The 29th System Dynamics PhD Colloquium
(Sponsored by MIT SD Group)

Friday, Dec 5, 2014, 10:30 am to 4:30 pm

MIT Sloan School of Management

Building E51, Room 095


Building E51:

Address: 70 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA

Campus map:



Hosted by professors:

John Sterman

Hazhir Rahmandad

David Keith


Program organizer:

Mohammad Jalali ([email protected][vt or mit].edu)


Link to More Pictures



Program details:


Opening welcome

10:30 am-10:40 am

Ross Collins, MIT

10:40 am-11:20 am

Title: Infrastructure development at the water-energy nexus in Saudi Arabia: a system dynamics approach

Abstract: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a rapidly growing economy facing serious water and energy challenges to meet increasing demand. Today these infrastructures rely heavily on oil and natural gas, resources that also drive the economy through export revenue and petrochemical production, respectively. Future infrastructure technology choices, policy frameworks, and future uncertainties interact to produce long-term economic impacts that are presently unclear. To explore these potential impacts, we develop an integrated dynamic model of the Saudi water and energy system, including its connection to the Kingdom’s natural resource base and broader economy. Through a Business-as-Usual model analysis we find that desalination expansion is likely to put a significant strain on oil resources in the short- to medium-term, as recoverable groundwater further declines. Oil consumption in the power sector presents a long-term challenge, as natural gas availability is likely to be constrained by the growing petrochemical sector. Policy analysis reveals tradeoffs between three potentially complementary policies – agriculture scale down, subsidy removal, and non-fossil power generation – in terms of near-term capital expenditures and long-term macroeconomic gain. Regardless of policy approach, the long-term economic impact of technology efficiency underscores the need to replace less efficient capital vintages in the water and energy sectors. Uncertainty surrounding the oil price, fossil fuel production and population growth further justifies near-term policy action. Policy implications, limitations to the model and areas for future work are discussed in light of these findings.

Speaker: Ross is a Ph.D. candidate in the MIT Engineering Systems Division. Broadly, his research concerns defining and measuring sustainability in complex, sociotechnical systems to inform engineering and policy design. His current work uses system dynamics and welfare economic theory (comprehensive wealth) to model key interdependent infrastructures (water-energy nexus) of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and evaluate infrastructure investment and natural resource management plans. This work is part of a broader collaboration between MIT and the King Abdulaziz City for Science & Technology (KACST) called the Center for Complex Engineering Systems (CCES). Previous work for the MIT-Portugal Program used system dynamics to evaluate the tradeoffs between fire suppression and prevention to effectively manage forest fires in Portugal. Ross holds an S.M. in Technology & Policy from MIT, an M.S. in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia (UVa), as well as a B.S. in Systems Engineering and Economics from UVa.

Ozge Karanfil, MIT

11:20 am-12:00 pm

A dynamic model for screening: understanding misperceptions, feedback and long term trends in population health screening

Abstract: In this study we develop an explicit and integrated, broad boundary feedback theory around the dynamics of mass screening. The theory includes a decision theoretic core around costs and benefits of screening including the fundamental tradeoff between sensitivity and specificity; and feedbacks that condition guidelines and the actual practice. To provide context we use the mammography case as a motivating example, but our model is generic and applicable to other contexts such as the PSA screening.

Speaker: PhD candidate and teaching assistant in Management Science- System Dynamics Research Group at MIT Sloan School of Management. Background is in Industrial Engineering, graduate degrees in Industrial Engineering (concentration in System Dynamics) and Physiology (McGill University, Centre for Nonlinear Dynamics in Physiology and Medicine).
Past and current research interests include dynamic modeling for policy analysis, system dynamics, health care policy and decision making; population health screening, screening mammography, PSA screening; physiologically related systems modeling; dynamics of body weight regulation and obesity, renal, endocrine, and electrolyte physiology; learning environments, validation of simulation models.

Lunch break

12:00 pm-1:00 pm

Professor Gerald Midgley, University of Hull

1:00 pm-1:35 pm

An introduction to systems thinking for tackling wicked problems

Abstract: Systems thinking can support decision makers and their stakeholders (in the business, government and community sectors) when they seek to address ‘wicked problems’. Wicked problems are intransigent issues characterised by:

·         Complex and uncertain interactions, with consequences that cannot easily be predicted;

·         Multiple goals (e.g. economic, social and environmental) in tension;

·         Multiple scales (e.g., local, regional, national and global);

·         Multiple agencies, organisations, groups and communities involved or affected;

·         Multiple perspectives on defining both the problem and potential solutions;

·         Conflict, power relations and vested interests making change difficult; and/or

·         Scepticism due to unintended consequences from previous attempted solutions.

At the present time, governments, businesses and NGOs are facing more wicked problems than ever before, which makes systems thinking increasingly relevant to our future. This seminar will describe four interrelated systems thinking skills:

1.     Exploring boundaries – defining the inclusion or exclusion of stakeholders and the issues that concern them.

2.     Appreciating multiple perspectives – how and why stakeholders frame issues in different ways.

3.     Understanding relationships – networks of interconnections within and across systems.

4.     Thinking in terms of systems – organised wholes with properties that cannot be anticipated by analysing any one part of the system in isolation.

Different methods help with the practical application of these systems thinking skills. The seminar will give examples of these methods, and will describe their application in a range of projects from the UK and New Zealand.



Babak Bahaddin, Albany-SUNY

1:35 pm-2:05 pm

Collaborative research: CyberSEES: Type 1: using simulation-based learning environments to build capacity for managing complexity

Abstract: Most of public policies deal with complexity, both in the physical systems and human group decision makings. There are so many stakeholders for each decision with different and maybe opposite goals and intentions which make the process of decision making more complicated and less helpful. Simulation-based learning environments are designed to help managers to test their decisions in virtual world in order to experience the conflicts, complexities, possible policies and their consequences in a more cheaply and timely way. For this purpose, the research seeks to find a practical method for making SBLEs for managers who usually do not have a clear perception of stock, flows and feedback in systems. Also, another concern is to find a way to evaluate their decision making abilities before and after their participation in SBLEs.

Speaker: I am a first year PhD student in Informatics department at SUNY University at Albany. I have been graduated from Sharif University of Technology in Civil Engineering department, where I had the chance to have two classes about System Dynamics by Professor Ali Mashayekhi. Since then, I have done several public and private projects using System dynamics simulations. Currently, I am working under supervision of Professor David Andersen and Professor Eliot Rich.

Timothy Clancy, WPI

2:05 pm-2:30 pm

Understanding the Islamic state: the strategic architecture of ISIS and how to combat its capabilities

Abstract: In 2014 the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) emerged as the dominant insurgent force in the Middle East with the January capture of Fallujah and five months later seizure of most of northern Iraq in June. ISIS continued gain of towns and cities in both Syria and Iraq threatens Baghdad and has prompted a US intervention once again into the region. Yet the roots of ISIS stretch back to 2003 Al-Queda in Iraq, its predecessor organization, once thought largely eliminated as a threat by the departure of US troops from Iraq in December 2011. How did an organization on the verge of defeat in 2011 emerge as the dominant force in 2014, and how will it react and change under pressure from the US and its coalition partners?
This paper uses a performance theory of resources to create a dynamic model of ISIS’s strategic architecture. The model examines the primary performance objective of reducing the number of people subject to ISIS governance with a secondary objective of reducing the number of ISIS militants. The model incorporates both supply stocks (e.g. fighters, equipment, finances) and demand stocks (e.g. target population to be governed) and examines the dynamic interaction between these stocks historically to explain the rapid rise of ISIS as well as future scenarios. Policy alternatives in combating ISIS's capabilities are simulated and tested to determine how ISIS is likely to react to US military intervention and other possible courses of action.

Speaker: Timothy Clancy works for IBM in the Strategy & Analytics division as an Associate Partner. In this role Timothy served on assignments to the US Army and Office of the Secretary of Defense for six years. For two years Timothy led IBM teams in Afghanistan supporting military commanders in theater to achieve mission critical priorities.
Timothy has earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business and a Bachelor of Arts in history with a specialty in insurgencies, civil wars and civil conflict from Reinhardt University. He is currently pursuing a PHD in Systems Dynamics from Worchester Polytech Institute (WPI).

Coffee break

2:30 pm-3:00 pm

Weijia Ran, Albany-SUNY

3:00 pm-3:40 pm

Experiment with methods to build a critical mass in the diffusion of an enabling technology in support of sustainable development

Abstract: A unified certification framework is an enabling technology that can be used to solve problems arising from the proliferation of certification standards and programs. Successful commercialization perhaps is the path that can lead to the self-sustaining development of a unified certification framework. Guidelines are not available both in theory and practice regarding how to take a unified certification framework into the market. The purpose of this study is to build a simulation environment that will allow practitioners to experiment with methods to build a critical mass and successfully commercialize a unified certification framework with minimum costs.

Speaker: Weijia Ran is a PhD candidate in Informatics at the University at Albany. Her research interests include sociotechnical systems, data management, analytic-based decision making, modeling and simulation, research methodologies, and sustainability.

Sergey Naumov, MIT

3:40 pm-4:20 pm

A complex choice system: envisioning a successful market strategy for high octane ethanol fuel

Abstract: Current options (E10 & E85) in the automotive fuel-powertrain system do not result in consumption of the federally mandated ethanol volumes. Models exist for the deployment of alternative fuel powertrain vehicles considering the dynamic limitations imposed by infrastructure co-evolution and delays. These models work when consumers are limited to a single fuel choice per vehicle and when growth is only determined by positive familiarity. A new system dynamics model applied to high octane ethanol blend fuel vehicles encompassing unfavorable word of mouth was developed to capture the asymmetrical effect of unfavorable consumer perceptions and interactions on market growth. The additional model structure enables new types of system behavior to be observed that was previously not possible. Results show that removal of potential consumers from the market due to unfavorable word of mouth can mitigate or overwhelm marketing and change virtuous growth to a vicious reinforcement leading to market collapse.  

Closing remarks

4:20 pm-4:30 pm

Happy Hour at Champions (sponsored by MIT SD group)

Address: 2 Cambridge Center Cambridge, MA 02142

5 pm

Each presentation includes 10 min for questions and answers.
The length of each presentation has been specified by the respective speaker.

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