Most of the contemporary persistent issues that we (as individuals, organizations and societies) grapple with (e.g. climate change, risks to national security, resource degradation) are caused by our limited capacity to foresee the delayed and cumulative impacts (e.g. socio-economic, security, environmental) of our decisions and policies. To deal with these challenges, we need to liberate ourselves from conventional ways of thinking focused around narrowly defined sub-problems leading to short-term solutions and unintended consequences. Instead, we need to hone our abilities to see connections, develop big-pictures, and formulate systemic solutions. In other words, we need to become systems thinkers. Systems thinking is an interdisciplinary research field, concerned with drawing on multiple scientific areas (e.g. learning science, decision science, operations research) to support problem solving and decision making in situations featured by complexity, uncertainty, and plurality of views.
I have focused my research and teaching programs on advancing the science and practice of systems thinking, and especially its applications in public policy, engineering, and education. I have ventured on developing methods, tools, and applications to challenge and stretch the boundaries of conventional mental models beyond immediate and direct outcomes to understand the long-term and system-wide effects created by these mental models.
I have produced over 90 academic publications including articles in reputable journals, a diverse range of book chapters, conference papers, reports, blogs, and edited collections. My publications include journal articles recognized by the Web of Science to be high impact articles in computer science. My research has been recognized by 8 awards from national and international bodies, including the prestigious Research Award by the International Environmental Modelling and Software Society (2018). I am also the first female recipient of the Australian Operations Research Society Rising Star Award (2016). Both awards are devoted to recognize science talents and academic excellence.
Through a series of ARC and industry funded projects, I have led and worked in several projects that pursue high stake public policy issues, such as: climate change adaptation, risk assessment of the cumulative impacts of mining on ecological and social assets, sustainable management of Australia’s groundwater resource, and policy design with consideration of food-environment-water-energy nexus.
The policy impact of my research program has been recognized by the prestigious Peter Cullen Trust (PCT) fellowship award (outstanding fellow of the year; 2014). This fellowship recognizes leaders in science and policy who have an impact in bridging the science-policy gap.
Since I joined UNSW Canberra in 2014, I focused my attention on broadening the impact of my research program by extending the application of systems thinking to defence and asset management applications. Part of this focus is the transference of the research on systems thinking into practical and accessible tools that can be used to promote systems thinking in decision areas related to Australia’s future force design and securing the sustainability of our strategic assets. These efforts have led to the set up of the systems modelling program at the Capability Systems Center. As a part of my role as a deputy director of the Capability Systems Center, I coordinate and lead large scale industry funded research projects, and building research capabilities for systems thinking and modelling.
Recently, I have been a chief investigator on ARC Discovery Project on "Machine-education methodologies and algorithms for designing trusted multi-skilled evolutionary learners". This is an exciting project where I explore the novel interactions between AI, education, and systems thinking methodologies as a knowledge co-design framework.
Promoting systems thinking is not only about the development of methods and tools, but more importantly about schooling our minds to see the world in a different way. I strongly believe that equipping our students with these knowledge and skillsets is essential for building their capacity to deal with future challenges. Therefore, since I joined UNSW Canberra I have focused my teaching efforts on reinvigorating the education of systems thinking and modelling at UNSW.
Because of its strong learning-orientated and inquiry-based nature, the field of systems thinking/modelling lies in the research-education nexus. I have focused some of my efforts into adopting a research-led approach for my teaching. For example, I have a successful research grant from the US National Science Foundation on identifying and codifying the core modelling practices to promote sharing of knowledge and experience for both research and education purposes. The grant has resulted in several publications that serve as educational material for both teachers and students.
I have worked on the design of a curriculum for systems thinking focused on leadership development and capacity building for decision makers in public policy. The learning objective of the curriculum is to provide practical methods and practices to help participants develop a holistic view on the problems they face in their organization, and recognize the role of their own perceptions and attitudes in creating delays and undesirable consequences.
These efforts resulted in peer-reviewed publications, (invited) conference presentations, and workshops. For example, in 2019, I was invited to teach in the leading European Summer School on decision making and policy design. The summer school, an EU initiative, brought together authorities in the area of decision analysis to create momentum around various decision support approaches.
To augment my research and teaching efforts, I have worked on building a community of practice to promote systems thinking in the research and practice of public policy. This led to the creation of the IEEE Systems modelling conference in 2017, as an annual event to provide practitioners and researchers with forum to exchange knowledge and expertise around systems thinking applications.
Government agencies drew on my modelling experience several times. For example, I have contributed to a commissioned review of the current practices for employing models for decision support by the State Government in QLD. As a result of this effort, I have co-authored a report to the QLD State Government on the good modelling practices for guiding model-based decision-making (2018). I have been commissioned by the Department of Defence for delivering several professional educational courses on the use of systems models for problem solving and decision-making.
- Systems thinking and modelling
- Development of multi-method modelling processes and methods
- Pedagogy of systems and participatory modelling
- Learning and decision making
- Complex socio-environmental-technical problems
- Interaction between system thinking, modelling, and AI
- Editor of the Journal of Environmental Modelling and Software (A*)
- Vice President of the Modelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand (2020-)
- Convener of the 23rd International Congress on Modelling and Simulation (MODSIM 2019)
- Guest editor for a Special Issue on “Good Modelling Practices”, Journal of Mathematics and Computers in Simulation
- Board and founding member of the Journal of Socio-Environmental Systems Modelling (open-access journal)
- Treasurer of the Modelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand (2013-2017)
- Committee member of the Modelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand (2013-2017)
- Committee member of the Operations Research Society (ACT Chapter)
- Organizing committee of the International Congress on Modelling and Simulation (MODSIM 2015, 2017)
- Support member, CSIRO (Land-Water Flagship) 2013 Review Process