Petabytes of data about human movements, transactions, and communication patterns are continuously being generated by technology from mobile phones to credit cards. Engineering Social Systems was formed to analyze behavioral datasets that represent the social network topology and dynamics of entire countries within both the developed and developing worlds. Coupling anonymized communication events from hundreds of millions of people with longitudinal data ranging from financial transactions and movement patterns to regional information about access to health care and socioeconomic status, we are developing machine learning and network analysis algorithms that we hope will provide deeper insight into human societies.

Ultimately, the ESS research agenda is to determine how we can use these insights to actively improve the lives of the billions of people who generate this data and the societies in which they live.

At the Intersection of Disciplines

Deepening our understanding of large-scale human behavior can lead to the improvement of billions of lives throughout the world, whether it is used to design containment strategy for the next H1N1 outbreak in Mexico City, engineer improved living conditions in Kenya's urban slums, or instigate economic growth in poor regions of the UK. To accomplish these goals we take a thoroughly multidisciplinary approach.

Our close collaboration with our industry partners, as well as academic institutions including MIT, Harvard and Northeastern, strengthens our initiatives. Our successes have not only created new knowledge but also are beginning to help make a measurable, positive impact on the lives of people around the world.

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A Catalyst for Change

Engineering Social Systems draws from two complementary communities. Computational Social Science is an emerging field focused on uncovering patterns of individual and group behaviors using a wide range of data gathering mechanisms on a set of human subjects. Researchers in the field are typically drawn from the computer science and social science academic domains. Physics of Society, or 'sociophysics', is typically drawn from the physics community and consider very large, aggregate behavior with methodological roots from disciplines such as statistical mechanics.

Both communities of social scientists and physicists are using the vast amounts of data exhaust left in the wake of human activity to generate unprecedented insights into the behavior of people ranging from individuals to nations. ESS was formed to leverage these insights to radically re-think how traditional social systems are engineered.

ESS Mission


Our mission is to seek solutions to important global problems and to better inform leaders and policy makers who will turn great ideas into real changes that will make the world a better place. We measure our success by how well we can progress through this cycle:

  • Generate new knowledge about large-scale human behavioral dynamics and complex social systems
  • Transform that knowledge into actionable insights and recommendations
  • Secure the resources necessary to implement those recommendations
  • Measure the impact and repeat