance system for foodborne illness. Overall, the findings from the three models support using stylized ABMs to study various aspects of food safety inspection systems, and show that these models can be used to generate insight for policy choices and evidence-based decision making in this area.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
DepartmentJohnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy
SupervisorPhillips, Peter W.
CommitteeOsgood, Nathaniel D.; Nolan, James F.; McNutt, Kathy; Rayner, Jeremy; Castle, David; Walker, Keith
Copyright DateOctober 2014