Research and Training

Current Research Projects 


Social Determinants in the Link Between Obesity and Cancer

Dr. Peter Hovmand, Dr. Ken Carson, and Dr. Graham Colditz lead this study as part of the Washington University Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer (TREC) Center supported the National Cancer Institute. The project is developing a computational model of obesity across the life course and generations incorporating biologic, clinical and social determinants of risk and mortality, which can be applied to different cancer outcomes using non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as the initial platform.

Systems Science to Guide Whole-of-Community Childhood Obesity Intervention

The SSDL will work in collaboration with leaders in systems science and childhood obesity including Dr. Ross Hammond (Brookings Institute), Dr. Matt Gillman (Harvard University), and Dr. Steve Allender (Deakin University) to address obesity prevention through participatory systems modeling. This work, funded by the National Institutes of Health (1-R01-HL115485-01A1), aims to construct, refine and test an agent-based model to explore important drivers of success in whole-of-community obesity interventions in the US and Australia.

Using Community Based System Dynamics to Improve Screening for Colorectal Cancer

For this project, the SSDL will partner with the University of South Florida College of Public Health Prevention Research Center (PRC). The PRC recently received continued funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct innovative public health prevention research among populations experiencing health disparities. This study focuses on the application of social marketing to improve screening for colorectal cancer. The SSDL will work with the PRC and a community coalition to design and facilitate group model building workshops, co-create a system dynamics model to inform the social marketing plan and further develop existing cancer-related simulation models.

Novel approaches to measuring demand-side community perceptions and barriers to family planning via social network analysis

This 24-month program will design, validate, and pressure-test a prototype methodology that combines demographic clustering, qualitative analysis, social network analysis, and agent-based modeling for better understanding, measuring, and leveraging the social structures and dynamics than enhace or limit the adoption of modern contraceptives in the Oromyia Region of Ethiopia. The program tackles several interrelated questions: (1) Can a social networks-based methodology result in valid measurements of the adoption of modern contraceptives (MC) in rural areas in Ethiopia? (2) Does such methodology provide a rigorous and superior understanding about demand-side drivers of MC adoption for the purposes of measuring program performance and improving policy- and program design? (3) What are the design features that will make this methodology usable and attractive for family planning policy- and program-design? And, (4) What are the technical and economic drivers that will determine the feasibility of scaling-up and replicating this methodology across Ethiopia as well as in other parts of the world. 

Housing services in child welfare: Economic evaluation of systems coordination

This study tests an experiment in the child welfare system to understand the costs and cost effectiveness of an intervention for inadequately housed families under investigation for child maltreatment. Primary and administrative data are used to generate actual service costs across social service systems, while using systems science to model and simulate integration of housing services within the child welfare system. This project is supported by the Administration for Children and Families – Children’s Bureau through project award 90CA1815 (PI: Fowler) and an award from the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (R01-HD067540; PI: Fowler). The content does not necessarily represent the official view of NICHD.

Institutes & Summits

Changing Systems Youth Summit  The Changing Systems Youth Summit is designed and facilitated by SSDL high school interns to engage students from the St. Louis area around complex social justice issues, including racism in their schools and gun violence in their communities, using system dynamics methods and group model building scripted activities.

Systems Thinking in Schools InstituteThe Systems Thinking in Schools Institute (STIS) is an annual workshop that introduces group model building and systems thinking to students and participants through interactive training.

Institute on Systems Science and HealthThe Social System Design Lab, Brown School of Social Work, and Washington University in St. Louis, in partnership with Hygeia Dynamics Policy Studio, were proud to host the 2012 week-long Institute funded by the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research and National Institutes of Health.

Past Research & Training