Conceptual Modelling

Conceptual modelling is the process of abstracting a model from a real or proposed system (Robinson 2008, p. 3). Mylopoulos (1992) defines conceptual modelling as an activity of formally describing some aspects of the physical and social world around us for purposes of understanding and communication. The outcome of the conceptual modelling process is a conceptual model. Conceptual modelling is an iterative and repetitive process, with the conceptual model being continuously revised throughout the modelling process. However, the main issue in conceptual modelling is to abstract an appropriate simplification level of reality (Pidd, 2003).

Conceptual modelling is a complex process because we do not have measurable criteria for evaluating the value of its outcome - a conceptual model (Pritsker 1987). Therefore, during the process of conceptual modelling, a set of system requirements would be useful to consider. The requirements could provide a basis against which to determine whether  the obtained conceptual model is appropriate. Robinson (2008, p. 19) argues four main requirements, which should be fulfilled when measuring the outcome of conceptual modelling:

  • validity (a conceptual model can be developed into a simulation model with sufficient accuracy),
  • credibility (similar like validity, but from the viewpoint of a client),
  • utility (developed model will be useful for the decision making),
  • feasibility (conceptual model will be developed into a [simulation] model with respect to available time, resources and data).

In Policy Making, conceptual modelling is carried out by policy analysts who extensively analyse available documents in order to get an accurate overview of the policy domain, i.e. to develop a conceptual model of it. They also collaborate with the stakeholders and the policy modellers to discuss model elements.

Related terms: Model, Modelling, Tool


Mylopoulos J, (1992). Conceptual modeling and Telos, Chapter 2 in Loucopoulos, Peri; Zicari, Roberto: Conceptual Modeling, Databases, and CASE : An Integrated View of Information Systems Development, New York.

Pidd, M. (2003). Tools for Thinking: Modelling in Management Science, 2nd ed. Wiley, Chichester, UK.

Pritsker, A.A.B. (1987). Model Evolution II: An FMS Design Problem. Proceedings of the 1987 Winter Simulation Conference (Thesen, A., Grant, H. and Kelton, W.D., eds.). IEEE, Piscataway, NJ, pp. 567-574.

Robinson, S., 2008. Conceptual modelling for simulation part I: definition and requirements. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 59 (3), pp. 278 - 290.

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