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A General Methodology for Designing Self-Organizing Systems
Carlos Gershenson
Center Leo Apostel for Interdisciplinary Studies
Vrije Universiteit Brussel


Our technologies complexify our environments. Thus, new technologies need to deal with more and more complexity. Several efforts have been made to deal with this complexity using the concept of self-organization. However, in order to promote its use and understanding, we must first have a pragmatic understanding of complexity and self-organization. This paper presents a conceptual framework for speaking about self-organizing systems. The aim is to provide a methodology useful for designing and controlling systems developed to solve complex problems. First, practical notions of complexity and self-organization are given. Then, starting from the agent metaphor, a conceptual framework is presented. This provides formal ways of speaking about "satisfaction" of elements and systems. The main premise of the methodology claims that reducing the "friction" or "interference" of interactions between elements of a system will result in a higher "satisfaction" of the system, i.e. better performance. The methodology discusses different ways in which this can be achieved. A case study on self-organizing traffic lights illustrates the ideas presented in the paper.


self-organization, design, multi-agent modelling


  1. Carlos Gershenson. (2006) A General Methodology for Designing Self-Organizing Systems. Technical Report 2005-05 of ECCO.
  2. Carlos Gershenson. (2005) Self-Organizing Traffic Lights., Complex Systems, 16(1):29-53.