Promoting Transparency Through the IFs Help System

Date: 
2014

New users of the International Futures (IFs) system are often overwhelmed by its massive and comprehensive set of data series, variables, and parameters. Those unfamiliar with forecasting, modeling, or data analysis may also have a hard time grasping IFs unique vocabulary and features. Our staff has all faced the frustration of learning a new system—IFs included—and know that a good set of instructions is invaluable.

That’s why we created the IFs Help System.

One thing that distinguishes IFs from other modeling software is that it is completely free, open source, and available to all. We hope people use the IFs model intelligently as part of their long-term decision-making process, fully aware of all the benefits as well as the limitations of the system. As a result, transparency is a major goal of the Pardee Center, and the IFs Help System reflects that goal by sharing the thinking behind the model (or as modelers would say, what’s “inside the black box”).

The IFs Help System has three main sections. In Introduction to IFs, users can get a pretty good sense of what IFs is—from the historical background to the structure—and what we can do with it. The Use IFs section emphasizes the functional utility of the IFs interface. Here, you can explore how to use the system with screenshot images as well as step-by-step demonstrations. Finally, Understand IFs is where we attempt to really open the “black box”. You can find detailed explanations, flow charts, and equations about the structure of the model and each of the issue sub-modules included in IFs.

How can you access the Help System? There are three easy ways:

  1. Simply click here and explore. You can find the topics you’re most interested in by using the IFs-designated search box located at the right hand side of the screen.
  2. While using the desktop version of IFs (as opposed to the version available for use online), you’ll be able to access the help system by clicking any Help buttons or simply hitting the F1 key when a particular form (e.g. Flexible Displays) is opened. All the help pages accessed from the desktop version of IFs also truly “stand alone,” so people living in places without reliable Internet can still access the Help resources.
  3. As you use the web-based version of IFs, clicking on Help buttons throughout the model will take you to the associated online Help System pages.

The best way of getting comfortable with IFs, like any other system or tool, is to play around with the features of IFs as much as you can. But we don’t want you to go into the process blindly. We hope the IFs Help System leaves just the right amount of trial and error to help you learn and enjoy the system all at once. If you would like an IFs training manual for additional in-depth instruction, just ask in the comments below.

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