Interactive Model-Centric Systems Engineering (IMCSE)

Principal Investigator:  Dr. Donna Rhodes, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (

Timeframe:  May 2014 to February 2015, March 2015 to January 2016, March 2016 to March 2017

Category:  Systems Engineering and Systems Management Transformation


Objective:  The complexity and socio-technical nature of contemporary systems and system of systems (SoSs) drive an urgent need for a more powerful integration of humans and technologies. Early concept decisions including soft factors are critically important and are made throughout the entire life cycle due to continuously evolving SoSs and long system lifespans. The timescale of architectural decisions are out of sync with current model-based systems engineering (MBSE) capabilities and decision environments, so new algorithms and novel modeling approaches must be developed to accelerate the ability to make technical and programmatic decision from months to minutes. An interactive capability is necessary to effectively leverage and incorporate human knowledge and judgment. Much potential exists in maturing emerging novel methods for evaluating system responsiveness under complex uncertainties to enable engineering of resilient systems

Approach:  IMCSE involves three activities:

  • Pathfinder:  The research will investigate the current state of the art/practice in interactive model-centric systems engineering. Survey and literature review will be used to establish a preliminary picture of what is being done in practice, current methods, processes, and tools, and what research has and is being performed. This will inform the planning and conduct of an invited workshop to identify research opportunities, gaps and issues.  A report will be developed from the workshop, including priorities for expanded and additional research in out-years of the research.
  • Interactive Schedule Reduction Model:  This research will build on an existing prototype model (prior DARPA-support) for interactively exploring alternatives in the systems development process and application of resources. The model enables rapid sensitivity analysis of various factors to determine their potential impact on program schedule.   Exploratory extensions of the model will be developed and evaluated, resulting in a new prototype for pilot application.  A report will be developed on the findings and plans for pilot testing.
  • Interactive Epoch-Era Analysis:  This research will extend a current approach for evaluating systems under uncertainty, Epoch-Era Analysis, through the development of an interactive capability. The resulting prototype method and supporting tools will be applied to a case on uncertainties in mission planning and deployment support, of particular interest to the ERS program. This case application will serve as a pathfinder for identifying key considerations for applicability and deployability of the method for eventual DoD use. A report will be developed on the findings for the research and case application, along with plans for further development and case applications.

Current Status:

  • Pathfinder: Planned and successfully executed the IMCSE Pathfinder workshop, results are being synthesized and will be delivered in the phase 2 technical report.   Another on-going task is conducting a literature review and discussions with subject matter experts to investigate the current state practice and emerging state of the art.
  • Interactive Schedule Reduction Model: Continued to build upon the service-based tool that supports rapid sensitivity analysis.  Presented at the Conference on Systems Engineering Research.  The topics discussed in the paper and presentation were: the concept of developing theoretical motivation for model-oriented SE activities emphasizing the role of descriptive and perceived complexity in projects; and documenting the development of a JavaScript port of an existing Vensim system dynamics model to study alternative resource allocations in system project management.
  • Interactive Epoch-Era Analysis: Continued research on IEEA and published and presented a paper at the Conference on Systems Engineering Research describing Epoch-Era Analysis, a framework that supports narrative and computational scenario planning and analysis for both short run and long run futures.  Additionally, various potential visual representations and user interaction flows were proposed, some of which are being implemented for user testing during the early next phase.



Curry, M, and Ross, A.M., “Considerations for an Extended Framework for Interactive Epoch-Era Analysis,” 13th Conference on Systems Engineering Research, Hoboken, NJ, March 2015

Fitzgerald, M.E., and Ross, A.M., “Effects of Enhanced Multi-party Tradespace Visualization on a Two-person Negotiation,” 13th Conference on Systems Engineering Research, Hoboken, NJ, March 2015

Grogan, P.T., de Weck, O.L., Ross, A.M., and Rhodes, D.H., “Interactive Models as a System Design Tool: Applications to System Project Management,” 13th Conference on Systems Engineering Research, Hoboken, NJ, March 2015

Ross, A.M., Rhodes, D.H., and Fitzgerald, M.E., “Interactive Value Model Trading for Resilient Systems Decisions,” 13th Conference on Systems Engineering Research, Hoboken, NJ, March 2015  **BEST ACADEMIC PAPER AWARD**

Research Team

Current Researchers:

  • Dr. Donna Rhodes, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Dr. Adam Ross, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Michael Curry, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Matthew Fitzgerald, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Erling Shane German, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Jack Reid, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Lucie Reymondet, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Past Researchers:

  • Dr. Paul Grogan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Prof. Olivier de Weck, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Aaron Prindle, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Benjamin Corbin, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Varsha Raghavan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Aleksandra Stankovic, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Collaborating Institutions

Project Researchers