Decision Theater

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.

AZ Budget
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.
LA Water Games
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.  
Maricopa County Community Colleges
Challenge
The Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) recognized that state funding cuts and declining enrollment would impede its ability to meet the projected workforce demands by 2025.
Solution
The Decision Theater team developed an interactive financial model enabling MCCCD leaders to simulate proposed funding alternatives including entrepreneurial initiatives, tuition increases, bond issuance, modification of state constitutionally imposed expenditure limits, and others.The project then modeled the economic value of higher education, visualized the data behind complicated funding mechanisms and identified MCCCD’s role in providing education requirements for the Maricopa County workforce of 2025. With this tool, the team developed several alternative scenarios sufficient to meet funding requirements and convened multiple forums for briefings and dialogue with both decision makers and stakeholders.
Results
MCCCD Chancellor Glasper led discussions on this topic with community college, business, media, and elected representatives. Among these was an event where a college president acknowledged that prior to visualization, she “never fully understood how expenditure and levy limits were calculated." Following these community engagements, policymakers drafted SB 1322 based off of the information they acquired. This bill enabled the MCCCD to receive additional tax revenue for higher cost programs of study while also permitting revenue generated through business or entrepreneurial initiatives. Results from the effort have been published in The Maricopan and AZEDNEWS. A complete video of the presentation is available at: https://youtu.be/7MR94ncl98o
Solar Power Analysis Tool
Challenge
Propelled by increasing efficiency and decreasing costs, solar energy is on a path to rival fossil fuels as a critical component in Arizona’s power generation infrastructure. Building solar arrays is not as simple as merely buying and installing panels. Solar power plant construction presents a complex mix of regulatory, social, and ecological challenges in addition to the capital costs associated with building on varied terrain at a distance from the existing power grid. These complexities present challenges well outside of the expertise of construction management.
Solution
The AzSMART model, built collaboratively by many departments within ASU, provides decision makers with a tool that integrates data from multiple disciplines, thereby enabling simulation and “what-if” scenario analysis. The seven-screen format allows for proposed changes to the power plant to propagate visually in real-time.
Results
AzSMART has the capability to accelerate the planning process for a solar grid. This enables decision makers to explore options in a far more efficient manner and allows them to play out any ‘what if’ scenarios in real-time. It also allows for the opportunity to find an optimized location with a more complete understanding of what costs and regulatory barriers lay ahead. Having inputs from a variety of disciplines and stakeholders was crucial to the success of the model for use in decision making. It also created increased buy-in by users when they could see their perspectives and concerns addressed and represented in the model.
WaterSim
Challenge
Central Arizona is facing a water crisis, but not one of water shortage. Because the past century of leadership planned its water supplies to meet growing demands, Central Arizona has enough water to meet current and near-future needs. In the 21st century, Arizona faces new challenges, including long-term drought, climate change impacts and austere public finances. These challenges require new approaches to water sustainability that focus on choices, priorities and smart investments. The fundamental issue is how we will choose to use our available water to sustain our economy, quality of life and natural environment.
Solution
ASU’s Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC) developed a model that allows water professionals 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
Users of WaterSim can explore how water sustainability is influenced by various scenarios of regional growth, drought, climate change impacts and water management policies. WaterSim is a systems dynamic model, meaning it takes a lot of data that is usually collected separately – including water supply, water demand, climate, population and policy data – and puts it together to give the user a system-level view of how these variables interact. It is dynamic because users can change one variable and see how that change affects the other variables.