Projects

Decision Theater Network helps researchers and leaders to visualize solutions to complex problems. The Network provides the latest expertise in collaborative, computing and display technologies for data visualization, modeling, and simulation. The Network addresses cross-disciplinary local, national and international issues by drawing on Arizona State University’s diverse academic and research capabilities. Decision Theater develops applications to address challenges in the following broad focus areas: health solutions, sustainability, education, entrepreneurship and innovation, and security and defense. The following outlines these areas and provides examples of solutions developed.

In order to plan responses to disease outbreaks, it is necessary to understand how diseases spread, locations of treatment centers, availability and training of staff, equipment, and many other factors. The Decision Theater has conducted work in preparation for such outbreaks, both modeling the patterns of the spread of disease, and the challenges faced in treating infected persons.

Challenge

The Nigeria 2013 Demographic and Health Survey documents 576 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births - among the highest in the world. This high rate of maternal deaths is attributed to delays in decisions to seek care, delays in the travel to birthing facilities, and delays in receiving care upon arrival to obstetric facilities. While the World Health Organization (WHO) broadly recommends a ratio of obstetric facilities to population size, it does not consider the impacts of geographic factors that can delay access to facilities such as traffic congestion, limited transportation systems, and difficult geographical terrain.

Solution

In order to address this challenge, DT partnered with Dr. Aduragbemi Banke-Thomas, a Nigerian health policy specialist who is passionate about improving the health outcomes for mothers and their children. His experience as an Next Generation Leader (NGL) at The McCain Institute has positioned him to make a big impact.

Dr. Banke-Thomas took advantage of the Decision Theater’s capabilities to identify and plot existing obstetric facilities in Lagos, model transportation networks and constraints, determine population migration and growth patterns, and collect maternal health care data related to maternal morbidity and mortality. Decision Theater’s Geographic Information System (GIS) visualization tool provided a better understanding of the problem, and thus he was able to identify the optimal placement of future obstetric facilities.

Results

According to Dr. Banke-Thomas, the “advanced GIS visualization tool provided by the Decision Theater provides an invaluable platform for the group of healthcare providers who inform the Lagos State Ministry of Health. It clearly provides improvement to our obstetric care services, delivery, and the potential to save the lives of many women in Lagos, Nigeria."

McCain Institute Senior Advisor and ASU Decision Theater Network Executive Director LTG Benjamin C. Freakley, USA (Ret.) said, “Dr. Banke-Thomas’s experience as a McCain Institute Next Generation Leader is a perfect example of the value of the program and its ability to have global impact. His partnership with a wonderful ASU resource, the Decision Theater, promises to have a lasting impact.”
Sustainability challenges derive from complex relationships between environmental, social, and economic systems. In order to create sustainable outcomes, experts, stakeholders, and decision makers need to understand cascading effects of decisions they make, beyond individual expertise. Developing a shared understanding is best achieved by bringing the right people together to combine their knowledge, a process that works best in a highly visual environment. The Decision Theater Network works toward a sustainable future by helping participants visualize complex relationships related to energy, soil, air, and water quality, across environmental, social, and economic boundaries.

Challenge

ASU’s Decision Theater worked with Tom Seager, an Associate Professor at Arizona State University in the school of Sustainable Engineering and The Built Environment, to host and collaborate on a student’s research project called the LA Water Games. The LA Water Game simulates the challenge of operating and maintaining the LA water distribution system, which has been challenged by frequent water main breaks and leaks during a major drought. While playing the game, players are asked to assume the role of a LA Water Manager. Players are tasked with financing provisions to maintain the quality of the water distribution pipe while balancing their public approval rating so as to avoid being fired. Participants discover an appreciation for the complex system of social-technical and economic interdependent feedback loops. Through game play, participants learn to recognize shortcomings of their intuitions for managing nonlinear systems which are subject to stochastic events.

Solution

To counter the US infrastructure crisis, the Decision Theater teamed up with ASU research scientists and co-created a novel approach to teach complex systems thinking skills for infrastructure management. By combining the technical and facilitative capabilities of the Decision Theater with the educational expertise of engineering researchers, the team designed The LA Water Game, a simulation game for teaching infrastructure complexity. The simulation game emerged out of months of interdisciplinary teamwork and cooperation between the Decision Theater and ASU researchers including: Lauren McBurnett, a civil engineering PhD student, and Dr. Thomas Seager, an Associate Professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and The Built Environment, working closely with Greg Moon, a Lead Software Developer at the Decision Theater.

Results

The collaboration culminated with game play in January where guests from the Office of Naval Research, the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), the Energy Systems Technology and Evaluation Program (ESTEP), and Naval Facilities visited the ASU Decision Theater and played The LA Water Game. We look forward to the future of this project, developing more simulation games, and exploring additional opportunities for collaboration.

Challenge

Green organic material—including yard waste such as leaves, grass, branches, trimmings, palm fronds, manure, fats/oil/grease, and et cetera—comprises over 30% of total waste collected in the Phoenix area. Decision Theater (DT) partnered with the ASU Walton Institute and nine Valley cities through a funded intergovernmental agreement to develop a tool to model the impacts of implementing green organic waste recycling programs in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Solution

The model displays the financial and environmental impacts of implementing a variety of organic recycling programs, thereby allowing policymakers from Phoenix area cities to explore possible scenarios and view forecasted outcomes. This project will inform area communities where and how to dispose of biodegradable waste to generate energy, reduce harmful environmental damaging gasses, produce compost and other beneficial by products by diverting from landfills. Expectations are that this project is scalable and could grow to other metropolitan areas, including international applications.

Results

This tool will help tailor waste management programs in Arizona for optimal waste disposal, reducing build-up in landfills where the green organic waste is traditionally disposed. Furthermore, this tool will show the sustainable and profitable aspects of this initiative.

Challenge

How do policymakers optimize energy investments and promote long-term prosperity? To ensure optimal outcomes, coordination between various parties such as SENER (Ministry of Energy), foreign investors, PEMEX, national investors, Federal Electricity Commission and Hacienda (Treasury) was needed.

Solution

The Decision Theater built a holistic model that allows for various investment scenarios to be simulated in real time. The model visually displays the impact of various investments—e.g., fractured deposits, shale, etc.—on socio-economic variables such as GDP, job creation, tax revenue, etc. Stakeholders can easily use the tools to better understand the implications of their decisions and collaborate towards a common solution.

Results

Decision Theater has built a strong partnership with Tecnológico de Monterrey, who recently constructed a 7-screen DT environment on-site. Further, the model was recently shown to Mexico’s Minister of Energy, who expressed interest in further collaborations. Development of the model is ongoing. 

Challenge

ASU’s Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC) is a "boundary organization" that bridges the divide between academic research and policy making. They wanted to show the relationships between climate change, water supplies and urbanization in Phoenix.

Solution

DCDC created a system dynamics model with a graphical "dashboard" that allows water professionals in the state to explore alternative scenarios for growth, water supply and water demand. Called WaterSim, the model incorporates growing water demand on the Salt-Verde watershed and the Colorado River in the face of climatic variability and growth. Decision Theater serves as a primary venue for WaterSim presentations.

Results

WaterSim has the ability to predict the impact of droughts on Arizona's watersheds, predict their impact on regional growth, and assist policy makers in exploring sustainable water conservation and use policies.

Decision Theater seeks to motivate and inspire the leaders of tomorrow to think differently about how their actions fit into a broader landscape. Every year, faculty at Arizona State University use the Decision Theater to enhance the education of undergraduate students and assist graduate and post-graduate research. Classes have used the facility to create and review large-format content, and to support discussion and sharing of data around complex topics and ideas. Decision Theater has also played a part in planning decisions to deal with educating a rapidly growing population in the metro Phoenix area.

Challenge

Since 2008, State funding to Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) has been eliminated—a permanent reduction of $68 million annually. Additionally, declining community college enrollment and depressed property values further erode available resources. With a slow economic recovery, MCCCD assesses negative voter sentiment for near term bond referendums. Statistical projections from ASU’s W.P. Carey Seidman Institute suggests that, without the establishment of new revenue streams, the MCCCD will be unable to resource its share of the education requirements of the projected 2025 county workforce.

Solution

DT led a collaborative effort to identify project objectives and scope. The team developed an interactive tool providing scenarios to measure the effectiveness of funding alternatives including entrepreneurial initiatives, tuition increases, bond issuance, and modification of state constitutionally imposed expenditure limits. MCCCD Chancellor Dr. Glasper led discussions with community college, business, media, and elected representatives including an event where a college president admitted that prior to visualization, she “never fully understood how expenditure and levy limits were calculated."

The effort included 1) implementing an iterative Joint Application Design (JAD) process to properly design the project, 2) modeling the economic value of higher education, 3) visualizing the complicated MCCCD funding mechanisms, 4) identifying MCCCD’s role in providing education requirements for the Maricopa County workforce of 2025, 5) developing alternative funding scenarios sufficient to meet education production requirements, 6) convening/hosting multiple forums for information briefings/dialog with decision makers and stakeholders.

Results

Following these engagements, SB 1322 was drafted to enable the MCCCD to receive additional tax revenue for higher cost programs of study while also permitting revenue generated through business or entrepreneurial initiatives to be exempt from expenditure limits. Results from the effort have been published in The Maricopian and AZEDNEWS. A complete video of the presentation is available at: https://youtu.be/7MR94ncl98o

Challenge

To enable law makers, economists and the layman to better understand the implications of the State of Arizona’s budgetary changes.

Solution

A Budget Analysis Tool that visualizes the modelling of the Arizona State Budget’s expenditure and revenue. The tool shows the implication of minor changes on different aspects such as employment, education, tax rates, national standing of the state, etc. as well as comparison with the history of budgetary changes in the state.

Results

Successful implementation of a visual dashboard that represents a dynamic model of the Arizona State Budget. 

Challenge

To analyze social media chatter during the FIFA World Cup 2014 in order to determine interesting aspects of social conversations taking place online.

Solution

Construction of a social data pipeline that collects, ingests and performs analysis and reporting on big-data. Build features that include sentiment analysis, quick and efficient big-data processing and interactive real-time visualizations of these big-data analytics. 

Results

Production of a reusable social data pipeline that can be used for multiple social conversations quickly and can also perform quick and efficient analytics on large data sets. 

Visualization serves to increase public engagement, improve understanding, and let people envision what does not yet exist. The Decision Theater’s specialized visualization environment allows participants to see what’s possible. Stereoscopic visualizations are especially valuable for conveying a sense of place for developments that are planned, supporting dialogue among stakeholders and allowing them to contribute to planning and design processes. Such involvement can increase public support of projects and even improve the product of the work.

Challenge

The survey and data, designed and collected by Promise Arizona, is part of multi-phase effort to engage the community by soliciting feedback from residents about the strengths and needs in the area. It would be difficult to interpret the feedback from the survey and understand rank the residents' and business's concerns.

Solution

Decision Theater Network developed a user interactive dashboard visualizing the survey results. The dashboard provides important information that helps the stakeholders to make decisions on improving the standard of living in the community.

Results

The dashboard was used to derive some useful insight from the residents and business’s concerns and opinions on important policy matters.

The world security situation is an increasingly complex environment where threats can come from many directions at once. The Decision Theater is a place where tools and expertise in visualization of complex environments serve to enhance situational awareness, allowing leaders to make better use of experience and knowledge, run training simulations to investigate threat scenarios and response alternatives, and improve understanding of decision impacts.

The Decision Theater employs technologies that enable better analysis and understanding, including:

  • Immersive visualization environments for better perception of complex environments
  • High-performance computation capabilities for analysis and simulation
  • Large-capacity storage for tabular and object data
  • Remote sites to allow sharing of expertise between locations
  • Collaborative software to enable the sharing of applications across platforms 

A critical component Decision Theater is the integration of collaborative work environments that employ Geographic Information Systems (GIS), statistical and agent-based modeling, visual analytics, and decision support platforms.

Challenge

Explore how the effects of climate change on resources, such as water, food and energy, could contribute to political unrest and instability.

Solution

Leveraging computing and system modeling initiatives at ASU and with partner organizations, the Foresight Initiative will apply cloud technologies, advances in natural user interfaces and machine learning in order to address challenges driven by the volume and character of future persistent data flows.

Results

The resulting capabilities will not only allow analysts and decision-makers to interact with diverse data sets in a simulation environment, they will help them assess the effectiveness of plans, policies and decisions, as well.

ASU departments that will be integral to this work include the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, College of Public Programs, Decision Theater Network and Decision Center for a Desert City.

 

Challenge

Human trafficking is a pernicious global challenge that involves the illicit enslavement of individuals into labor or commercial sex. It is believed that 21 million individuals are currently being trafficked worldwide – 50,000 of which are in the United States. Additionally, human trafficking is one of the most lucrative and fastest growing forms of organized crime; its profits, estimated at $31.6 billion per year, are surpassed only by those of drug syndicates. Despite the fact that human trafficking is universally understood to be a burgeoning social problem, a paucity of data and insight into this issue exists.

Solution

Prototype studies, aimed at fusing data from disparate sources, are underway at Decision Theater. These studies are designed to elucidate the complex dynamics of trafficking syndicates and the illicit networks they operate. Researchers have mined news articles and reports to uncover behavior patterns indicative of trafficking activity, examined the impact of USAID investments in human trafficking across a variety of metrics, and fused data collected from a nationwide anti-trafficking call center with various ‘open’ data sources to uncover trends, e.g., data on violent crime, unemployment rates, education spending, etc. In addition, the research team is currently working to mine social media data with the intention of developing statistical models and other tools to quantify and predict future human trafficking activities.

Results

This research methodology is unprecedented; the work conducted at Decision Theater represents a pioneering effort to expand human trafficking knowledge and awareness. The research team is optimistic that this prototype research will eventually result in a real-world reduction in human trafficking activity.