Systems dynamics modeling shows great promise for violence prevention 

Existing approaches are not adequate to meet the challenges of violence prevention for young veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. However, a project funded by the Center for Violence and Injury Prevention is working to do just that.

“In this project we are interested in developing and testing a new method to reduce interpersonal violence particularly among the veteran population” stated Dr. Peter Hovmand, director of the Brown School’s Social System Design Lab and Principal Investigator of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded “Veterans, Trauma, and Battering Behavior: Developing a Proactive Community Response to Violence Prevention” project.
“Using community based system dynamics, our team of researchers and community stakeholders is working to design a violence prevention strategy that takes into consideration some of the challenges facing our recently returning veterans as well as others in the veteran population” he added. As of the beginning of 2010, more than 2 million had served in Iraq and Afghanistan adding to the overall veterans population of 23 million veterans (VA, 2010).
A recent Institute of Medicine report indicates that veterans returning from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are increasingly affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), depression, substance abuse, combat stress, readjustment issues, intimate partner violence, and polytrauma (IOM, 2010).
“Early on, we recognized that TBI and PTSD have similar cognitive and behavioral features that we needed to attend to in developing the violence prevention strategy” stated Monica Matthieu, research assistant professor and Co‐Principal Investigator on the project. “From there, we knew we needed our community partners to come together, share their expertise, and together build the strategy.”
The VTB project builds off earlier group model building efforts that Dr. Hovmand led with the Missouri Mental Health Transformation Project and the Foundation for Ecological Security in India with Dr. Gautama Yadama, associate professor. Regular meetings with a core modeling team comprised of staff from the Department of Veterans Affairs, RAVEN – a local violence prevention community agency – and programs like St. Patrick Center and US Federal Probation who have programming devoted specifically to the needs of the veteran population enhance the project.
“The work of the core modeling team revolves around big picture thinking and planning” shared Dr. Sarah Shia, a psychologist from the St. Louis VA Medical Center who coordinates the Justice Outreach Program for veterans engaged in the criminal justice system. Over the summer, the team met regularly to develop a set of group model building “scripts” or protocols for working with community stakeholders from the military, VA, and the justice system. The plan for the Fall is to host a series of meetings to develop a system dynamics simulation model with the stakeholders on how to respond to the increasing risk of IPV associated with veterans with PTSD.
Finally, a conference in 2011 is being planned to share the results of the meetings and the community violence prevention strategy. “Systems dynamics modeling is a relatively new approach” said Hovmand. “One that holds great promise for guiding program design, funding, and policies for preventing future violence in communities across the country.”