Derbyshire Social Care System Dynamics


Derbyshire County Council is a large, non-metropolitan local authority partnering with the Dartington Service Design Lab to use the principles of system dynamics in addressing the problem of extensive cuts to social care funding combined with the increasing costs of placing children in care. The project aims to model a variety of strategies to reduce the numbers of children looked after by the local authority, whilst also ensuring children are instead kept safe at home and in their communities.

Over the past five years, although Derbyshire has seen a reduction in the number of children they have in care, they have also seen a significant increase in their overall spend on placements.

“Using System Dynamics Modelling to understand the system, and simulate how it might operate differently.”

Our role

The Lab have been commissioned by Derbyshire County Council to introduce their local authority staff to the concepts of system dynamics, gather insights from their social workers and senior leaders to inform potential strategies to reduce the number of children coming into care, reduce the length of time children spend in care, and increase the number of children safely returning home. In order to understand the dynamics of Derbyshire’s social care system, the Lab have created a system map, and are developing a system dynamics computer simulation model through a process of group model building to help forecast the potential impacts of any strategy decisions.

The Lab will also deliver a programme of activities to support the implementation of targeted system reform strategies, and help design and monitor the outcomes of children receiving any additional interventions or changes to service which come about as a result of policy changes.

The project commenced officially in June 2017 and concludes around December 2018.


This piece of work is commissioned by Derbyshire County Council, with technical support provided by the Social System Design Lab at Washington University in St. Louis.

For more information, contact:  Vicky Baker

Project Timeline


September Presentation of dynamic model to senior staff: Presentation of the first version of Derbyshire’s dynamic system model to key members of staff and senior management.

AugustLocal authority data received: The child-level data needed to populate and refine the model was received from Derbyshire’s data team.

June Local authority data request submitted: Request made for local authority child, staffing and cost data, needed to populate and refine the dynamic system model.

AprilStrategy workshops with social workers and senior staff: An initial workshop with senior staff, followed by six shorter strategy-focused workshops with social work staff to interrogate the Derbyshire system map, establish hopes and fears for the project, and discuss strategy options for safely reducing the number of children looked after by the local authority.

March Skills Lab with the team from St Louis: The Social Systems Design Lab from St Louis, Missouri - a strategic collaborator of the Dartington Lab, spend the week in Dartington. We learn key aspects of system dynamics modelling and work together on building preliminary models.

February System dynamics workshop with local authority staff: A group session with team leaders and local authority staff to interrogate the Derbyshire social care system map and begin the process of group model building through activities such as connection circles and causal loop diagrams.


FebruarySystem dynamics workshop for local authority children’s services leaders: Bringing together children’s services leaders from across four local authorities to demonstrate the potential of systems thinking, mapping, and dynamics modelling. Together with Peter Hovmand from the Social System Design Lab, the key concepts of group model building, causal loop diagrams, system maps, and simulation models were introduced.