Helicopters & microscopes

Image of microscopeIf we lived in a world where helicopters and microscopes were interchangeable we’d clearly be in a bit of a mess. Imagine your satnav giving you instructions for every pothole and divot on the route from home to work each day, or telling you simply to ‘go west’ when you’re faced with a complex network of inner-city one-way streets. We’d quickly give up on satnavs! Image of helicopter And yet this is the risk we run when it comes to modelling and simulation in healthcare. Our ability to choose the right tools to support us in managing complex change in health and care services is not what it should be. And it’s perhaps because of this complexity that we are prone to break things up into ‘manageable’ bits. But the very act of doing this can lead to problems – basically we cease to be working in a whole system way! System Dynamics, when used as part of a whole system approach to complex change, is the helicopter. You wouldn’t use it to get at the detail – but without it you could be seeing a lot of interesting trees but have lost the route map to get through the forest. That is why WSP have produced a good practice guide. It’s called ‘Modelling for strategic insight and decision-making: the place of System Dynamics’. It can be downloaded here. It sets out to answer two key questions:

  1. What are the distinctives of System Dynamics, and therefore when should I use it rather than other modelling approaches?
  2. What does good practice in System Dynamics look like, and therefore what should I expect when undertaking or commissioning this type of work?

It considers questions like the differences between using System Dynamics and spreadsheet modelling or discrete event simulation and places the use of System Dynamics in the context of a wider strategy development process. The guide draws on our own extensive experience as well as sound academic sources and even contains a challenge to replicate a simple SD model using a spreadsheet. I’m sure someone out there is up to it, so we’d love you to take a look and contribute to the conversation……..