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Systems thinking and system dynamics modelling to support policy development using waste prevention and recycling as case studies - ST0201

To develop Defra’s capability in the use of systems thinking and system dynamics as problem structuring and modelling techniques to support policy development.

In particular, we will be looking to apply these techniques to support the development of the Waste Prevention Programme for England (WPP) and enhance the evidence base of packaging waste recycling.
i) Develop internal capability in the use of systems thinking by using waste prevention as a case study. In particular, develop a qualitative influence diagram for waste prevention reflecting differences and interactions between: waste streams, stakeholders, the supply chain from extraction to end-users, regulatory framework, level of political/social/business concern. The diagram will be used to understand and identify causes and effects; key barriers, decision factors and policy levers; feedback loops and unintended consequences of the interactions. This will help to optimise the social, economic and environmental impacts of potential interventions for achieving zero waste (right at the top of the waste hierarchy) in a structured and systematic manner.

ii) Develop internal capability in system dynamics modelling by using the packaging recycling system as a case study. Initially, we want to validate the current plastics packaging waste model that has been developed using system dynamics. We then want to improve it to include commercial & industrial waste (it currently reflects household waste only), the remaining waste streams (e.g. paper, glass, metals, wood, textiles) and the extraction process as part of the supply chain. The model incorporates most aspects of the system from packaging production/manufacturing to consumption, collection, processing, recycling and disposal, also reflecting tradeoffs between reducing waste upstream, increasing the quality and quantity or recyclates and the relative costs vs. revenue. The model will then be used to develop a policy laboratory, enabling policy leads to play with the variables of the model in real time to run a series of scenarios against which to test the robustness of current and potential future strategies and to carry out sensitivity analyses by varying the value of the exogenous variables to test the robustness of key assumptions. This will help to understand better the cumulative impact of our actions including unintended consequences throughout the system and identify key policy levers.

iii) Develop guidance on the approach and skills used to develop the influence diagram and system dynamics model described above to disseminate what has been learnt and to ensure capability building is not restricted to those involved in the project or the policy area. In addition to general guidance, develop technical documentation for the system dynamics model of packaging waste (including a description of the mathematical relationship between variables in the model) to share with the wider analytical community in Defra.

iv) Once the previous objectives have been achieved, explore other areas in Defra where systems thinking and system dynamics could be used to support policy development to disseminate and continue consolidating the knowledge acquired.

Project Documents
• EVID4 - Final project report : ST0201 Systems modelling final report   (3586k)
• LIT - Literature Review : ST0201 Systems modelling literature review   (2588k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2012

To: 2013

Cost: £51,110
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Economic Research