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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.

To download the webinar materials and software, register for an isee systems account and click here

Watch the recording below

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Dancing with Systems: Moves for Turbulent Times

Dancing with Systems: Moves for Turbulent Times

Seminar recording

Learn more about the Seminar Series.

Watch the recording below

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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

Join the Student Chapter

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!

Volunteer with the Student Chapter

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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