Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Search in posts
Search in pages
System Dynamics Blog

SYSTEM DYNAMICS BLOG

Practitioner Profile: Douglas McKelvie, Symmetric Scenarios

Practitioner Profile: Douglas McKelvie, Symmetric Scenarios

by | May 19, 2021 | Co-Author : Saras Chung

Welcome to Practitioner Profiles, a series of up-close blog-length interviews with experienced System Dynamics practitioners.  We have a standard set of 10 questions and let practitioners take the responses in any direction they choose.  They tell us about who they are, how they got involved with the field, how they work with clients, and in what new directions they may be heading.  A new profile will be posted every few weeks during 2021. 

For any questions or comments, please contact the editors of these interviews, Dr. Jack Homer (jack@homerconsulting.com) and Dr. Saras Chung (saras@skipdesigned.com). 

For today’s spotlight, we talked with Douglas McKelvie with Symmetric Scenarios. 

What kinds of SD project applications does Symmetric Scenarios do?

Our emphasis is on health and social care and related domains, such as services for children, criminal justice, and workforce development and planning.  

What is the history of the organization?

Symmetric was founded in 2005 by a small group led by Eric Wolstenholme.  Initially, Eric, David Todd, and I were the main modelers, working alongside non-modeler colleagues, David Monk and Steve Arnold, who came from health services management.  David Todd returned to New Zealand ten years ago, and Eric gradually retired. Now, I work with Donald Scott, a former social work colleague. Eric still contributes valued insights and mentorship.

What is your current role with the organization?

As owner, I run the business.  I take the lead on model building (typically group model building), where I work with expert facilitators and other associates.  I am based in Edinburgh and work across the United Kingdom, occasionally beyond.

What is distinctive in your approach to SD projects?

We almost always simulate, true to Forrester’s maxim that you cannot tell how a complex system will behave from a diagram alone.  STELLA’s modular capabilities have made a big difference to how we develop models. Our models often combine some simple structures, such as capacity-constrained service pathways, ageing chains, workforce chains, and financial flows. Modules make it much easier to lay out such structures.

How else is Symmetric distinctive?

For several of us, a strong commitment to a particular area, human services, pre-dated our interest in SD.  And we collaborate—for example, we are currently working with action researchers on the subject of family support.

How did you originally get interested in System Dynamics, and when was that?

My first career was as a social worker. In the 1990s, I had a national policy role, planning the Scottish social services workforce.  Concurrently, I did masters study that introduced me to simulation.  In 2002, I moved into consultancy, fortuitously becoming a colleague of Eric Wolstenholme and learning SD from him.

What individuals and organizations are inspirations to you?

Many.  I aspire to combine Eric’s insights on service flows and capacity constraints with the pioneering work by Jack Homer and Gary Hirsch on the dynamics of specific diseases.  I admire how John Sterman and Kim Warren explain SD clearly and concisely.  I also enjoy model-chat with Sarah Wylie Boyar.  And I feel indebted to isee systems, who keep extending the power of STELLA for modelling and communicating insights.

What have you been able to achieve with your SD modeling?

It’s important that our models have integrity and provide meaningful insights for the client.  These insights may sometimes seem obvious to a systems thinker, but they do not start that way for our clients.  For example, in the UK health system, the discourse around waiting times distorts people’s mental models to the point that they forget the simple physics of capacity limitation.  When people become expert at managing the problems generated by poorly designed systems, they can end up confused about cause and effect.  We try to shift their mental models so they can see how things work and what is possible.

What challenges have you experienced with respect to SD project work?

There’s usually a point in the project when everybody wants to see a full running model, and you have to commit to a level of granularity and a policy time horizon.  That can be a stressful time, having to place a bet on how best to address the client’s questions.  Also, there’s the issue of data.  For all the talk of being ‘data-led’, few organizations have a proper comprehensive approach to data collection.  Wouldn’t it be nice to start every project with time series data covering all key variables?

What kinds of work would you like to be doing over the next 5 years?

I’d like to spend more of my time training people in how to build good models, as well as developing exploratory models based on my own interests.  Also, I’d like to write more.  Eric Wolstenholme and I published a book in 2019, The Dynamics of Care (Springer), outlining a variety of models built by Symmetric.

Have questions/comments? Reach out to Douglas McKelvie or leave a note below in the comments!

Recent Posts

Behavioral Dynamics of COVID-19

Behavioral Dynamics of COVID-19 Over a year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, its true global magnitude remains unknown.  Official counts of cases and deaths are known to underestimate the true magnitude of the pandemic, but how much...

Practitioner Profile: Etiënne Rouwette, Radboud University

Practitioner Profile: Etiënne Rouwette, Radboud University Welcome to Practitioner Profiles, a series of up-close blog-length interviews with experienced System Dynamics practitioners.  We have a standard set of 10 questions and let practitioners take the responses in...

Using System Dynamics to Improve Patient Care

Using System Dynamics to Improve Patient Care By Şanser Güz, Orkun İrsoy, and Naz Beril Akan Why do many people practice and advocate systems thinking in biomedical sciences? The human body is a system with strong regulatory mechanisms that maintain the steady state...

Upcoming Events

Panel: Authorship Ethics in Scientific Publishing

Panel: Authorship Ethics in Scientific Publishing

Session on the Wiley Research Interactions 2021 – Virtual Symposium | 16 – 17 June FREE EVENT CLICK HERE for more information and register This session will include two presentations: In academia, the term “authorship” typically includes a set of rights,...

Recent Business cases

General Motors OnStar

Name The General Motors OnStar Project Modelers Vince Barabba, Chet Huber, Fred Cooke, Nick Pudar, Jim Smith, Mark Paich Client General Motors Client Type Corporation The Official Website onstar.com is the official website in which you can become a member, get...

Pharmaceutical Product Branding Strategies

Pharmaceutical Product Branding Strategies Name Pharmaceutical Product Branding Strategies — Simulating Patient Flow and Portfolio Dynamics Modelers Mark Paich, Corey Peck, Jason Valant Contact Jason Valant or Corey Peck Client Numerous Pharmaceutical Companies Client...

Polio Eradication

Polio Eradication Name Polio Eradication Modelers Kimberly M. Thompson,and Radboud J. Duintjer Tebbens Client World Health Organization (WHO) Client Type NGO The Issue You Tackled Following successful eradication of smallpox and impressive progress in the elimination...

Join us

Jack Homer
Jack Homer

Homer Consulting; System Dynamics Society VP Professional Practice
Dr. Jack Homer is a management consultant and expert in System Dynamics (SD) simulation modeling. His models assist organizations looking for a formal yet flexible approach to strategic planning and policy design.

Co-Author

Saras Chung

Dr. Saras Chung is the executive director of SKIP Designed, a consulting group that applies system dynamics to educational systems for equity. She also teaches social policy design and analysis for children, youth, and families at Washington Universi

Leave a Reply