TUE 11:30 AM Parallel Session: Miscellaneous Applications of System Dynamics

 

Full Report: Three very different topics were covered in the “Miscellaneous Applications of Stystem Dynamics” parallel session: insulin absorption in the blood stream, feasibility of complete waste reduction, and productivity conflict resolution. Though seemingly unrelated in subject matter, all three presentations demonstrated how system dynamics can be utilized to simultaneously educate while investigating, thereby, ultimately broadening horizons.

 

Erik Mosekilde, of the Technical University of Denmark, began the session with his presentation of the Biomedical Applications of System Dynamics, which was coauthored by Jacob Lund Laugesen. Beginning in 1984, Mosekilde and colleagues developed a system dynamics model of subcutaneous soluble insulin absorption, in order to try to understand the nonlinearities seen in the hormone’s absorption kinetics. Based on the understanding that insulin’s absorption is based on both volume and concentration, the model consistently predicts outcomes of independent experiments. Furthermore, the model is robust enough to explain phenomena not apparent from the scientific data alone. This modeled data will prove useful in the continuing pursuit of individualized medicine and in reducing rates of non-responders. Despite its utility, Mosekilde’s model was not accepted when it was initially developed, as it was ahead of the systems biology movement. Now, some twenty years later, amidst this movement, his model has been acknowledged, and pharmacology is finally beginning to acknowledge and value research methodologies beyond its usual arsenal of classical, statistics-based trial and error techniques.

 

The second parallel presentation was given by Krystyna Stave, entitled, Zero Waste by 2030: A System Dynamics Simulation Tool for Stakeholder Involvement in Los Angeles’ Solid Waste Planning. From the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Stave described both her model and the outcomes of the one-day workshop in which it was used. In a scenario akin to the beer game, fifty L.A. citizens were challenged to manipulate the model, in order to understand the key levers affecting the city’s goal of attaining zero waste by the year 2030. (The city currently diverts 62% of its waste from the landfill.) Stave’s model outputs are amount of waste, relative green house gas emissions, relative cost, and relative effort or social cost. By manipulating upstream (e.g. product lifetimes), downstream (e.g. decreasing consumption), and residual (e.g. burning waste) variables, several key insights were unearthed. L.A. citizens found that merely maintaining the status quo will actually decrease the city’s impressive diversion rates. Reducing inputs upstream, on the other hand, is most effective. Perhaps the most important conclusion gained from opening this framework for discussion was the demonstration to stakeholders, via the model, that working within the city’s current framework (e.g. recycling more, using less water, etc.) is the quickest, most efficient way to reduce waste in the short term.

 

The final presentation of the session was by Kambiz Maani, of the University of Queensland, who discussed Resolving Performance Measure Conflicts in a Supply Chain using Systems Thinking Methodology, which was coauthored by Annie Fan. Continuing the thread of the previous two presentations, Maani described the outcomes of action research in a large, multinational food and beverage manufacturer. Through group, causal-loop-diagram building, and systems thinking utilization, Maani described how, in a series of half-day workshops with manufacturers and managers, the organizational model of this company and the thinking pattern of its employees changed. Before the sessions, there were many complaints within the company about the supply chain problems, mostly filled with blame and miscommunication. After Maani’s sessions however, the same employees were filled with a much deeper understanding of the challenges faced by employees across the organization as well as recognition of the need for cross-functional interaction. Sixteen months later, when Maani and colleagues returned to the company, these changes in thought and performance increases were sustained. Furthermore, senior management had enjoyed the new way of thinking so much, that the company had initiated systems thinking methodologies as part of employee training across business groups.

 

A diverse and exciting session, the three presentations underlined the imperative role system dynamics plays in fundamentally increasing understanding across and within groups, as well as its utility in educating while investigating.

 

Holly Rockweiler

 

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