Looking into the Future with System Dynamics Modelling

Tue 16 Jul 2019

Why do certain businesses fail and others not under similar circumstances? Why do some management strategies work in the short term, but not in the long term? Digging deeper into the “why?” of such questions becomes more difficult when multiple factors play a role.

Dr. Jean-Luc de Kok, Project Coordinator for the H2020 COASTAL project, thinks this is where System Dynamics, or SD modelling, can help people better understand complicated problems and enable them to make more informed decisions - which is what they are doing across Europe in COASTAL.

COASTAL, a H2020 companion project to ROBUST, is using an interactive Systems Dynamics approach to support business decisions that foster rural and coastal development and job potential while preserving the environment.

The project is organized around six complementary Multi-Actor Labs across Europe, where participants share tools and expertise in areas like tourism, spatial planning, agriculture, blue industry, environment, and fisheries/aquaculture.

System Dynamics Modelling has been widely used since the 1950s to analyse problems in a variety of fields: from logistics and engineering, to financial management and public policy. Using this approach, stakeholders, administrations and entrepreneurs taking part in COASTAL are co-creating Causal Loop Diagrams, which are graphic models that help visualize how different variables in a system are interrelated.

Quantifying the diagramming results enables identifying ‘tipping points' of complex social-environmental systems – like coastal regions, which are intensively used and rapidly developing with economic activities competing for resources such land, water, and skilled labour.

During the first year of the COASTAL project, each Multi-Actor Lab organized co-creation sessions to prioritize observed opportunities and challenges and identify the underlying land-sea interactions. Soon, these interactions will be quantified using readily-available data to develop an evidence-based understanding of various policy options and business investments over time.

The complexity of the models is not so much in the mathematics as in the feedback structure of the system, which is the result of a co-creation process with the stakeholders. Practical business roadmaps and policy solutions will be developed from the findings, which can be easily updated using the models developed during the project. The true strength of SD modelling is the transparency of the graphical models, which allows interactive design and use of the models, have limited data requirements, and can produce results very quickly.

The ROBUST and COASTAL teams are currently exploring ways to share these tools and methods to better understand the highly complex and dynamic nature of rural-urban interactions. Stay tuned to learn more about the outcomes in the coming year!

The COASTAL project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement N° 773782.

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News about Rural-Urban Europe and the ROBUST project is published regularly in the INFORMED CITIES newsletter.

ROBUST is a European research project involving 24 partners from 11 countries. ROBUST receives funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 727988.

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