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How Did En-ROADS Get 755,000 users? Lessons on Modeling, Interface Design, and Facilitation

How Did En-ROADS Get 755,000 users? Lessons on Modeling, Interface Design, and Facilitation

Achieving widespread engagement is a significant challenge with a System Dynamics model. Yet, En-ROADS, the climate solutions simulator co-developed by Climate Interactive and MIT Sloan, has captivated hundreds of thousands of users globally. In this webinar led by Andrew Jones, John Sterman, and Florian Kapmeier, the team shared how their commitment to System Dynamics modeling principles, innovative interface design, and thoughtful facilitation created a global movement. The lessons learned are relevant for all System Dynamics modelers seeking to make a greater impact in their fields.

1. Modeling: Build Trust and Ensure Accuracy

“You have to have a rigorous, evidence-based model that is fully documented and tested every which way.” John Sterman

En-ROADS’ impact is built on a robust modeling foundation that adheres to rigorous standards of transparency and continuous testing. John Sterman underscores the importance of rigorous validation: “You have to have a rigorous, evidence-based model that is fully documented and tested every which way,” he states, highlighting the necessity for clear, accessible documentation that allows users to understand and trust the model’s operations.

The En-ROADS team enhances model reliability by calibrating past model behavior against historical data (by, e.g. Lazard, the IEA, etc.) and comparing future model behavior against the behavior of climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), identifying discrepancies not only to prove correctness, but also to pinpoint areas needing improvement. Andrew Jones elaborates on this process: “We compare the model against historical data to understand where the discrepancies are and how we can improve. It’s not about proving the model’s correctness but about identifying areas for growth and improvement.”

For System Dynamics modelers looking to build confidence in the model, these practices are essential. Providing full transparency through comprehensive documentation and continuously validating models against industry benchmarks are crucial steps in establishing credibility. By adhering to these principles, modelers can ensure their models are technically robust and able to support decision-making.

2. Interface Design: Guide Users to Key Insights

“We designed the interface to lead a user to discover our modelers’ top insights without support.” Andrew Jones

En-ROADS’ interface is designed to ensure users reach key insights intuitively. Andrew emphasized the goal: “We designed the interface to lead a user to discover our modelers’ top insights without support.” The interface offers both a beginner mode for quick understanding and an advanced mode for users with more technical skills, providing detailed charts and additional assumptions. Dynamic visuals and animations transform static data into a narrative, making complex concepts accessible and engaging.

Within a few minutes exploring the En-ROADS interface, new users quickly grasp three critical insights:

  1.  “It’s still possible” – to bend the emissions curve and reduce average temperature increase.
  2. “There’s no silver bullet”, highlighting that no single solution can solve the climate crisis.
  3.  “Many solutions together”, emphasizing that combining multiple climate solutions is necessary to mitigate the climate crisis.

An interface designed around key insights helps users understand complexity. The ease of engaging with a new innovation—trialability—is crucial for initial adoption and fostering word of mouth. Yet, negative experiences can lead to adverse feedback, potentially stifling the adoption and diffusion of the model. Sterman emphasized: “if people try something and have a bad experience, they will generate unfavorable word of mouth that can squelch the adoption and diffusion of your model.”

John Sterman emphasizes the consequences of neglecting interface quality: “Suppose you have the world’s greatest model, but a terrible interface. Nobody learns anything, nothing will change, and you and everyone have wasted precious time and resources. That’s a failure mode.”  But he warns, “The opposite, though, is far more dangerous: a great interface with an underlying model that lacks integrity and hasn’t been carefully tested means you’re helping people learn things that are wrong and possibly downright harmful far more effectively than ever before.”

By focusing on intuitive design and rigorous validation, En-ROADS ensures that the simulation is insightful and reliable for understanding possible climate solutions. This strategy serves as a reference for those aiming at making their models both informative and influential. As a System Dynamics Modeler, which 2-3 key takeaways would you like users to learn from your model?

3. Facilitation: Create a Safe Space for Learning

Make sure that you create a safe room where participants can share and challenge their mental models to allow them to engage deeply and learn together.” – Florian Kapmeier

Facilitation is critical to En-ROADS’ global impact. Through experiences like the interactive En-ROADS Climate Workshop and the roleplaying game Climate Action Simulation Game, Climate Interactive effectively conveys the insights of the model by fostering environments that encourage deep learning and reflection. Florian Kapmeier emphasized the importance of these settings: “Make sure that you create a safe room where participants can share and challenge their mental models to allow them to engage deeply and learn together.” This approach allows participants to openly test their assumptions and understand the underlying dynamics of climate change.

Florian, referred to Andrew’s Top 10 Tips to Engage People with a System Dynamics Model,  highlighting one key aspect: By asking participants  to mentally the likely impact of a climate solution on the temperature before running a scenario in En-ROADS, participants reveal their existing mental models and learn more effectively by comparing their understanding with model results. “Learning happens when the theory of thinking is laid out and people have to make a choice.”

The commitment to creating a secure and open space for dialogue is foundational to the success of the engagements with En-ROADS. This facilitation strategy enhances the participants’ ability to understand complex concepts, and encourages them to apply these insights in practical and impactful ways. By ensuring that each session serves as a safe space for exploration and challenge, Climate Interactive fosters an environment where transformative learning and genuine understanding can occur.

Climate Action Simulation for IKEA, Australia

Community & Policy Engagement

Community building has been fundamental to extend En-ROADS’ reach globally. Thousands have completed the Mastering En-ROADS training program, which empowers facilitators to engage diverse audiences. The En-ROADS Climate Ambassador program further nurtures hundreds of facilitators who provide En-ROADS Workshops and Climate Action Simulations worldwide, ensuring a unified network of like-minded advocates. This well-structured support system ensures that these facilitators are equipped to spread their knowledge effectively, fostering a collaborative and impactful community.

In addition to training and support, Climate Interactive’s team emphasized the importance of engaging with policy makers, adapting communication to meet where they are in terms of climate change understanding. Presenting complex model data in an accessible manner is crucial for meaningful engagement. This strategy ensures that decision-makers receive information and are equipped to act on it.

The Power of System Dynamics

“System Dynamics is the most powerful way to engage other people in ways to improve system performance.” – John Sterman

The success of En-ROADS hinges on a commitment to the core principles of System Dynamics, paired with innovative interface design and effective facilitation strategies. This approach has educated a global audience on climate solutions and empowered them to act. John Sterman, reflecting on the broader implications, asserts, “System dynamics is the most powerful way to engage other people in ways to improve system performance”, underscoring the potential of System Dynamics to facilitate meaningful discussions and drive change across various domains.

Sterman reminded the audience that the discipline’s strength lies in its ability to convey complexity in a way that decision-makers can understand and act upon: “System Dynamics modelers need to invite people into the conversation, to join the collective effort and improve system performance together.” This collaborative spirit is reflected in the global network of facilitators, policymakers, and climate advocates brought together by En-ROADS.

As System Dynamics modelers, the challenge is to not only build robust models but also to design engaging interfaces, facilitate participatory workshops, and nurture a community of like-minded advocates. By doing so, modelers can extend their influence beyond their field and create meaningful change in the world.

Watch the recording below

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System Dynamics Helps Farmers Escape Poverty Trap in Guatemala

EXECUTIVE Summary

Guatemala holds the 4th highest global ranking for chronic malnutrition, and climate change is intensifying the challenges subsistence farmers face in providing food for their families. Utilizing a System Dynamics model facilitated meaningful discussions among various stakeholders and government entities, ultimately leading to the provision of strategic resources, such as livestock and expert guidance, for 152 families. This support enabled farmers to break free from the poverty trap and make valuable investments in their agricultural endeavors.

The System Dynamics model effectively illustrated the interplay between numerous variables, empowering farmers to comprehend and take control of key leverage points essential for their well-being and prosperity.

#Food security #Farmers #Agriculture #Guatemala

The Problem

Guatemala faces a staggering 55% prevalence of chronic malnutrition (a widely recognized indicator of food insecurity) in rural areas and ranks as 4th worst globally. Climate change is amplifying the difficulties subsistence farmers in Guatemala face in providing food for their families. Although climate change affects all food producers in various ways, subsistence farmers are especially vulnerable due to their limited access to irrigation and crop insurance, which could help mitigate the effects of fluctuating weather conditions. Furthermore, because subsistence farmers depend on their own production to feed themselves and their families, low yields and crop loss often result in malnutrition and starvation.

This underscores the need to understand how local farmers can collaborate and work with both local and central governments to enhance their food security.

The Solution

The model was developed using Group Model Building (GMB) and stakeholder engagement in two distinct communities. In each case, we collaborated with farmers and representatives from central and local governments to create causal loop diagrams that illustrated the primary relationships within their respective food systems and the variables influencing food security resilience in the face of climate change. This understanding was then converted into quantitative System Dynamics (SD) models, which facilitated discussions regarding potential policies.

The model comprises five main components:

  1. Maize local market: This component captures the primary dynamics of the local market using a traditional commodity model.

  2. Households: This element represents the dynamics affecting household cash availability and purchasing power, with revenues generated from maize production, livestock, and other activities.

  3. Livestock: This component illustrates the primary dynamics of livestock (specifically poultry) production on local farms.

  4. Soil: This part demonstrates the dynamics of organic nitrogen and organic carbon in the soil.

  5. Water and irrigation: This component captures the infrastructure used for irrigation and exogenous variables like rainfall.

The model features three main feedback loops:

  1. Commercial agriculture (R1): Revenue from maize increases household cash, which enhances their ability to invest in farming (such as seeds, fertilizers, and irrigation systems), resulting in improved soil quality and increased water uptake.

  2. Poverty trap (R2): A portion of maize production is allocated for self-consumption. The higher the proportion dedicated to self-consumption, the less maize is available for the market, which reduces revenue and subsequently investment in farming. Low investment in farming leads to low yields, further decreasing the amount of maize that can be sold.

  3. Reserves driving wellbeing (R3): Higher production rates result in more maize being available for self-consumption, reducing the need to spend money on purchasing food. This increases farmers’ available cash for investing in the next year’s harvest.

Outcomes

The policy recommendations from our study were utilized by local NGOs and government representatives to lobby their representatives in parliament and the Minister of Agriculture (MAGA). As suggested in the report, 152 families were provided with livestock in small quantities and supported by technical experts to develop small production farms.

This demonstrates the compelling nature of using System Dynamics in addressing complex issues, such as food security in the context of climate change. System Dynamics enabled to graphically represented the system through causal loop diagrams, providing a crucial visual aid that facilitated communication with local stakeholders in a way that other modeling approaches, mainly focused on mathematical formulations, could not achieve. Further, the emphasis on stocks in System Dynamics allowed for the effective representation of food stocks and key resources like soil organic matter, while maintaining model simplicity.

Do you want to know more?

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The Food Packaging Problem. A Food System Problem Not a Packaging Problem

The Food Packaging Problem. A Food System Problem Not a Packaging Problem

Starting with the five components of the supply chain for food packaging, the presentation proceeds to describe a process for adopting System Dynamics. The process describes and uncovers the visible and invisible challenges to making the food packaging industry less dependent on single-use plastics. While the visible challenges are often identified through research and market analysis, the invisible challenges need to be uncovered by interviewing subject matter experts, government regulators, and those who operate in the food distribution supply chain, itself.

As the process unfolds, the search for a more sustainable solution led to the adoption of the System Dynamics causal loop diagram as a modeling tool. The practice of using semi-structured interviews and Connection Circles enabled non-academics to explain their own insights into how the food packaging systems operated. By combining the causal loop diagram with the information obtained from the interview process, a composite of food packaging market dynamics was developed.

System methods were applied from the study of events and outcomes down to creating new mental models.

The work done to apply System Dynamics to the pressing issues of Food Packaging and global sustainability cannot be praised enough. This webinar explores from a system perspective the role that food packaging plays in modern society. The growth-driven globalized food economy and time-deprived society are responsible for the dependence on food packaging. The presentation sheds light on the mental models driving the system and leverage points able to reduce modern food packaging addiction.

“After exploring existing and proposed solutions, it was discovered that there was no connection between the drivers of the use of plastic and the existing solutions” Sabrina Chakori

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About the Speaker

Sabrina Chakori holds a BSc. in Biology (University of Geneva), and an MSc. in Environmental Economics (The University of Queensland), and she is currently finishing an interdisciplinary Ph.D. research that explores food packaging reduction in food systems. Sabrina is a passionate systems modeler (systems thinking, System Dynamics, network analysis). She believes that systems approaches are crucial to understanding and tackling current socio-ecological wicked problems.

For more than a decade, Sabrina has been advocating for a more sustainable society, leading numerous collaborations in various countries across Europe, Kenya, Ecuador, Mexico, and Australia, including an initiative with Queensland’s Environment Minister to introduce the law banning single-use plastic bags. Sabrina is convinced that to solve the interlinked social and ecological crisis we need to change the roots of our economy, shifting away from the growth-driven system. To translate into practice her knowledge and vision, in 2017, she founded the Brisbane Tool Library, a social enterprise that encourages people to borrow tools, camping gear, and other equipment. This community-driven circular economy model reduces productivism and consumerism. The Brisbane Tool Library is Australia’s first and only ‘library of things’ to be located within a public library – State Library of Queensland.

Sabrina is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and, in 2021, she has been selected as Post Growth Institute fellow. Winner of the 2020 Create Change: 7 News Young Achiever Award (QLD) and recipient of the Emerging Female Leader bursary from the National Council of Women of Queensland (2020), Sabrina is a multi-award social entrepreneur, researcher, educator, and most of all activist. Sabrina is fully invested in creating systemic change that would build a more socially just and ecologically sustainable post-growth society.

Present at the Seminar Series

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How to Publish in the System Dynamics Review

How to Publish in the System Dynamics Review

In this webinar, we had an overview of the System Dynamics Review – the journal of the System Dynamics Society. We learned about its growing positive performance and impact. We reviewed the process of submitting, revising, and eventually publishing your manuscripts in the Journal, including some tips on what works and what doesn’t work. Andreas answered several questions about the process.

“If you’re a system dynamicist, the System Dynamics Review is your Journal.” Andreas Größler

We had over 150 attendees from around the world which reflects the high interest of our community to disseminate high-quality System Dynamics work through the System Dynamics Review.

Since its beginning thirty-eight years ago, the Review has covered advances in systems thinking and System Dynamics domains.  Today, the editorial staff and reviewers are providing enhanced levels of support for new and experienced contributors. The flow chart for publication in the Review was discussed in detail during the presentation, and there are several ways for those interested to provide material.

During his discussion on contributions to the System Dynamics Review, Andreas provided the following tips about your work when submitting it to the System Dynamics Review

  1. It should be relevant to the System Dynamics community and its principles, its debates, and the existing literature.
  2. Include elements of System Dynamics or discuss System Dynamics from a methodological perspective.
  3. System Dynamics Review papers support a profession and its development. The System Dynamics Review is not a place for social media content.
  4. Before submitting a paper, review the documents covering related or similar materials to learn from past contributors.
  5. Plan to invest time in the submission process as there could be constructive criticism requiring rework on a document throughout the process.

The Journal staff provides guidance to any practitioner interested in contributing using four tips for authors. These tips were covered in detail by Dr. Grossler in the webinar.

The System Dynamics Review welcomes contributions from anyone working with qualitative and quantitative System Dynamics-related work. Get guidance and learn more about the Journal here.

“This is a peer-reviewed journal where editors and reviewers provide constructive criticism for authors.” Andreas Größler

Andreas Größler is a full professor at the Operations Management Department at the University of Stuttgart, Germany, teaching in undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs. Andreas is the Executive Editor of the System Dynamics Review and holds several other leading positions in academic associations, including in the European Operations Management Association, the System Dynamics Society, and the Society for Business and Social Cybernetics. His research focuses on operations strategy, behavioral operations management, and System Dynamics.

Q&A

Questions answered by Andreas 

1. Do you have any tips for qualitative model papers?

“Qualitative” papers are welcome (as also indicated by an upcoming special issue on the topic) but should follow the same rigor as papers applying quantitative models (regarding argumentation, documentation, and the like).

2. If I am intending to submit a research paper to the upcoming International System Dynamics Conference, but also considering publishing it in the System Dynamics Review (maybe 1-2 months later, and with a few improvements), what is the recommended procedure?

Papers submitted to apply for the conference are not public, so no problem here. After the conference, you’ll be asked to put your paper in the conference record. If you intend to submit your paper to any journal (including the System Dynamics Review), I suggest uploading an extended abstract or a clearly abbreviated version of the paper only.

3. Can the submitted paper only include a Causal loop diagram and be considered for publication in the System Dynamics Review?

In principle, yes but see my comment about qualitative papers above.

4. In the past, the System Dynamics Review seemed less interested in practitioner perspectives, insisting on well-researched and citation-rich submissions. Has that changed?

We do encourage the submission by practitioners. But also for these papers, we would clearly like to see the novelty and quality that we require for academic papers. However, there’s no such thing as a minimum number of citations, for example.

5. How long will it take to publish a journal in the System Dynamics Review? (reviewers to review, getting feedback)

This depends a lot on the topic and the work of the reviewers (but also on the authors’ turn-around time for revisions). I would guess, half a year is a minimum, maybe with some exceptions for “fast track” papers.

6. I’ve been a practitioner of System Dynamics in supply chain management for a few years and modeled many inventory and replenishment policies but I think it’s hard to propose a brand new methodology in terms of academic development. What would be the criteria in terms of publications in his view?

You don’t need to propose a methodological innovation but, for instance, need to clarify how your policies are “better” than those usually discussed in SCM, or how you can do something with System Dynamics that usually isn’t done in SCM.

7. When you say it needs to be about System Dynamics, it doesn’t mean it needs to be a “methods paper” on System Dynamics, right? (So the scope is any paper using System Dynamics as a methodology?)

Yes, correct, it doesn’t need to be a paper about the System Dynamics methodology but it should use it in another domain.

8. If a paper is rejected, and we decide to do a major revision on our own, can we attempt re-submitting it?

Sure. Technically, it will be a completely new submission. Anyhow, might be good to indicate that it was submitted before and what was changed.

9. Is there any template we can use?

No. We are quite flexible when it comes to the formatting of the initial submission (exact formatting can come later). However, this doesn’t mean it can be full of typos, unclear references, etc.

10. If our paper is accepted, can we also submit it to another journal as well in an unrelated field?

No, not the exact same paper as it might be considered plagiarism. But you might consider writing two papers based on one research project.

11. It would be great to see some examples of practitioner papers that the System Dynamics Review has previously published – any chance that could be put together and sent out as an email or something? The discussion around practitioner papers always ends up sounding very vague

Well, there is no general answer, unfortunately. We had some quite practice-oriented papers about online modeling sessions recently, for example. Homer’s 2019 paper about best practices in System Dynamics modeling might be another good example.

12. The submission system states that main articles should be approximately 5,000 words (some years before, we were asked to resubmit below this limit). In your presentation, you have mentioned that it should be less than 10,000 words. Could you kindly clarify better about the article limit?

We are currently overhauling the information about paper types. Please remember that I said, the shorter it is the more likely a paper will be accepted.

13. What is the System Dynamics Review publication frequency?

Four times a year (every quarter) but accepted papers are published online continuously.

14. Other than the length, what is the difference between notes and insights vs the main paper?

Main article: clearly explaining a novel phenomenon; N&I: often a descriptive account, without the intention to explain fully.

15. Architecture is a specific area and discipline, but there is no topic for this except the Urban category. Is it a chance or not for publishing in a journal and also in a conference presentation?

Yes, why not, no general restrictions.

16. What do we know about the spread/balance of topic areas published, also the geographical and discipline mix of authors?

In principle, quite widespread. The System Dynamics Review is listed in the “Management” and “Social Sciences/Mathematical Models” journal categories; this should give an indication.

17. In which quartile is the System Dynamics Review currently?

The first issue of 2022 should be published these days.

18. “2022 Qualitative aspects” – could you send a link to the call, please?

The deadline has passed for initial abstracts. Nevertheless, you can always submit your work on a regular issue.

19. Is there a maximum length that a paper definitely should not exceed?

Papers tend to grow during the review process. So, please do not exceed the limit already for the initial submission.

20. Do you prefer active or passive voice?

Well, active but don’t try to slavishly change your text.

21. What are the parts of the paper that need to be completed before submitting? Abstract plus Introduction or it is necessary to have the complete paper and models?

For the System Dynamics Review, you need a complete submission.

Present at the Seminar Series

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Sponsor a Seminar

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Working with Loops That Matter: technique and tools to analyze feedback loops

Working with Loops That Matter: technique and tools to analyze feedback loops

In this hands-on webinar, we’ll work together to analyze System Dynamics models and learn how to discover which feedback loops are driving model behavior. We’ll use the Loops that Matter (LTM) technique and the tools embedded within Stella Architect to perform the analysis. After this webinar participants will be able to do their own LTM analyses on models of their own. They’ll know how to identify important feedback loops within their models and how to measure the contribution of those feedback loops to the behavior of their models. This workshop is intended for those who are already familiar and comfortable with System Dynamics modeling.

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Watch the recording below

Whoops, this recording is available for members only. If you have a membership, please log in. If not, you can definitely get access! Purchase a membership here. If you're not a member but have purchased a ticket to this webinar, please contact us at office@systemdynamics.
org

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Seminar recording

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Student Chapter News: Interview with Meagan Keenan

Student Chapter News: Interview with Meagan Keenan

Member Interview: Megan Keenan

 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am a public health researcher and System Dynamics consultant. I currently specialize in community-based participatory approaches using System Dynamics modeling, group model building, and qualitative research for building equitable social and health outcomes for young people. I will be joining the Dartington Service Design Lab, based out of the United Kingdom, as a Senior Researcher specializing in systems thinking in January of 2022.

I have a passion for working with community stakeholders to improve the development and implementation of social services to ensure that they are both empowering and impactful within the communities they serve. 

I recently graduated from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis where I earned a Master of Social Work with a concentration in International Social and Economic Development and specialization in System Dynamics. During my graduate degree program, I collaborated with community partners to apply systems-based approaches to uncover barriers and develop interventions to improve access to HIV care for people living in St. Louis in the region. Before coming to the Brown School, I was a program coordinator for Health Equity International, working in the field of Global Health in southern Haiti. I also earned my Bachelor of Arts in International Studies at Boston College. 

Can you tell us about your most recent System Dynamics project? What insights did you learn? Why do you think System Dynamics was an important tool in understanding that problem? 

In continuation of my work in my Community-Based System Dynamics (CBSD) course, I collaborated with Fast-Track Cities St. Louis to implement a series of community-based group model building sessions to uncover some of the barriers to accessing rapid initiation of antiretroviral therapy for people living with HIV. The participatory sessions centered on the experiences and voices of community stakeholders living with HIV and healthcare providers in the region. Community-Based System Dynamics provided us with the tools and activities to guide the participatory sessions as well as help to uncover the system of HIV care in the region to find leverage points for creating sustainable change. 

Through using System Dynamics and participatory group model building throughout the workshops we were able to break down some of the traditional power dynamics and barriers to system change for health equity. Centering community voices, we were able to gain greater insight into the dynamic factors impacting access to HIV medication in the region. Most notably, we were able to uncover dynamics in the system of medical care delivery that was being reinforced by current models of care and grant funding. This opened the space for dialogue about mental models surrounding care with healthcare providers and researchers that are a part of the Fast-Track Cities St. Louis collaborative. These sessions helped to lay the groundwork for continued community partnership for improving HIV care in the region—I am excited to see how the work is taken forward! 

What advice would you give other students who are interested in doing either System Dynamics/Community Based System Dynamics (CBSD) related work?

First, I would suggest learning and applying your system dynamics skills to issues that you are particularly passionate about. System Dynamics, and particularly CBSD, can open so many possibilities for new understanding and insight. Something I love about community-based system dynamics is the opportunity for new discovery—you never really know what to expect when you start to build a causal loop diagram with a new group! I love how this challenges me as a practitioner to constantly be shifting my mental models. When you engage CBSD work in a topic you are passionate about, I think there are so many opportunities for personal and professional growth alongside the objectives of the project. 

Second, ask for help/support/second opinions/collaboration, etc.—System Dynamics thrives on multiple perspectives and insights! I owe so much of my personal growth in the field of System Dynamics to my mentors, classmates, and colleagues. Whether it be for a quick consultation or help to facilitate a workshop, I have found the system dynamics community to be incredibly supportive and resourceful. 

Member Spotlight

Nashon Juma Adero is a lecturer at Taita Taveta University, Kenya. Nashon was recently invited as a panelist at the 11th IREN East Africa Thought Leaders Forum on Megatrends: eHealth and Telemedicine in East Africa to talk about systems modeling in the health sector. Check out his recent work: Geomedicine and Health 4.0: New Frontiers with Geospatial Technologies 

Join the Learning Committee

The Student Chapter is interested in working with the System Dynamics Society to develop a roadmap that benchmarks core competencies for budding system dynamicists. We are interested in recruiting members to help design and think through what this roadmap could look like. If interested, please fill out this form, and Kelechi Odoemena will connect with you!

Opportunities to Get Involved

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The Student Chapter strives to offer support and connections to new or beginning learners of System Dynamics. If you are interested in joining, please sign up here!

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Interested in getting involved with the Student Chapter? We are always looking for volunteers to help out with tasks. Please fill out this form if any of our activities interest you and we will reach out to you.

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The Pistachio You Eat Is Affecting Growers’ Water in Iran

The Pistachio You Eat Is Affecting Growers’ Water in Iran

Iran and the United States are the leading producers of pistachios in the world, with a joint production of 74% of the world’s total. Rafsanjan, a semi-arid region in Iran, has long been famous for its massive pistachio production, generating nearly $1 billion annually over the past decades. Due to highly subsidized energy and water prices, over 30,000 pistachio growers in Rafsanjan benefit from low production costs, cultivating over 110,000 hectares of orchards.

The high profitability of pistachio production has led to an increase in the number of farmers and overconsumption of limited groundwater resources.

More than 95 percent of water resources in the region are used for pistachio orchards irrigation. In the last 30 years, the average depth of wells went from 20 meters to over 300 meters. Today, Rafsanjan faces a severe water scarcity, the groundwater level has declined dramatically, and orchards are drying up.

Sinkhole from overextraction of water.

Confronted with a trade-off between managing groundwater resources and supporting agricultural activities, the government considers implementing several policies, some of which attempt to support pistachio growers while mitigating water shortages (e.g., water transfer, drip irrigation, and subsidies), while others focus mainly on preserving groundwater resources (e.g., income tax, water pricing, and land purchasing). While each policy can have sizable impacts on agricultural productivity, they also require daunting investments.

For instance, it is estimated that in the past few decades the Iranian government has provided nearly $1 billion in subsidies for pistachio production. In addition, a water transfer policy based on a 300 km infrastructure that could provide Rafsanjan up to 250 million cubic meters of water annually would cost around $2 billion.

A system dynamics model calibrated to over 30 years of data allows us to observe the long-term impact on groundwater resources with a business-as-usual case. Simulation results for joint policies focusing on farmer support show a short-term improvement in groundwater levels, due to higher efficiency, but a longer-term deterioration in groundwater levels, farmers further develop the orchards. That is, a better-before-worse behavior. The improved groundwater conditions in the early years make these policies very attractive to governments; however, they lead to higher water demand and groundwater deterioration than the business-as-usual (no policy intervention) scenario. In contrast, simulation results for the joint policies focusing on groundwater improvement lead to significantly improved groundwater levels, but it does so by limiting agricultural activities.

The system dynamics model developed in our study can serve different purposes. It can serve as the basis to help academics study and explore the dynamics of similar agricultural settings. It can help policymakers quantitatively explore the long-term impact of different policies. Finally, it can serve as the basis for a simplified interactive model to help practitioners increase stakeholders’ understanding of the challenges of managing such complex systems known as common-pool resources.

Akhavan and Gonçalves are coauthors of “Managing the trade‐off between groundwater resources and large‐scale agriculture: the case of pistachio production in Iran”, available on the System Dynamics Review.

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Introduction to System Dynamics Modeling

Introduction to System Dynamics Modeling

We had people joining us from all over the world at the “Introduction to Modeling Process” with Leonard (Len) Malczynski

Watch the recording below to:
• Build a small quantitative System Dynamics model
• Use Studio by Powersim software for very basic quantitative modeling
• Familiarise yourself with the System Dynamics modeling process

This seminar was sponsored by Powersim Software, the developers of Studio Simulation Software. Due to their generous sponsorship, this seminar is open to the public and free of charge.

DOWNLOAD the webinar resources:

Len is a System Dynamics practitioner, micro-economist, and software engineer. His specialties are database modeling and System Dynamics Modeling. He has also worked on geographic information systems. He has built System Dynamics models of the civilian nuclear fuel cycle, world energy consumption, bio-energy supplies, water basin management, workforce management, international conflict, and international migration.

Many of these models were turned into applications. He was a member of the Office of the Chief Economist at Sandia National Laboratories from 1998-2005 and ended his career at the Laboratories in March 2017. Len was the President of the System Dynamics Society in 2017 and he’s now involved in a software specialization in Powersim Studio, Group Moderator of the international Powersim Users Group, and development of software engineering techniques applied to System Dynamics modeling. Len has also taught information systems and microeconomics at the University of New Mexico since 1988. He is teaching two System Dynamics courses at UNM starting Spring 2018. He has also taught several short courses in System Dynamics and the use of Powersim Studio. Prior to 1988, he spent 10 years as an independent information systems consultant in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.

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ISDC 2021 Highlights: Modeling for Action in Environmental Health

ISDC 2021 Highlights: Modeling for Action in Environmental Health

The International System Dynamics Conference (ISDC) convenes practitioners who demonstrate what’s new and developing in their fields with System Dynamics. This section of the WiSDom Blog, “Conference Highlights,” asks system dynamicists to spotlight key presentations and innovations presented at the conference. 

Conference Highlights Editorial Team: Saras Chung, Will Glass-Husain, Jack Homer, Sara Metcalf, and Remco Peters with coordination by Christine Tang

This highlight by Martha McAlister shares a first-time conference attendee’s perspective on modeling for action in environmental health. 

Modeling for Action in Environmental Health

 

When environmental risks remain unmitigated, they end up hurting our ability to lead healthy and productive lives. These risks are often concentrated where populations are the most marginalized, thereby creating or contributing to unjust health disparities. Environmental health and justice problems can be complex, as they intersect multiple domains (social, economic, political, legal, institutional, etc.) and may involve years or decades of lag time, starting from the accumulation of multiple exposures and ending in life-threatening chronic illnesses. 

System Dynamics offers opportunities for modelers to engage with broad audiences to address environmental health and justice challenges. Modelers can elicit public or expert participation before, during, and after the modeling process to promote confidence in the results and to encourage holistic learning that goes beyond narrowly epidemiological approaches. 

As a first-time attendee of the International System Dynamics Conference, I wanted to learn how System Dynamics is being used in the environmental health context and about the challenges of applying System Dynamics to such complex problems.

The first hint came during the Student-Organized Colloquium, where keynote speaker Dr. Josephine Musango stated that “engagement is crucial.”  As the conference progressed, I heard several presenters talk about their use of participatory modeling to study global environmental and health issues. 

Laurent Smets spoke about using group model building with virology experts to connect early vaccine research and development to the user requirements at the “last mile” in low- and middle-income countries. 

Kelsey Werner described workshops with local community groups in India (organized by the Social Systems Design Lab at Washington University) to model factors affecting their use of less harmful liquefied petroleum gas (e.g., for cooking) in place of solid fuels like firewood or charcoal..

Others reported on using System Dynamics simulation interfaces that engage stakeholders. As Juliette Rooney-Varga put it, this requires translating well-informed scientific models into meaningful, recognizable intervention levers and outputs. 

Allyson Beall King, presenting on her work with Tyler Opp, echoed this concept of scientific translation in describing their model of toxic sediments in Lake Coeur d’Alene.  They wanted to make sure this model would not only satisfy scientists but also be fully accessible and transparent for the public.

I also learned from Daniel Kliem’s talk about how to involve experts in participatory modeling. He said that if a simulation was the ultimate goal, then one should “fail fast” by developing the quantitative model sooner rather than later.  He also advised modelers to remember that we are the translators and integrators of others’ knowledge, and as such we should always give those experts the credit they are due. 

This last point reminded me of something that the other Student-Organized Colloquium keynote speaker, Dr. Irene Headen, said about one of the strengths of System Dynamics: the process allows modelers to collect and integrate multiple perspectives on a single topic. 

The conference is a heady experience for a first-time attendee like myself. Thinking about the presentations I attended, I realize that none precisely addressed environmental health and justice per se.  But that doesn’t really matter, because the presenters made it easy to see how their experiences and insights have broad application, and I look forward to applying these ideas in my own work.     

 

Martha McAlister – mcalisterm@usf.edu

Martha is a PhD student of Environmental Engineering at the University of South Florida. She studies the efficacy and sustainability of environmental health interventions. Martha’s participation in the International System Dynamics Conference was supported by USF NRT Strong Coasts (National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1243510). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation, USF, or NRT Strong Coasts.

 

Check out the Society’s SIGs – including Environmental SIG and Health Policy SIG

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Call for Presenters: Seminar Series

Call for Presenters: Seminar Series We at the System Dynamics Society are continually seeking vibrant and knowledgeable presenters for our ongoing Seminar Series. As we unfold the calendar, there’s always a place for more insights, experiences, and expertise to enrich...

Upcoming Events

Recent Business cases

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Join us