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Planning and Managing Performance Improvement Programs

See also a more extensive article based on this post, and watch the recording below on the topic.

Organizations of all sizes and types undertake programs of effort to improve their performance, whether it’s in the areas of health and safety, net-zero efforts, or digital transformation. But sustaining momentum for such efforts is tough, and many fail completely.

It turns out that such programs share a common structure, which can be used to assess how the program may progress, how benefits may grow over time, and the cost and effort of achieving them (figure 1).

Performance-improvement programs generally aim to eliminate or mitigate some problematic outcomes such as staff injuries, the loss of critical data, excessive energy use, and inefficient business processes. Those problematic outcomes are caused by previously unidentified problem drivers – hazards in business facilities, data vulnerabilities, inefficient or under-controlled energy-using assets, and inefficient business processes.

So the basic aim is to eliminate or mitigate those problem drivers. This essentially consists of two overlapping efforts [1] to find and quantify those problem drivers, then [2] to eliminate or mitigate those problem drivers that are found.

As benefits start to become apparent, two self-reinforcing mechanisms (R) kick in. First, the staff becomes engaged in its success and adds – often greatly – to the discovery of those unknown opportunities. This boosts leaders’ confidence, so financial savings from the program can be recycled to speed up the rate at which benefits are realized.

In due course, we run out of unknown opportunities to find, and the cost-benefit of remaining opportunities declines – two balancing mechanisms (B) that ultimately limit the benefits that can be gained.

Figure 1 – The overall structure of the system that underlies improvement programs.

 

Reviewing real-world cases revealed how the principles above actually work in practice. One example concerned a 2-year effort on energy-saving by a large ready-meals producer operating several facilities.

 Management appointed an energy manager, who soon brought monthly reports to the executive team, itemizing savings opportunities and specifying their impact, cost, and implementation steps. Those opportunities brought further benefits, such as lower maintenance costs and production downtime. The visible benefits led to staff adopting energy-saving behavior and finding still more opportunities. In under 2 years, the program saved 40% of the organization’s energy use – with no significant capital investment. Future investment will drive down energy use still further.

 The structure in figure 1 can be quantified and modeled,  then used to manage the program over time (A demonstration model is available at sdl.re/EnergySaving1, and a simple guide for its software is at sdcourses.com/silico-guide).

Background

The figure 1 framework and the working models that prove its value emerged from work for the British Standards Institution (BSI). BSI publishes internationally-recognized “ISO” management standards on a very wide range of topics. BSI commissioned a series of “serious games” to show the key choices and impact of adopting Standards – explore the first few games here, all built on working models of figure 1. BSI also wanted a game to encourage small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), to drive down greenhouse gas emissions. See The NetZero Challenge.

Figure 2 –The results screen of the NetZero Challenge game

Watch the recording below

Whoops, this recording is available for members and ticket purchasers only. Please login to verify. If you’re not a member, purchase a membership here. You can also buy a ticket to watch the recording here

About the Speaker

Kim Warren is an experienced strategy professional, teacher, and publisher of online courses and teaching resources on business modeling – fast becoming a mainstream capability for executives, consultants, and business students. He was awarded the Jay Wright Forrester Award by the International System Dynamics Society in 2005 and was the Society’s President in 2013.

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Documenting The Modeling Process #InTheLoop

Documenting the Modeling Process

December 07 at 11 am NY | 4 pm London | 11 pm Beijing | Time Converter

Join us for another webinar!

This presentation will describe data structuring and then focus on the many advantages of documenting the modeling process with such a structure, including a demonstration of an online database specifically designed for documenting the process of building a simulation model called DynamicVu.

The presentation is based on the recent System Dynamics Review article Documenting the modeling process with a standardized data structure described and implemented in DynamicVu

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Jobs

Postdoctoral Position | Norwegian Meteorological Institute

Researcher/Modeler (climate-economy-environment) | IIASA

Postdoctoral Research Associate | Center for Systems and Community Design

Senior System Dynamics Modeler | The Sax Institute

Videos and Recordings

Dynamics Analysis of False Information Spread Over Social Media – Watch 

Assessing the Impact of Enhanced Primary Care (EPC) on Health Systems Performance – Watch

This newsletter is created in partnership with the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) to keep you in the loop on the most up-to-date System Dynamics news, job opportunities, upcoming events, and much more. We’d love to hear from you what kind of information you’d like to see here. Please send us any relevant updates to be featured here!

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The System Dynamics Conference From the Perspective of a Multi-Method Simulations Developer

The System Dynamics Conference From the Perspective of a Multi-Method Simulations Developer

System Dynamics, Agent-Based and Discrete-Event simulations are three competing and complementary simulation methods that are used to address a wide range of real-world problems. Each one of these has its pros and cons and can be applied better or worse depending on the context of the problem but can also be complementary in order to capture different pieces of the reality we want to simulate.

As System Dynamics seems to be an obscure topic for most discrete-event and agent-based modelers, the opposite is also true. And assuming good practices are in place, contrary to Agent-Based modeling guidelines, in System Dynamics, there is no standardized way in which a section of a model can be reutilized and the definition of what a sub-model or module is, depends largely on the context of the modeler. In other words, while in Agent-Based modeling, the sub-model is the agent itself, in System Dynamics, the sub-model can be a theme, an entity, a set of stocks that look good together, the importance of a sub-system, etc. A solution to this standard modularization problem, both in its qualitative and quantitative forms was discussed during this conference, in particular for Work-in-Progress sessions.

From a qualitative point of view, the presentation “Modelling the Complexity of Large Systems: A Network-aided System Dynamics Approach”, intends to use a method based on graph theory to identify themes within a complex network of causal relationships. Each theme can be approached separately by the subject matter expert that is associated with that theme, while also helping define boundaries for future work to be developed (see Figure 1). This is a great approach because it highlights the themes and transforms eventually this complicated network into a well-designed Causal Loop Diagram, with clear sections that are easy to read and understand. Looking at these themes, to a multi-method simulations developer, it appears that these themes are very closely related to the concept of an agent.

Figure 1: Social network of themes and causal loop diagram of selected themes
(Wang, Zimmermann: Modelling the Complexity of Large Systems: A Network-aided System Dynamics Approach, 2022 International System Dynamics Conference, figure used with permission.)

From a quantitative perspective, in their workshop “Using a Tool to Professionalize Model development” Copernicos showed a tool that attempts to improve the structure of a model by creating entities that represent certain hidden topics in models, mostly looking at dimensions and subscripts (or arrays), and generating modules in Stella or sub-models in Vensim that represent what they call hidden topics. This is done with an Excel plugin that acts as a transformation interface that reads the model and generates a new model that is organized with the concept of entities. The arrays are still there as defined by the modeler, but the way the model is organized in modules (in Stella) or sub-models (in Vensim) becomes very similar to what an agent would be in agent-based modeling or to what an entity would be in Ventity. In my opinion, this is a great approach since it goes in the direction of standardizing the modularization of a big complex model, which is the topic we are discussing in this article.

In the multi-method framework, mostly used by AnyLogic developers, it is common to solve these problems by having Agent-Based/System-Dynamics hybrids, in which modules or arrays are replaced by the concept of agent. From the qualitative side, having agents as part of the conceptual framework greatly helps build a hierarchical network of reusable modules that represent the system that needs to be conceptualized. From the quantitative side, Copernicos’ attempt to generate entities is a great idea to build a standardized model structure, which is what multi-method modelers like me do use the standard multi-method framework present in Software such as AnyLogic.

During the conference, work related to hybrid simulations was sparse, and of course, this is a System Dynamics conference, so it’s maybe expected, but it seems to me from conversations with people during the event, that the interest in relation to multi-method modeling is much higher than what the presented work shows. The presenter of “A Cross-Disciplinary Computational Framework for Hybrid Simulation and Modeling” reported on a systematic literature review on how hybrid modeling has increased in popularity. Only a few authors presented hybrid models, e.g. Portia Mupfumira showed hybrid agent-based/System-Dynamics models in two presentations: “Smart Cities Hybrid Conceptual Modelling” and “Development of Hybrid Smart Energy Distribution Decision Support Model: Case of Zimbabwe” and Al Thibeault used Ventity to present “Agent-based Model for Testing Policy Options for Long-term Stability and Sustainability in the Rare Earth Mineral Sector”. Also, the Software Modelica’s object-oriented and multi-method capabilities were presented in the poster “Hierarchical, Component-Based Modeling Using the Cyber-Physical Modeling Language Modelica”.

During the roundtable “Panel on Careers in System Dynamics”, one of the panel members, with 20 years of experience in the field, talked about Agent-Based as a sexy methodology. And this is true, in particular, because agent-based is significantly more used in the business world (along with discrete events), making it very useful to build a proof of concept models very fast with 2D and 3D animations that can be very beautiful and attractive. But he talked about Agent Based modeling as something that has nothing to do with System Dynamics, expressing a separation when it comes to comparing both methods, instead of a synergy. The panel also talked about the struggle to be taken seriously as a System Dynamics professional and the struggle to get stakeholders to buy into the System Dynamics concepts but isn’t maybe the multi-method idea, that is largely documented in the literature the first step toward a thriving System Dynamics community? I think it might be.

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South Africa Chapter Conference #InTheLoop

 

South Africa Chapter Annual Conference

Transforming our World of  Systems
November 16 – 18 | FREE Registration

The South Africa System Dynamics Chapter (SASDC) is hosting its 10th annual Conference to create a networking platform for researchers to present novel work that contributes to data analytics, systems thinking, System Dynamics, systems engineering, and operations research. 

To celebrate reaching a decade milestone at the conference registrations are FREE! The theme is Transforming our World of  Systems. The program includes presentations and workshops.

Learning

Master’s Degree in System Dynamics
University of Bergen
Learn More & Apply

Introduction to Game Design
MIT (edX)
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Articles

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
From Climate Endgame to Climate Long Game – read

Systems
How Can a Community Pursue Equitable Health and Well-Being after a Severe Shock? Ideas from an Exploratory Simulation Model – read

Emergence of a Norm from Resistance: Using Simulation to Explore the Macro Implications of Social Identity Theory – read

Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation
Conflicting Information and Compliance with COVID-19 Behavioral Recommendations – read

This newsletter is created in partnership with the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) to keep you in the loop on the most up-to-date System Dynamics news, job opportunities, upcoming events, and much more. We’d love to hear from you what kind of information you’d like to see here. Please send us any relevant updates to be featured here!

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RSC Uses System Dynamics to Increase HVACR Sales Against the Tide

“Using the proven Strategy Dynamic process focused our limited resources on organizing strategic issues, identifying the critical resources, and developing the insight to more rapidly create intuitive and actionable business strategy.”Warren Farr, CEO, Refrigeration Sales Corporation

System Dynamic’s benefits do not have to be driven by outside consulting efforts.  Sometimes, internal education and training lead to insights which cause a company to thrive and even evolve during the most tumultuous times. Take Refrigeration Sales Corp  (RSC), during the downturn of the late 2000s. CEO-turned-modeler, Warren Farr, was able to see RSC’s revenue go up 25% in a market that saw sales go through a  25% decline, thanks to forecasts driven by SD modeling and insights gained during the process of developing those models.

RSC is a third generation privately owned family business located in Ohio, USA specializing in wholesale sales and support of Heating, Ventilation, AC and Refrigeration (HVACR) units.  Over the years the company had expanded its business beyond just equipment sales to credit lending, technical support and training for many thousands of statewide contractors.  At the time the HVACR industry itself had enjoyed three decades of continuous growth, and RSC had seen annual AC sales increases averaging 10%. But for the first time in years, these annual sales rates were decreasing. Competitors, and the company’s own customers, believed this to be a “temporary lull” caused by the economy as a whole and, along with more cautious suppliers, most parties were optimistic for the future. However, Warren, who had just taken the first of several courses in System Dynamics, believed that recent trends in 2001 signaled a new phase in the market’s development and that this historic growth would inevitably slow down more permanently.

Applying System Dynamics

Inspired by the notion of feedback stemming from inside the system rather than external causes, Warren applied the SD methodology to create long-term market forecasts; ones which were crucial to a company whose sales and profits were tied directly to the fortunes of market volume.  Working off of the three views of the future in the figure below, Warren sought to find the underlying truth of the industry. While suppliers and customers were sticking with the “hope” prediction, and the company’s management was preparing for the “best guess”, information on the market’s installed base showed clearly that the “fear” scenario was in fact the appropriate response to prepare for.

A key systemic insight is this. The nature of durable goods, is that they are, well, durable.HVAC2Sales levels for a durable product have the shape of a bell curve; sales of new units increase until the market becomes saturated, at which point new sales are mostly replacement or upgrades. Warren’s competitors and customers were blind to this basic truth, and fully expected demand to start rising again with the next recovery in the economy and in construction.

This saturation effect is simple enough to state – but how significant would it be, and over what time-scale would it play out? The dynamic model quantified the accumulation of the installed-base and internalized the feedback of declining first-time sales, allowing managers to observe reality playing out and refine their intuitions about the ebbs and flows of the industry’s growth cycle.

Not only was the approaching saturation point reducing the installation base for new AC units, but in a northern U.S. region like Ohio where an AC unit could last for 15 to 20 years, replacement sales were unlikely to fuel growth either. The model was predicting a 20% to 30% contraction in sustainable annual unit sales, which would be considered catastrophic in most markets.

U.S. Regulations Delay Market Contraction

The reaction to these insights was swift and not without controversy.  In the years 2004 and 2005, sales spiked even higher than the hopeful prediction thanks to new US Dept. of Energy regulations which were causing contractors to stock up on older AC units before new minimum efficiency requirements took place and raised prices.  But RSC stuck to its forecasting model. In an industry which had known nothing but growth for decades, RSC was downsizing its workforce, tightening customer credit limits and consolidating its inventory and warehouses.  Both suppliers and customers thought these actions were short-sighted according to common industry logic and current record sales.  But RSC’s uncommon logic would swiftly prove itself as the predicted market contraction came true.  After 2005, sales entered an unprecedented crash, setting the market average back down to 1994 levels.

“The modeling provided a longer-term perspective, allowing RSC management to make these dramatic changes in company bandwidth over a period of about 3 years, avoiding the excess cost associated with rapid ‘cutting’.” Warren Farr, CEO, Refrigeration Sales Corporation

Forecasting Leads to Market Share Growth

Thanks to their SD forecasting efforts, RSC changes were proactive and planned, and not reactive with unintended consequences. Though RSC would have survived the industry downturn without modeling, the company  was now in a prime position to diversify and take on new market share as competitors sought to shed expenses in a bid to stay afloat.  New talents, territories, and market shares were taken from unprepared firms scrambling to adapt to the crash. In territories where the AC market saw a 30% contraction from 2000 to 2010, RSC saw a 25% increase in annual revenues and 30% increase in its sales locations.

RSC’s story highlights a number of points. First, managers need to regularly ‘step outside’ the day-to-day crush of business activity, and understand the fundamentals of what is happening in the market around them. Second, just being aware of principles – like market saturation – may not be enough. Often what is needed is modeling work to figure out the quantified, time-based consequences of these dynamics. Third, the company’s work highlights the advantage of making decisions with forethought and examination, rather than waiting for the impact of new market conditions to throw off business plans. The story reflects the simple but powerful insights that System Dynamics can bring to such questions. Clearly, RSC’s strategic change decision was very significant, enabling them to create new advantages over the competition.

Lastly, we can see that System Dynamics is not some highly technical tool only accessible to math whizzes, but a practical, accessible method that smart managers like CEO Warren Farr can learn to use to great effect.

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Twinings Uses System Dynamics Games to Enhance HR Capability

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Upcoming Events

Seminar Series: Data & Uncertainty in System Dynamics #intheloop

Data & Uncertainty in System Dynamics

 October 26, 11 am NY | 4 pm London 

Data is one of the key aspects of System Dynamics. Join this webinar to improve your knowledge of traditional quality checks and data to yield unique insights with your model. 

This talk will discuss how data, calibration optimization, Kalman filtering, Markov Chain Monte Carlo, Bayesian inference, and sensitivity analysis work together. The emphasis will be on practical implementation with a few examples from real projects, and pointers to resources.

with Tom Fiddaman – CTO of Ventana Systems

Free for Members | $25 for Non-Members
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From Our Community

Call for Papers (€1,000 prize)Jose Maria Sarriegi Award

Book: Complexity Economics: Economic Governance, Science, and Policy – Shop

Recording: Using System Dynamics for Urgent and Emergency Care – Watch

Jobs

System Dynamics Researcher | NOVA University of Lisbon

Postdoctoral Research Associate | Center for Systems and Community Design 

Senior Lecturer/Lecturer | National University of Singapore

Ph.D. in System Dynamics & Machine Learning | The Sax Institute

Articles

Systems
Resilience Development in Multiple Shocks: Lessons in Mental Health and Well-Being Deterioration during COVID-19 – read

SSRN
Strengthening a Weak Link: Transparency of Qualitative Modeling Tools – read 

This newsletter is created in partnership with the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) to keep you in the loop on the most up-to-date System Dynamics news, job opportunities, upcoming events, and much more. We’d love to hear from you what kind of information you’d like to see here. Please send us any relevant updates to be featured here!

Recent News

2022 Conference Highlight #intheloop

2022 Conference Highlight #intheloop 2022 Conference Highlight Is System Dynamics the Missing Subject in our Educational System? Is System Dynamics so valuable that we should encourage its inclusion in our educational system? This year, presentations at International...

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Twinings Uses System Dynamics Games to Enhance HR Capability “Realistic simulation is a powerful approach to building capability. The business simulation developed [by Dashboard Simulations and Lane4] gave [Twinings staff] an experience that called for them to develop...

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Modeling for Improved Organizational Staff Diversity

Modeling for Improved Organizational Staff Diversity

We cannot all succeed when (more than) half of us are held back.

This slightly modified quote is from Malala Yousafzai, the courageous young woman who stood up for her right to be educated. It summarizes the ethos of presentations at the International Systems Dynamics Conference held in Frankfurt and online in July 2022 which focused on improving diversity within organizations. Systems Dynamics modeling is being used in various ways to understand the mechanisms by which more than half of the world’s populations are being held back, and to support evidence-based solutions for change.

In the first plenary, Jeroen Struben presented a model to explain why women chess players drop out of competitions in their late twenties, never to return. The data from the Netherlands showed that the presence of peers and role models, and the culture of the broader community were major explanatory factors. There is also a project that will look at women chess players with and without children, which is already finding that family caring commitments have a large impact on women’s decisions.

Suzanne Manning (disclaimer: that’s me) also highlighted the impact of caring responsibilities on women, on career progression in a social science research team. In a qualitative model of mechanisms that were holding women back, factors such as family commitments and expertise in ‘softer’ science disciplines like sociology and indigenous knowledge (compared to expertise in more quantitative systems dynamics), were partially career-limiting.

The model of Inge Bleijenberg looked at mechanisms to explain why ‘ingroups’ of white, upper-class men hold a pay advantage over ‘outgroups’ (everyone else) in academia. Her model showed that while the human capital of both groups was quite similar, the ingroups made more and higher wage claims which were more likely to be accepted. This model shows how structural bias is built into our systems.

Several presentations addressed systemic bias, with models that were used as heuristic tools for organizations to make changes to increase staff diversity. A common theme was that organizations needed to be shown the things that were within their control and to realize that business-as-usual was not good enough to make a difference. Systems Dynamics models were key for getting organizations to make these mental shifts. Amin Dehdarian from EDGE had a process for gender targets set within a framework of representation, pay equity, policies and practices, and organizational culture. Systems Dynamics models were used to show how effective the strategies could be. A similar approach was taken by Hugo Herrera, who used microworld simulation models to help organizations develop a coherent suite of strategies for decreasing their gender pay gaps. Ivan Taylor, Takuma Ono, and Saraj Koul presented their case study of a model for increasing diversity in organizations applied to Twitter that have a vision of 25% of their US staff being from disadvantaged groups by 2025. Like the other models mentioned in this post, their data shows that improving fairness and diversity in recruitment and promotion are key aspects for improving diversity in the organization. They do acknowledge that their model does not currently account for the intersectional nature of disadvantage, which is future work for them.

All of these models have been used to gain a greater understanding of why some people in our organizations are held back, not because of their skills, knowledge, and experience, but because of their demographic characteristics and the systemic bias that goes with it. Systems Dynamics has been used in these cases to explain, spark discussions, and generate solutions. With these tools to hand, perhaps we can all succeed in this world, rather than just a select few.

  • Gender segregation dynamics: Women participation and performance in competitive chess in the Netherlands. Presenter: Jeroen Struben.
  • Recognizing systemic gender bias: Career advancement case study in a science team. Presenter: Suzanne Manning.
  • Gender and ethnic pay inequality in academia: A formal systems dynamics mode. Poster: Inge Bleijenbergh.
  • System dynamics modeling to set effective gender targets. Poster: Amin Dehdarian.
  • Tipping the scales: Using microworlds to uncover systemic issues driving organizations’ gender pay gap. Presenter: Hugo Herrera.
  • A System Dynamics Model to assist leaders to increase diversity in their organizations applied to Twitter’s 25/25 vision. Presenters: Ivan Taylor, Takuma Ono, Saroj Koul

 

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2022 Conference Highlight #intheloop

2022 Conference Highlight #intheloop

2022 Conference Highlight

Is System Dynamics the Missing Subject in our Educational System?

Is System Dynamics so valuable that we should encourage its inclusion in our educational system? This year, presentations at International System Dynamics Conference (ISDC) supported this hypothesis. The President of System Dynamics Society, Shayne Gary, noted a growing trend in appreciating systems thinking as a useful tool to explain complexities. The ever-expanding requirement to cope with a complex world opens room for increased utilization of System Dynamics in our daily life. The power of the method was proved in the global study “Limits to Growth” fifty years ago. Jorgen Randers reflected on this Anniversary by comparing the initial study results with today’s worldwide situation. The project signals one of the most important features of System Dynamics, the capacity to describe phenomena and present their behavior in time, on a global scale.

From Our Community

Recording & Resources: Multisolving Working With Complexity and Interconnection – Watch

Reading: System Dynamics Focuses More on Sustainability Than the Sustainable Development Goals – Read

Open Model: Baby Formula Shortage – Simulate

Reading: Examining the Success of Women of Color-Owned Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises in the United States – read

Learning

Book: Understanding the Dynamics of Nuclear Power and the Reduction of CO2 Emissions: A System Dynamics Approach – Buy

Book*: The Sustainability Puzzle – Buy
*FREE with the code OURFUTURE

Jobs

Professor and Department Chair – Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences | UMass Lowell

Research Associate | Loughborough University

Assistant Professor | University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Quantitative Analyst | Exelon

Articles

System Dynamics Review
What Jay Didn’t Tell Us: Hidden Gems in the System Dynamics Practices of Jay W. Forrester – read

Animal – Science Proceedings
Non-Linear Thinking: From Mental Models to Mathematical Models in Animal Science – read

Systems
Using Cascaded and Interlocking Generic System Archetypes to Communicate Policy Insights—The Case for Justifying Integrated Health Care Systems in Terms of Reducing Hospital Congestion – read

Mineral Economics
Perspectives on Exploration and Extraction of Seafloor Massive Sulfide Deposits in Norwegian Waters – read

This newsletter is created in partnership with the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) to keep you in the loop on the most up-to-date System Dynamics news, job opportunities, upcoming events, and much more. We’d love to hear from you what kind of information you’d like to see here. Please send us any relevant updates to be featured here!

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2022 Conference Highlight #intheloop 2022 Conference Highlight Is System Dynamics the Missing Subject in our Educational System? Is System Dynamics so valuable that we should encourage its inclusion in our educational system? This year, presentations at International...

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Is System Dynamics the Missing Subject in our Educational System?

Is System Dynamics the Missing Subject in our Educational System?

Is System Dynamics so valuable that we should encourage its inclusion in our educational system? This year, presentations at International System Dynamics Conference (ISDC) supported this hypothesis. The President of System Dynamics Society, Shayne Gary, noted a growing trend in appreciating systems thinking as a useful tool to explain complexities. The ever-expanding requirement to cope with a complex world opens room for increased utilization of System Dynamics in our daily life. The power of the method was proved in the global study “Limits to Growth” fifty years ago. Jorgen Randers reflected on this Anniversary by comparing the initial study results with today’s worldwide situation[1]. The project signals one of the most important features of System Dynamics, the capacity to describe phenomena and present their behavior in time, on a global scale.

“Fish Banks has a long history and has been successfully implemented in learning at pre-college, college, and adult levels.”

A major practical application of System Dynamics is as Interactive Learning Environment (ILE). Without the necessity to build a model, these applications allow direct visualization of the system, game playing, storytelling, or simulation of behavior. Notable are two general formats: desktop and online. Will Fisher used the System Dynamics game Fish Banks to explain environmental economics[2]. The students play actors in the fishery system, trying to maintain it. By changing the system parameters they were able to see how the system responds to the altered policies. Results show an easy understanding of the topic, increased awareness about the system, and ‘enthusiasm’ to play. Fish Banks has a long history and has been successfully implemented in learning at pre-college, college, and adult levels.

In another presentation, Juliette Rooney-Varga and her team studied how the use of the online simulation platform helps to change public opinion about climate change, especially at the level of public decision-makers [3]. In their work-in-progress study, they investigated, at which level readymade online interactive medium EN-Roads helps the transformation of insights and action of the politicians towards climate change. Although at the preliminary stage, the results brought some facts that simulation improves overall attitudes toward climate change.

“Lectures that utilize System Dynamics influence change in students’ thinking, enhance capacity to understand calculus, and increase skill in mathematical modeling.” Diana Fischer

Teaching by applying System Dynamics modeling is another practice. Diana Fisher presented work from her long experience in educating pre-college students[4]. She stressed how lectures that utilize the method influence change in students’ thinking, enhance capacity to understand calculus and increase skill in mathematical modeling. Fisher noted that modeling with System Dynamics is not learned quickly but requires support from the institutions and commitment by the learner.

Another approach to practicing System Dynamics in teaching was reported by Zimmermann[5]. She utilizes the participatory group model building method in her classroom environment and has developed instructions to teach System Dynamics through collaborative methods. The benefits of this approach are both learning the use of System Dynamics and also learning group dynamics and participatory processes.

“System Dynamics enhance understanding of complex macro-economic situations, increases soft skills, and improves analytical thinking with a possible wide range of applications with an overall positive impact at the social level.”

Programs to use System Dynamics have been developed at the country level. In Turkey, an environmental and climate change education program at the middle school level has been developed[6]. Students are taught via the direct application and changes in the System Dynamics model. The results are increased knowledge about the subject as well as a proactive attitude to create actions to fight climate change. The students reported interest in seeking environmental-friendly solutions and wanted to continue with the class during the next term. One activity within this program was an online platform for teachers to learn systems thinking and Systems Dynamics. In another case, David Wheat and the Ukrainian team highlighted experiences from the ten-year-long project to learn economics through System Dynamics[7]. The project developed capacities in Ukraine in cooperation with Bergen University. Activities were done in university settings, at the pre-college level, and at the National Bank of Ukraine. They also organized an annual conference, established a competence center, developed a system for scientific cooperation, and incorporated the program into the Ukrainian educational system. Now, without external aid, project members remain enthusiastic and continue the project. The outcomes proved that the use and teaching of System Dynamics enhance understanding of complex macro-economic situations, increases soft skills, and improves analytical thinking with a possible wide range of applications with an overall positive impact at the social level.

“Postponing the decision to involve System Dynamics in the regular curriculum is a loss of opportunity to improve the education of our children and the population in general.”

The 2022 ISDC showed System Dynamics as a useful tool to improve our teaching process with remarkable potential. This didactic instrument supports the learner to focus systemically on the topic and discover internal relationships that sustain or change behavior, expanding cognitive potential through visualizing the nonlinear problems in an array of feedbacks. Teaching System Dynamics extensively from childhood up through the academic levels could enhance children’s holistic understanding of real-world problems, increase their structural thinking capabilities and develop mathematical modeling skills. Our strategy should be to incorporate System Dynamics as a regular tool in our educational system, utilizing it in different formats and adapting the method to each topic. Holistic penetration of System Dynamics in our society was predicted by its founder Jay W. Forester and the method itself was created with the purpose to describe and explain the behavior of any system. Such a powerful method should be considered among the essential capacities for the new era of human development. Postponing the decision to involve System Dynamics in the regular curriculum is a loss of opportunity to improve the education of our children and the population in general.

 

Presentations: 

[1] Jorgen Randers: “From Limits to Growth to Earth for All – Overshoot and collapse in a 100-year perspective”

[2] W. Fisher: “Teaching the tragedy of open access: a classroom exercise on governing the commons”

[3] J. Rooney-Varga at all: “Can interactive simulation impact what policymakers say and do on climate?”

[4] D. Fisher: “A Model-Building Lesson on Global Warming & Potable Water Availability for a High School Science Class” and “Creating and Building System Dynamics Models From the News (Workshop)”

[5] N. Zimmermann: “Participatory modeling in an introductory systems thinking and System Dynamics class”

[6] M.C. Alibeyoglu et all: “An Educational Program Design: Environmental Education with Systems Thinking and the World Climate Game Project”

[7] David Weat et all: “Learning Economics with Dynamic Modeling in Ukraine, in Collaboration with Norway”

 

 

Changed!

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Achieving a Polio-Free World Through System Dynamics Simulation

EXECUTIVE Summary

This System Dynamics model underpinned a 192 country resolution to eradicate polio globally and led the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to give Rotary International $100 million to fund the polio eradication effort.

The model made a case for continued funding policy eradication by providing compelling evidence that polio outbreaks will cost more than continued intense vaccination. While the reduction in the incidence of cases was making it look like the cost of immunization was exceeding its benefits, this application of System Dynamics shows that dealing with ongoing, long-term sporadic outbreaks resulting from stopping or slowing down immunization programs is even more costly than dealing with sporadic outbreaks.  The process resulted in a simulation model that estimates the costs of two alternative policies. Option 1 was to continue efforts to eradicate polio and option 2 was to reduce the immunization rate and deal with sporadic outbreaks.

This analysis came at a critical time. In February 2007, the WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, convened an urgent stakeholder consultation to discuss the option of switching from eradication to control. Clearly showing the dynamics and giving the wavering commitment a name helped key stakeholders appreciate the options quantitatively and with a much longer time horizon. Since then, efforts have continued to focus on finding the resources needed for complete eradication and on dealing with the other complex challenges that remain. With the support of the simulation model, national and global health leaders and financial supporters re-committed to completing eradication, which led to several hundreds of millions of dollars of resources.

#Polio #WHO #Vaccination #Health

The Problem

Following the successful eradication of smallpox and impressive progress in the elimination of polio in the Americas, in 1988 the World Health Assembly committed to the global eradication of wild polioviruses by the year 2000. By 2000, the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) had significantly reduced the global circulation of wild polioviruses. However, in 2002–3, faced with insufficient funding to continue intense vaccination everywhere, the GPEI focused its vaccination efforts. At the time, wild polioviruses continued to circulate in six countries, but many other countries remained vulnerable to importation. Political and logistical challenges led to outbreaks and exportations, and between 2004 and 2006 wild polioviruses appeared again in previously polio-free African and Asian countries.

Toward the end of 2005, a debate began about abandoning the goal of eradication. How could the world continue to justify the significant use of resources (both financial and human) on polio, particularly with the number of cases globally already so low and so many other disease control and health services programs in need of resources?

The Solution

The dynamic disease outbreak model represents a more complicated version of the standard SIR model used in a popular System Dynamics textbook (Sterman, 2000). However, in Polio, we must deal with different types of imperfect immunity (i.e., from historic or recent exposure to polioviruses – including the oral poliovirus vaccine and/or vaccination with the inactivated poliovirus vaccine – as well as a latent period and routine or supplemental immunization rates). Modifying and expanding our existing model allowed us to determine that it was not possible to “effectively control” (i.e., achieve low cases) at a low cost. This means that control either implies high costs and low cases, or low costs and high cases, but not low costs and low cases.

Stock an Flow Diagram

However, our most significant insight came from exploring the dynamics of the economic investment in eradication. After watching the GPEI deal with the reintroductions of wild polioviruses in previously polio-free countries between 2004 and 2006, we recognized that reducing vaccination led the stock of susceptible individuals to build up and ultimately to outbreaks after some delay. Responding to the outbreaks requires reinvesting in intensive vaccination, which after some delay contains the outbreak and reduces or eliminates the circulation of the virus. With success comes a perception that the high level of investment compared to the low incidence is no longer justified. If policymakers succumb to the resulting pressure to reduce vaccination spending, this creates a situation in which populations again become vulnerable to new outbreaks.

“If policymakers succumb to the resulting pressure to reduce vaccination spending, this creates a situation in which populations again become vulnerable to new outbreaks.”

To capture this behavior, we constructed the negative feedback loop shown here, which we called  “wavering”. We incorporated this feedback loop into our dynamic disease model and tailored the model to two populous northern Indian states in which wild poliovirus still circulates. We explored two options: (1) vaccinate intensively until eradication;  and (2) vaccinate intensively only if the costs per incident case remain below a certain acceptable level, but reduce the vaccination intensity otherwise  (i.e.,  a “control” option with the possibility of wavering).

Causal Loop Diagram Polio
Simulation Chart Polio

Outcomes

This application of System Dynamics highlights the systemic causes of overruns and emphasizes the importance of understanding the complex physical and social systems within which large projects operate. We, fortunately, saw the wavering commitment loop when no one else seemed to see it, and we went beyond just seeing the loop to build and use a model that provided answers to critical questions at the time the decision makers could use them (and needed them and asked us). In the presentation to the stakeholders, we showed the results to tell the dynamic story in the simplest possible way (i.e., by comparing a firm commitment to a wavering commitment showing the cumulative costs and cases).

We did not focus on explaining the model itself to attempt to walk the decision makers through the equations or diagrams. Instead, we focused on communicating the key insights based on what they already knew (e.g., the 2002–3 reduction in vaccination led to big outbreaks and high costs). However, we anticipated and received (as anticipated) some criticism from economists who did not recognize in the model a traditional health economic analysis, but these were relatively limited.

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