Innovative modelling to offer rapid insight into complex issues
Modern-day themes such as migration and climate change are interlinked and extremely complex, making it difficult to foresee the consequences of policy decisions. In this regard, models and simulations can help. Erik Pruyt, Associate Professor of System Dynamics and Policy Analysis, uses his models to compute various scenarios, which can offer assistance when reaching policy decisions in uncertain situations.
Just having a model is not enough. It is also important to further visualise the ‘model language’ for the client, as became apparent in one of Pruyt’s projects, commissioned by the national police force, the Immigration and Naturalisation service (IND), the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) and provincial and municipal authorities. The project encountered difficulties when it came to the immigrant registration process. By organising a meeting with the various parties and visualising the registration process – using model scenarios with Lego – it became immediately clear where things were going wrong, and measures could be taken to improve the process flow.
In addition to learning about modelling, Pruyt’s students from the Engineering and Policy Analysis Master’s degree programme also learn how to produce scripts and to think outside the box. It is only through trying new things that they arrive at revolutionary innovations that help to make models advanced and user-friendly. Pruyt: ‘Modelling and simulations are currently only used in decision-making processes on a limited scale, as creating them requires a major investment of time. My aim is to make ‘model components’ that you can connect to each other and reuse. This would help to make the idea of using models more attractive. Incidentally, alongside the models, you will still need people who are capable of thinking systematically, though. They use the models to combine scenarios.’
Unique modelling of migration flows
Pruyt likes to use real-life cases in his teaching – issues that he also tackles for external clients. Pruyt: ‘I think that students should gain experience in real-life projects beginning in their second semester, right through to their Master’s thesis.’ For example, together with student Stefan Wigman, he has developed a model for the national police force that charts migration flows in Europe. The distribution model shows where migrants come from, and where they want to go within Europe. ‘A useful tool today, but also in the future, as environmental migration becomes increasingly important,’ says Pruyt. The model links various data and models on demography, politics and economics. Wigman: ‘The intelligent techniques that we developed have reduced the simulation time from three days to a couple of hours. This means that the model can be used on the spot, making this method unique and very useful.’
Working on real-life cases gives students a sense of value. Wigman: ‘You really mean something. I like the fact that, already as a student, I can contribute by developing innovative techniques for modelling that help to solve complex problems.’ Pruyt: ‘It is a great way for students to get started on their project portfolio during their studies, while clients benefit from our expertise, skill and innovative ideas.’