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Complex Systems Approach for Simulation & Analysis of Socio-Technical Infrastructure Systems - An Empirical Demonstration

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Over the past century, the world has become increasingly more complex. Modern systems (i.e blockchain, internet of things (IoT), and global supply chains) are inherently difficult to comprehend due to

Over the past century, the world has become increasingly more complex. Modern systems (i.e blockchain, internet of things (IoT), and global supply chains) are inherently difficult to comprehend due to their high degree of connectivity. Understanding the nature of complex systems becomes an acutely more critical skill set for managing socio-technical infrastructure systems. As existing education programs and technical analysis approaches fail to teach and describe modern complexities, resulting consequences have direct impacts on real-world systems. Complex systems are characterized by exhibiting nonlinearity, interdependencies, feedback loops, and stochasticity. Since these four traits are counterintuitive, those responsible for managing complex systems may struggle in identifying these underlying relationships and decision-makers may fail to account for their implications or consequences when deliberating systematic policies or interventions.

This dissertation details the findings of a three-part study on applying complex systems modeling techniques to exemplar socio-technical infrastructure systems. In the research articles discussed hereafter, various modeling techniques are contrasted in their capacity for simulating and analyzing complex, adaptive systems. This research demonstrates the empirical value of a complex system approach as twofold: (i) the technique explains systems interactions which are often neglected or ignored and (ii) its application has the capacity for teaching systems thinking principles. These outcomes serve decision-makers by providing them with further empirical analysis and granting them a more complete understanding on which to base their decisions.

The first article examines modeling techniques, and their unique aptitudes are compared against the characteristics of complex systems to establish which methods are most qualified for complex systems analysis. Outlined in the second article is a proof of concept piece on using an interactive simulation of the Los Angeles water distribution system to teach complex systems thinking skills for the improved management of socio-technical infrastructure systems. Lastly, the third article demonstrates the empirical value of this complex systems approach for analyzing infrastructure systems through the construction of a systems dynamics model of the Arizona educational-workforce system, across years 1990 to 2040. The model explores a series of dynamic hypotheses and allows stakeholders to compare policy interventions for improving educational and economic outcome measures.

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  • 2020