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Finding Leverage with System Dynamics

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Chris Soderquist presentation at the 2016 Science of HOPE

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This session will introduce participants to a powerful approach to orchestrating useful learning across difficult boundaries using system dynamics. Through real world examples and interactive exercises, participants will learn how system dynamics can help them gain far more useful leverage when addressing complex, adaptive challenges. Participants will also see how this approach was used in a project funded by the Foundation for Healthy Generations to guide strategic decisions in Washington (and other states) for building community capacity and resilience.

Published in: Government & Nonprofit
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Finding Leverage with System Dynamics

  1. 1. Finding Leverage Using Systems THINKING to Facilitate Adaptive Learning A session for the Science of HOPE Conference Presented by Chris Soderquist, Pontifex Consulting April 19, 2016
  2. 2. Assumptions • The rigorous and generous application of systems THINKING would greatly improve our effectivness at solving the difficult problems we face • The way systems THINKING is taught and applied limits its adoption and impact
  3. 3. Leverage defined FEW MANY LITTLE FUNDAMENTAL UnintendedConsequences Change in Behavior Tweaks Fire-fighting Disasters! High Leverage Fundamentally transforming system performance using minimum resources/effort and without falling prey to undesirable, unintended consequences
  4. 4. In order to apply systems thinking, the issue must have an “over time” component to it. i.e. How will / do(es) the issue(s) play out over time? “Ah. It’s a seasonal business!” Even when the structure (rules,policies, resources, beliefs, etc…) is hard to physically see! Systems Thinkers… • Expand Field of Vision • Focus on the Physics • Build a Shared Picture • Build confidence • Make as Simple as Possible
  5. 5. To Find Leverage What You Do Expand Field of Vision • Time • Space Focus on the Physics • Stocks / Flows • Feedback Loops How You Do It Build a Shared Picture • Everyone “sees” the same thing • Often use visual tools (graphs, maps) Build confidence • Apply the scientific method • Become “less and less…and less wrong” How You Evaluate Make as Simple as Possible • It captures the essence of the issue • All aspects unnecessary to understanding have been removed • Occam’s Razor You are developing a mental model of how the structure is generating the behavior of interest
  6. 6. You can find leverage applying a variety of systems THINKING processes and products Barry Richmond’s Value to Effort Graph can help you choose what to use under what circumstances In each product & process you will… Expand Field of Vision Focus on the Physics Build a Shared Picture Apply Scientific Method Simple As Possibe Conversational use of skills Systems THINKING questions Simple stock/flow map Simple model Complex model Effort/Time Required Value Derived Mother of all models Trend over time graphs SweetSpot
  7. 7. In doing systems THINKING there are 3 main products / processes Conversational use of skills Systems THINKING questions Simple stock/flow map Simple model Complex model Effort/Time Required Value Derived Mother of all models Trend over time graphs In each product & process you will… Expand Field of Vision Focus on the Physics Build a Shared Picture Apply Scientific Method Simple As Possibe SweetSpot 1 Systems THINKING Questions QUESTIONS Expand Temporal View ? Expand Spatial View ? Stocks & Flows ? Feedback Loops ? Build a Useful Picture ? Build Confidence ? Make Useful Sense ? 2 Trend Over Time Graphs 3 Stock and Flow Maps and Simulations
  8. 8. Let’s first focus on… 1 Systems THINKING Questions QUESTIONS Expand Temporal View ? Expand Spatial View ? Stocks & Flows ? Feedback Loops ? Build a Useful Picture ? Build Confidence ? Make Useful Sense ? 2 Trend Over Time Graphs 3 Stock and Flow Maps and Simulations
  9. 9. Quarterly Profits for Our Company 0 Profit (in Millions of $) 20 -20 Quarters Reactive Taking a shot in the dark Generates mental model of “the physics” How do you feel? What would you do? Missing enough to be dangerous!
  10. 10. 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% Obesity % Alaska Tennessee Based on this graph… What state is doing well in the winnable batle of obesity? What state would you have coach other states?
  11. 11. 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Alaska Tennessee Obesity % Based on this graph… What state is doing well in the winnable batle of obesity? What state would you have coach other states?
  12. 12. • A trend graph is a graph over time that captures the essence of a problem or issue of interest. • Trend graphs often contain a historical (“as is”) component as well as a projected (“to be”) component. • In creating a trend graph, it is often helpful to normalize (e.g. average, %, outcome/patient) the variable. • The unit of time (day, month, quarter, year, etc.) for the trend graph helps to set a temporal boundary for what to include in your analysis % population receiving Medicaid years “As Is” “To Be” Graduation rates months Sketch a Trend Graph for an Issue Trend Over Time Graphs – TOT Graphs
  13. 13. • Each person does the following (no copying your neighbor’s work!) • Draw one trend line you think most captures the important issues facing WA’s health! • Try to normalize each variable • $/person • % of population • outcome/$ spent • Draw the trend line • History • Future projection • Get in a trio • Select one for your group you think would generate an interesting discussion for the rest of room YEARS Indicator/variable 2000 2020 history future 2015 Drawing Trend Graphs Exercise
  14. 14. Purpose To understand and communicate the landscape of issues and interest across a broad constituency How to… • Map the stakeholder landscape • Determine 1-2 trend graphs that “speak to” each group • Speaking to can be… ✴ The pain if the issue continues ✴ The benefit of implementing a proposed solution ✴ Other The Big Kahuna Issue Stakeholder Group A Stakeholder Group B Stakeholder Group C Stakeholder Group D Stakeholder Interest Diagram
  15. 15. Let’s now focus on… 1 Systems THINKING Questions QUESTIONS Expand Temporal View ? Expand Spatial View ? Stocks & Flows ? Feedback Loops ? Build a Useful Picture ? Build Confidence ? Make Useful Sense ? 2 Trend Over Time Graphs 3 Stock and Flow Maps and Simulations
  16. 16. Noah Soderquist, 16 avid aerospace nut, quoter of Neal deGrasse Tyson and surprised by systems In the 1950's The World Health Organization (WHO) financed and supported the first ever team of over 14,000 parachuting cats into Borneo!
  17. 17. Plague Typhus ?Killed geckos Killed cats
  18. 18. Noah Soderquist, 16 avid aerospace nut, quoter of Neal deGrasse Tyson and surprised by systems In the 1950's The World Health Organization (WHO) financed and supported the first ever team of over 14,000 parachuting cats into Borneo!
  19. 19. Perspectives on Models Cynic It’s only a model! The world is much more complex, so it’s not useful. Our situation is unique so 
 your model doesn’t apply. Mystic It can predict the future. If I can just get everything 
 into the model, then 
 it will be perfect. Realist I use models all the time to make decisions, 
 they’re just implicit and usually untested. I can use a model to make my assumptions explicit, share them, improve them, and test them. It will improve our ability to rigorously 
 discuss the issues! All models are wrong, some are useful! — Box & Deming All models are wrong. Some are useful! –George Box & Ed Deming
  20. 20. Why have we observed this behavior? Health Expenditures as % of GDP
  21. 21. • Make assumptions explicit and testable • Answer a more fundamental question: • Can we get there from here? • Then can go into how • Identify potential unintended consequences • Propose systemic orchestration System Dynamics (and simulation) helps
  22. 22. Childhood Obesity Learning Lab
  23. 23. The inevitable result of it’s all connected http://minstrelboy.blogspot.com/2009/12/military-plan-for-afghan-war-surge-in.html http://www.closetcooking.com/2007/07/spaghetti- alla-carbonara-with-twist.html Example courtesy of Steve Peterson,The Peterson Group
  24. 24. To build useful understanding... adopt the mindsets of some pretty smart people Other things being equal, a simpler explanation is better than a more complex one - William of Occam, Occam’s Razor A model should be as simple as possible, but no simpler - Albert Einstein Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. - Albert Einstein All models are wrong, some are useful - George Box & Ed Deming
  25. 25. A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away. –Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  26. 26. …and then add breadth and a bit more detail – slowly! Representing “the system” 1. Low Road My advice: Take the High Road! 2.Getupoutoftheweeds… Breadth (Time/Space) (extensive boundary) Depth (intensive boundary) Shallow Highly Aggregated Deep Highly Disaggregated Narrowly Focused Broadly Focused Many mental models are here Good “systems” models are here How to frame and build useful “systems” models
  27. 27. This series focuses on the “sweet spot” by teaching you how to apply… 1 Systems THINKING Questions QUESTIONS Expand Temporal View ? Expand Spatial View ? Stocks & Flows ? Feedback Loops ? Build a Useful Picture ? Build Confidence ? Make Useful Sense ? 2 Trend Over Time Graphs 3 Stock and Flow Maps and Simulations
  28. 28. • Contributing to a meeting • Coaching a colleague • Evaluating an idea • Editing reports • Enhancing formal evaluation (Sample) QUESTIONS Expand Temporal View What are the most significant or troublesome trends (patterns of important system performance measures)? They can be tangible or intangible, quantitative or qualitative. What’s been the trend for each over the past several years? Expand Spatial View What other perspectives / stakeholders are concerned about this issue or something related to it? What other trends or system behaviors would they see as related – perhaps even more important – to the issue? Stocks & Flows If you could stop time for a magical moment and looked at the system – counting or measuring something – what would you focus on to assess system health? What’s accumulating? What are the key conditions? Feedback Loops Is there an obvious virtuous or vicious cycle (Reinforcing loops?) Is there a “push back” in the system or does it try to stay in equilibrium? (Balancing loops?) Build a Useful Picture Do we have the same picture of this issue, strategy? What do we need to develop that same page understanding? Build Confidence How do (are) we build(ing) confidence in the theory? Make Useful Sense How do we keep the mental model (explanatory theory) as simple as possible, but no simpler? Are there elements of the theory that are true, but not necessarily a major factor in explaining the issue or potential solutions? Can you remove? Systems THINKING Questions A quick and easy way to leverage the power of systems THINKING
  29. 29. • Look at each row • Pick 1-2 questions • Discuss / Answer them • Move to next row • If you have time, go back to rows you think might lend more insight • Ask me for help if you need it QUESTIONS Expand Temporal View What are the most significant or troublesome trends (patterns of important system performance measures)? They can be tangible or intangible, quantitative or qualitative. What’s been the trend for each over the past several years? How broad a time horizon is useful in order to really understand each? (1 year, 5 years, 10 years, decades?) Where are they going? What will be the future price we pay if left to continue as expected? How do we want the future to play out? What’s our desired trend – dynamic vision? How far into the future do we need to look to see the change we want? Expand Spatial View What other perspectives / stakeholders are concerned about this issue or something related to it? What other trends or system behaviors would they see as related – perhaps even more important – to the issue? How does this impact more than just the area of interest? Think about expanding the area of focus. If we make a change to the issue as you wish, where else will there be an impact? Would this (these) be a positive or negative unintended consequence(s) / impact(s)? Stocks & Flows If you could stop time for a magical moment and looked at the system – counting or measuring something – what would you focus on to assess system health? What’s accumulating? What are the key conditions? In what direction are the important accumulations going? What is the rate of change of these accumulations or conditions? Feedback Loops Is there an obvious virtuous cycle (where things continue to get better or better)? Or perhaps is there a vicious cycle (where things continue to get worse, and are maybe accelerating!)? (both of these first two are Reinforcing loops?) Is there a “push back” in the system? Does it appear to be trying to stay in equilibrium? (both of these two are Balancing loops?) Can we influence feedback loops to achieve leverage? Build a Useful Picture Do we have the same picture of this issue, strategy? What do we need to develop that same page understanding? Is our understanding clear and unambiguous? What’s needed to make it more so? Is it rigorous? What’s needed to make it more so? Build Confidence How do (are) we build(ing) confidence in the theory? Are we able to mentally simulate? Would we understand more by developing Stock and Flow Maps and Simulations and simulations? Could we computer simulate and would that add enough value to warrant the effort? Make Useful Sense How do we keep the mental model (explanatory theory) as simple as possible, but no simpler? Are there elements of the theory that are true, but not necessarily a major factor in explaining the issue or potential solutions? Can you remove?
  30. 30. Systems THINKING Review • Provides a mindset, a set of questions, and tools to help you develop a shared picture of the system you are trying to influence There are many ways to apply the syststems thinking framework
  31. 31. Chris Soderquist Pontifex Consulting PO Box 64 Hanover, NH 03755 (603) 276-0203 chris@findinghighleverage.com findinghighleverage.com Systems Thinking Resources An Introduction to Systems Thinking 
 with iThink Author: Barry Richmond Publisher: isee systems Thinking in Systems: A Primer Author: Donella Meadows Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing Company (2008) Finding Leverage Chris Soderquist Producer: Banyan Communications Sponsor: The National Association of Chronic Disease Directors https://vimeo.com/122034667 There are additional videos and articles on my resources page

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