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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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