Policy applications and placement opportunities

Commissioned computer simulation models to support real-world policy and planning decisions are increasingly being undertaken across the Australian, Canadian and Swiss sites, addressing a range of complex problems, and developed in partnership with health, education, social services, transport, housing and public works, law enforcement, community groups, NGOs, and the private sector. This work provides valuable opportunities for postgraduate student and professional development placements for capacity building not only in the technical elements needed to build computer models in a policy appropriate timeframe, but also in the participatory and consensus building processes that underpin their development.

Collaboration across sites also provides opportunities to undertake comparative studies in the application of similar models in different contexts. For example, The Sax Institute (Australia) and the University of Saskatchewan, (Canada) have been collaborating to apply mental health and suicide prevention computer simulation models developed for the Australian context, to the Canadian context in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada. In addition, a technically innovative computer simulation model developed collaboratively by the Australian and Canadian sites to support decision making for optimal prevention and management of diabetes in pregnancy (DIP) in an Australian Territory (ACT), will also be used to help Canadian decision makers determine how best to interrupt the adverse inter-generational impacts of DIP among first nations populations.  Such international collaborations are not limited to the Australian, Canadian and Swiss sites, but will be expanded as global interest and capacity builds, and funding opportunities increase (through CSART, or other independent grant sources).

Despite growing literacy and interest in the application of computer simulation models to complex health and social problems, two of the key barriers to engagement with these methods more broadly by policy makers and program planners have been; (i) a lack of technical capacity to meet demand, and (ii) the high cost of the work, making it inaccessible to agencies and countries that can’t afford it.  The high cost is primarily related to human resourcing, with applications of computer simulation requiring the contributions of considerable time of computer scientists, data scientists, project coordinators, epidemiologists, social scientists, policy and planning experts, clinicians, and health economists.  Through revenue generated by the Generation I3 Endowment Fund, CSART is able to address these limitations by providing scholarships to support capacity building and to subsidize the cost of the expertise needed to apply computer simulation in areas where they are needed most and can least afford.

Several Partner Institutions have well-established consultancy hubs that provide opportunities for placement. A description of their areas of focus are outlined below:

The University of Saskatchewan. The Computational Epidemiology and Public Health Informatics Laboratory (CEPHIL), headed by CSART Director, Professor Nate Osgood, is housed in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan.  CEPHIL research focuses on providing (often cross-linked) simulation, mobile health/big data, and machine learning tools to improve decision making in health and health care policy. CEPHIL’s work has addressed challenges in the communicable, chronic, zoonotic, environmental disease areas, and in mental health, addictions, suicide and other areas at the intersection of health, social services and justice areas.  Many of such projects have involved close work with regional, provincial, national and international government stakeholders.  In addition, since its founding, CEPHIL has supported a wide variety of methodology work.  The laboratory has additionally contributed innovations such as:

  • Codebases and frameworks to combine dynamic models with a wide variety of big data;
  • languages and frameworks to improve dynamic modelling quality, transparency and efficiency;
  • tools to enable physically distributed teams to collaborate around model mapping and conceptualization as well as data exploration; and
  • novel techniques hybridizing multiple simulation approaches and simulation models with decision analysis tools and machine learning methods, and which leverage such models using data gathered from mobile epidemiological monitoring systems. 

CEPHIL has further contributed important health apps, including the popular Ethica Health epidemiological monitoring system for smartphones and wearables, and a Healthy Pregnancy app built in conjunction with the Saskatchewan Prevention Institute (https://ethicadata.com).  Since its founding, CEPHIL has supported dozens of trainees from the high school to post-doctoral level, and drawn from Computer Science, Public Health, Engineering, Biostatistics, Mathematics, and Bioengineering backgrounds.  CEPHIL has supported a strong educational emphasis having hosted many international courses in simulation modeling and health on an annual basis since 2010, conducted a variety of public health workshops, and supported the delivery of thousands of online videos that have attracted hundreds of thousands of views. 

The Swiss Tropical & Public Health Institute is home to the Swiss Centre for International Health, the Household Economics and Health Systems Research Unit, The Dynamical Modelling Unit, and the Health Systems and Policies research group, which have extensive experience in health system analysis, policy analysis and evaluation, health economics, and computer simulation of infectious disease dynamics primarily in LMICs. Swiss TPH groups have decades of research and consultancy experience in delivering for a broad range of donor agencies including the World Bank, the Swiss Agency for Development, the Swiss National Science Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Gates Foundation, WHO and others.  Most recently, applications of participatory mapping computer simulation approaches are being undertaken in LMICs in collaboration with communities and cross sectoral stakeholders to strengthen Civil Registration and Vital Statistics systems and support the Global Burden of Disease Study. Since its establishment in 1943, Swiss TPH has established research, service, and education networks that extend to over 100+ countries around the world.

The Humanitarian Operations Group at the University of Lugano (Università della Svizzera italiana, USI) provides research insights into human behavior during disaster response and delivers practical decision support tools to assist practitioners in the goal of determining how best to manage complex humanitarian operations, particularly in areas of optimization of resource distribution and logistics and improved supply chain design and performance.  More broadly, the Humanitarian Operations Group undertake research to improve the impact of the humanitarian aid sector.  The Founder and Director of the Humanitarian Operations Group is Paulo Gonçalves, a CSART Board Director, Professor of Management at USI and a Research Affiliate at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Prior to USI, Prof. Gonçalves held appointments at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the University of Miami Graduate School of Business. While at Sloan, Paulo worked with Intel’s Strategic Capacity group as an Intel scholar. For his work, he received the Intel Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Award (2003-2004). For his dissertation, he won the 2004 Doctoral dissertation award given annually by the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP). His research combines experiments, simulation, optimization, econometrics, and non-linear dynamics to understand how managers make strategic, tactical and operational decisions in humanitarian settings. Paulo is also the Co-founder and Chief Strategy & Operations Officer (CSO/COO) of SwissLeg an affordable high-mobility prosthetic social enterprise that aims to restore mobility to the most destitute amputees in the world.’

The Brain and Mind Centre (BMC), University of Sydney – was established in 2004 as part of the Faculty of Medicine and provides co-location of research laboratories and clinical services to integrate research with safe and effective clinical care. Its original Executive Director (2004-2015), Professor Ian Hickie AM, is now Co-Director for Health and Policy. A network of over 1000 researchers across teams in youth mental health, child development, ageing and neurodegeneration work towards the vision of “transforming brain and mind health with world-leading research, to create a society enriched by citizens who achieve their maximal cognitive and behavioural capacities, individually and collectively.” The Youth Mental Health team, led by Prof. Hickie, is a multi-disciplinary entity with specialised skills and expertise in working with young people with mental illness, consisting of established Australian leaders, who over the last two decades have made evident international impact in the areas of mood and psychotic disorders, delivery of novel pharmacological and psychological therapies, circadian biology, neuroimaging, e-health technologies, adolescent health and translational psychiatry. They have a demonstrated capacity to translate new knowledge into national and international health policy, novel new service developments and health services trials in urban and remote regions and ongoing service evaluation and transformation of existing service systems.  In collaboration with the Sax Institute, BMC is at the forefront of applying advanced systems modelling and simulation methods to the complex challenges of suicide prevention and mental health service planning. These tools (developed in partnership with stakeholders) are providing regional decision makers with robust decision analytic platforms and capacity for prospective intervention evaluation to inform strategic planning and service commissioning decisions.  In addition, these interactive systems models are facilitating strategy dialogues with other regional service providers, helping to align agendas for collaborative action. In addition, BMC has partnered with PwC Australia to deliver sophisticated digital platforms that monitor, manage and support the delivery of better mental health outcomes by overcoming the traditional barriers to quality healthcare access (https://www.innowell.org).

Systems science in Public Health & Economic Research (SIPHER), led by Professor Petra Meier and Professor Robin Purshouse,  is a major new UK systems science initiative funded by the UK Prevention Research Partnership. SIPHER brings together scientists across seven universities, three government partners at local, regional and national level, and twelve practice partner organisations. SIPHER’s vision is a shift from health policy to healthy public policy. This means all policy sectors working together to tackle health inequalities and improve the health of the public. SIPHER is leveraging a mix of qualitative and quantitative systems science and data science methods to provide sophisticated decision analytic tools to support more effective and equitable public policy in the UK.  Research by the SIPHER Consortium will generate new insights into different policy systems related to the social determinants of health including economic growth, work and housing.  Research is being co-produced at different government scales working with Sheffield City Council, Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the Scottish Government.  Website sipher.ac.uk  Twitter @SipherC