The First System Dynamics Hackathon (that we know of!)



In June 2020, more than 100 System Dynamicists gathered online with short notice and only 48 hours to develop a System Dynamics model and suggest policies, strategies, and solutions to help the City of Bergen, Norway, achieve its objective of eliminating use of all fossil energy sources by 2030Participants were provided a simple causal loop diagram developed by University of Bergen organizers in conjunction with local municipal experts to help bound the problem.  Society President and University of Bergen Professor Birgit Kopainsky and Brooke Wilkerson, Anaely Aguiar, Christina Gkini organized this inaugural event.  Mentors were available to help throughout the event and provided appreciated guidance to modelers who took up this challenge. This innovative session demonstrated that System Dynamics models and insights can be completed under a tight time frame. 

The winner of eternal glory and the 5000 NOK cash prize was Pradeesh Kumar K.V.,  an Indian born safety engineer with almost 20 years of experience in Industrial Safety who is currently working in Kuwait.  He first came across System Dynamics while reading MIT Professor Nancy Leveson’s book “Engineering a Safer World” wherein System Dynamics is applied to model the dynamics of factors that led to the loss of the Space Shuttle “Columbia”. Fascinated with this new method, he enrolled for the Online Graduate Certificate Program in System Dynamics from WPI, USA and completed the program in 2014. From there he has pursued knowledge expansion related to the theoretical underpinning of System Dynamics modeling covering areas such as model structures, delay, bounded rationality, validation etc. He has also presented a paper on the overshoot and collapse of Easter Island at the 2019 System Dynamics Conference in Iceland.  Pradeesh completed his B. Tech in Safety and Fire Engineering from Cochin University of Science and Technology, India and completed his MBA from University of Melbourne (Universitas 21 Global), Australia. His interest in Systems extends into the field of Business Architecture. Currently he is also pursuing courses to learn more about the broader field of Complexity.  When he is not being a systems and complexity geek, he listens to music, sings on Smule, watches movies on Netflix, tries to read non-systems books and enjoys treks.  He can be reached via Linked In and would appreciate a call out on Twitter (@PradeeshKKV) if you pass this along.

The winning entry by Pradeesh Kumar K.V. began with a causal loop diagram covering three main sectors: transportation, energy use in buildings, and waste management. Considering the limited time and hands available and as advised by his mentor, Pradeesh further refined the problem as trying to achieve “no fossil energy sources will be used in Bergen for Waste Incineration by year 2030”. About 40% of his time was spent on defining the problem and feedback loops in a causal mapping phase which culminated in the diagram to the left.

Model development and policy testing took Pradeesh another 50% of his project time. Testing itself was limited only to boundary selection, equation review, units check and overall model behavior check. Though important, there was no time for conducting extreme condition tests and partial model tests. Data, where available on the internet, was utilized in the model. Mostly only generic lookup functions (linear relations) were used. 

In terms of policies, two primary interventions were considered: campaigns to limit consumption and developing waste treatment technology to reduce incineration.  Efforts to limit consumption were deemed ineffective because they led to unacceptable increases in unemployment. Efforts to develop and use new waste treatment technology were found to also reduce waste heat generation and therefore heat available for home heating. In the end, the systems analysis suggested that an appropriate policy to consider was to develop waste treatment technology to reduce incineration while simultaneously exploring development of new home heating technologies.  You may download his simulation model here.

Pradeesh spent the remaining 10% of his time on developing the presentation video. He initially thought it was impossible to present within 3 minutes, but clear guidance from the hackathon mentors was a great help in getting the video completed within time!  You can view his award winning presentation here.  

Pradeesh’s biggest take away from this hackathon was that it helped underline the importance of System Dynamics as a valuable tool for policy-making and decision making in general. He believes the challenge is very rewarding and encourages others to participate in future hackathons.  He would like to point out that overall familiarity with basic model structures (such as for projects, information smoothing etc.), ability to develop a transparent model, succinct presentation of findings and passion to help solve a problem are more than sufficient to be successful.   He invites you to join in future System Dynamics hackathons that bring together modelers from across the globe to solve real challenges.  Click below to see what is currently scheduled.