System dynamics modelling

System dynamics modelling looks at patterns of behaviour over time and seeks to understand the underlying structure of relationships producing the observed patterns.

Overall system structure

System Dynamics Model

It offers a way of using the perspectives of multiple stakeholders to model the cause and effect relationships that are most relevant in explaining why a certain variable or set of variables have behaved the way they have, and how those variables would likely react to a certain policy/set of policies. This can be in the context of economic systems, ecosystems, organisations, healthcare, social issues, and much more. 

The overall system structure is initially represented in a visual form. This visual structure and the system relationships are corroborated by experts and stakeholders working within the system. Equations are then applied to the visual structure, and the model is simulated, facilitating exploration of a range of possible futures.

These dynamic maps help identify leverage points for effective intervention in complex systems. They also illuminate potential unintended consequences and side effects of well-intended policies.

The visual nature of system dynamics modelling makes it a powerful communication tool, particularly for when trying to get a diverse group of stakeholders to understand each others perspectives. The process of modelling allows each stakeholder to explicitly explain their perspective on why a certain issue is happening, and that perspective can then be combined with another to produce a model that explains the larger system, in which each stakeholder can see their own perspective as well as that of other stakeholders. This leads to a more holistic understanding of the situation, and therefore helps in better policy formation.

Dementia service project

The Innovation Lab worked with the Department of Health on a dementia service project. The aim of the project was to demonstrate System Dynamics Modelling as a way to understand the cost implications of an aging population to dementia care in Northern Ireland. The core objective was to model a baseline level of care and to understand the merits of potential interventions to make dementia care more affordable over the coming 30 years.


The model provided fresh insight into how to design quality care at the lowest possible cost per person, focussing on the dynamics of tipping points for carers, and the cycling of mild cognitive impairment patients through the dementia system, and the cost-reducing impact of high-quality end-of-life care.

The model below looks at improving the information feedback to prevent tipping points for people with dementia and their carers.

When there is a gap between perception and reality, the potential for a health crisis to arise develops. It is often a crisis which starts correcting the gap between perception and reality. This diagram shows how an information feedback between Health and Social Care services and Carers could mitigate crisis. This aligns with the ‘Triangle of Care’ approach, and operationalises the dangers of not taking this approach.


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