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INCOSE Practitioners Challenge 2019 - Clean Water

Copyright © 2019 by Omar El-Haloush, Stephen Powley, Yash Kaushik, David Flanigan and Joseph
Sitomer. Permission granted to INCOSE to publish and use.
INCOSE Practitioners Challenge 2019: Clean Water
Omar El-Haloush (Omar.El-Haloush@how2se.nl), Stephen Powley
(powleys@uni.coventry.ac.uk), Yash Kaushik (yashkaushik2015@u.northwestern.edu), David
Flanigan (David.Flanigan@jhuapl.edu), Joseph Sitomer (jsitomer@thinksurgical.com)
During the INCOSE International Symposium 2019, a Practitioners Challenge was issued to
address the problem of pollution in the river Ganges in support of the broad focus INCOSE has
placed on the United Nations’ global Clean Water and Sanitation Sustainability Goal. The team
was asked to use Systems Engineering (SE) principles and methods to explore solutions to
achieve clean water for the inhabitants of the Ganges River basin. After applying different SE
techniques, a problem statement was formed, additional information was retrieved and the team
identified a multi-facetted approach to addressing the clean water challenge. The need to address
social aspects of the system and change human behavior stood out as being particularly
For the past five years, INCOSE has offered a chance to apply systems engineering (SE)
practices and principles to real-world socio-technical problems at the International Symposium.
Previous Practitioners Challenges included detecting and containing infectious disease outbreaks,
detection of and defense against Near-Earth Objects, cleaning the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,
and applying systems thinking and SE principles to innovation systems. This year’s challenge
was to address clean water for consumption in the areas surrounding the Ganges River in India.
The topic of clean water was also part of the IS 2019 President’s Challenge to tackle the
global Grand Challenges previously identified by the INCOSE Academic Council (Wade et al
2018) (Hoffenson et al 2019). The INCOSE Board and President have chosen to continue the
Academic Council’s work on the Grand Challenges, focusing on Clean Water and Sanitation
(CWS) and working to establish Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with organizations to
provide systems expertise as appropriate. INCOSE attended the 68th United Nations Civil
Society Conference to present the need of a systems approach to the United Nation’s Sustainable
Development Goals (SDG) (United Nations, Outreach 2019). Some of the outputs reported in
this paper were presented as examples during the INCOSE workshop held at this conference.
SDG 6 is to ensure access to water and sanitation for all (United Nations, Sustainable
Development Goals 2019).).
The 2019 Practitioners Challenge team was composed of delegates attending the 27th
Annual INCOSE International Symposium who volunteered their time alongside attending and
presenting in technical sessions and working groups. The work reported here is based on three
days of collaborative work sessions, where each team member brought their own strengths to
complement each other. Additional work has been carried out since the conference to generate
the outputs as reported here.
Given the complexity of the problem, the team applied multiple approaches to define the
scope of the problem, such as Root Cause Analysis, System Definition, Stakeholder Analysis,
Ontology, Functional Analysis, etc. Soon it was evident that, given the time in hand, it would be
more appropriate to ensure that the problem statement was defined correctly rather than rushing to
find a solution. Hence, the team decided to focus their efforts to come up with the most appropriate
problem statement within the duration of INCOSE Symposium 2019, with an assumption that the
teams working on this challenge after IS 2019 could take that problem statement as a starting point
and work on finding a solution.
Listed below are excerpts of the team’s efforts and how they came together to address the
To understand the problem and define its scope, the team started with System Analysis
and created a system boundary. The system was named ‘The Ganges’. Several artifacts were
developed to visualize the scope of the problem and define the system boundary along with who
the stakeholders are. Figure 1 provides a visual representation of the System Boundary, along
with the interactions between users, industries, businesses, and government while the river
provides water flow. Although Global Community is not included within the system boundary, it
is considered within the scope of the problem for the reason that the river merges into the ocean
and has an impact on the underwater ecosystem.
Figure 1. System boundary for “The Ganges” system
Identifying different layers of the system was also key to understanding different levels of
detail. The team worked to explore who was using the river, at what scale, and how the layers
would interact with each other. The team also identified the key factors affecting each system
layer. Figure 2 provides an example of the various layers of the system formed by multiple systems
within the Ganges River and region.
Figure 2. System Layers
The team also noted that it is important to consider interactions between the UN goals. The
interrelations between the goals are currently not well communicated and treating the goals in
isolation risks negative, unintended quantities. For example, providing clean water and sanitation
to all (SDG 6) will increase average human lifespans and human population. This will place
increased strain on the food production system, making it more difficult to achieve SDG 2 of
‘zero hunger’. This in turn suggests a dependency with SDG 12, which is to ‘ensure sustainable
consumption and production patterns’.
Two ontologies were developed to describe the key concepts associated with the problem
space and the relationships between those concepts. The goal of an ontology in systems
engineering is to help with shared understanding and interoperability. It does this by providing the
foundation for defining the viewpoints of an architectural framework (AF). An AF embodies
“conventions, principles and practices for the description of architectures established within a
specific domain of application and/or community of stakeholders” (ISO, 2011). Viewpoints
capture stakeholder perspectives and hence define how the system model is visualized to meet
their needs.
Even if an ontology is not developed into an architectural framework, it can benefit a
project by providing a basis for common understanding within and external to the team. It also
provides a map to guide storytelling about the problem space, which the Practitioners Challenge
team identified as another key technique for solving this challenge.
Figure 3 shows a developed version of one of the ontologies that came out of the workshop, which
focuses on human influence. This is not a traditional area for applying model-based systems
engineering (MBSE) techniques, so it was selected to illustrate how familiar techniques can
equally be applied to social systems. The other ontology (not show for reasons of space) focused
on water and the substances that pollute it.
Figure 3. Human Influence – ontology example
The team developed a visual representation of the flow of water to help understand the
detailed functions that a filtration and transportation system would need to perform, as well as
handling the wastewater. Figure 4 provides a higher-level view of how the water originated from
natural sources and flowed through several systems and system layers, which helped to understand
the flow rate as well as the pollutants (total dissolved solids).
Figure 4. Modeling the Water Flow – Functional Decomposition of the System
At each part of the functional description of the systems, the team evaluated different ways
that water could be processed and reused within the system. Several criteria to describe how
potential systems could affect the water included: capacity, land use, human resources needed to
operate these systems, how the system would “fit” (and be accepted or not) in the community,
investment, sustainability potential, scalability, and time to implement. Each of these alternative
concepts were judged in a qualitative scale ranging from very easy to very hard. Some of these
alternatives included:
 Filtration systems
 Water routing systems
 Education and awareness
 Public policy and outreach
 Treatment plants
 Relocation of resources
 Biological remedies
A House of Quality approach (Figure 5) was also used to compare the alternatives to the
capability challenges, such as lack of land, bureaucracy, high population, high industrial pollution,
and lack of sewage facilities.
Figure 5. House of Quality (QFD)
The team realized that many of the challenges to be overcome in advancing a solution to
this problem are cultural in nature. The complex mixture of local socio-economic customs,
cultural traditions, political loyalties, and religious influence on the population have proven in
the past to undermine projects of this size, even when the technology and financial means for a
solution exist (as is the case here). For example, the waters of the Ganga are considered sacred
by a large percentage of the population, but the river itself and surrounding urban and rural lands
are not. Convincing the population that the water is impacted by those surroundings and is
therefore a matter for engineers and not divine intervention must be handled with care and a
suitable strategy (Lance, 2008).
We therefore extended our analysis to leverage socio-technical technique called the Four
Quadrants model, as shown below, also known as “AQAL” (All Quadrants, All Levels) adapted
from Integral Theory – a holistic analysis paradigm developed by Ken Wilber (Ken, 2000)
(Figure 6):
Design Thinking
Upper Left
Upper Right
Lower Left
Lower Right
Systems, Social
User Needs
Figure 6. Four Quadrants socio-technical model
Traditional engineering methods align with the right-hand column of this model, and
more subjective conceptual methods are represented on the left. Design thinking in line with
local aesthetics and empathy with local customs are critical to success when striving for such
large goals. Ultimately, a multi-tiered storytelling strategy should be employed to enlist local
religious and cultural leaders who can in turn reach their constituents to drive realization of a
greater good and acceptance of change.
The team identified the problem statement as:
“Altering human behavior to follow practices that reduce waste and pollution of the system
‘The Ganges’”
Altering the behavior of the inhabitants of ‘The Ganges’ river system (as described
above), is a complex socio-technical problem at a systems-of-systems level that can only be
addressed with careful consideration of the interactions between major social, technical, financial
and ecological systems. The Practitioners Challenge team identified that the social system was
the major factor preventing progress at this point, with technical solutions and funding already
available. Ensuring clean water in ‘The Ganges’ requires working together with the inhabitants
and local administrations in a way that is sensitive to local cultures and beliefs. When this
problem is approached in such a manner, this working group is convinced the problem could be
addressed and not share a similar fate to previous failed endeavors.
Next Steps
To continue the efforts for finding a solution to the problem, the next suggested steps in this
approach are described below:
The Clean Water WG should take the findings of this challenge into account while they
are continuing their work. There could be an exchange of knowledge leading up to
The Clean Water WG should collaborate with INCOSE India Chapter to identify ongoing
efforts for the cleaning of river Ganges and evaluate their efficacy while working towards
the solution.
INCOSE India Chapter should find ways to collaborate with local leaders who can
influence communities to work towards a viable solution.
Develop the human-centric ontology presented in Figure 3 as follows:
o Add elements from the water and polluted substances ontology. This will create a
more complete description of the concepts and relationships in the problem space
considered during the Practitioners Challenge.
o Abstract the idea of Human Community to consider other types of Community.
Natural communities are major stakeholders in the system of interest.
o Expand on the idea of ‘Personality clashes with Personality’ to enable models based
on the ontology to capture.
o Develop an AF based on the extended ontology to facilitate modelling of the
problem from different stakeholder perspectives.
In order to share the findings of the challenge beyond our own community and gain
momentum in awareness-building, there should be a (more) intense collaboration/
communication between INCOSE and the UN with regard to the Sustainability
Development Goals.
Model system interactions at the level of the UN goals to avoid the risks associate with
addressing the goals in isolation.
The members of the Practitioners Challenge team would like to acknowledge the
contributions of the following individuals who helped in providing the team with insights and
techniques that were used in approaching this challenge:
 Kerry Lunney for your insights to the larger INCOSE clean water global challenge
 Dr. Gregory Parnell for sharing methods used in defining the problem
 Kevin Devaney for sharing your insights on how to apply the subjective framework in
this challenge
 Mike Vinarcik for creating an initial System Model in SysML that we were not really
able to expand on in our short time working this effort
 Prashant Dhawan for your insights on how nature would solve this challenge
 Simon Perry for your review and insightful observations on the Human Behavior
ontology that helped to refine the work
Frank Salvatore for your knowledge, time, interesting discussions, efforts to get the
working group in contact with many of those listed above, providing the final push in
creating this paper and of course your company
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Stephen Powley MEng MINCOSE MIET
Stephen’s vision is for a harmonious, interconnected world that understands how to
use technology to break down barriers and bridge divides. Before starting his PhD in
Automotive Cybersecurity, he consulted on requirements-led engineering for
international businesses. His research focuses on describing how enterprises with
global impact can work together to deliver complex, high-integrity automotive
systems that remain secure throughout their lifecycles. Stephen works actively as a
volunteer sharing the wonder of engineering and technology with young people. He
co-founded Robot Day in Derby and Coventry, UK – the most recent event attracted
over 5500 visitors of all ages.
Joseph Sitomer MSBE
Joseph has devoted his four-decade professional career to innovation and
advancement in healthcare technology and medical devices. After receiving his MS
degree in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Michigan, he has made
several contributions in the fields of medical image processing & visualization;
cardiology; and large scale EMR & Population Health IT solutions. Along the way, he
has worked in both industry and academic settings and co-founded a successful startup venture. He is currently the Sr. Manager of Systems Engineering at THINK
Surgical Inc in Fremont CA and a recent member of INCOSE.
David Flanigan
David Flanigan is a member of the Principal Professional Staff for The Johns Hopkins
University Applied Physics Laboratory, providing systems engineering services to
various US Government clients, and is an INCOSE CSEP. He holds a PhD in Systems
Engineering and Operations Research from George Mason University.
Omar El-Haloush
Omar has a high affinity with modelling natural systems and acquired these skills
during his BS degree in Computational Biology. During his career he applied this
knowledge throughout the financial industry for Insurance companies and Banks.
Currently he is working for several projects within the infrastructure domain. Besides
his work, Omar is a member of the board of the Dutch INCOSE chapter.
Yash Kaushik
Yash is an Engineering Management Professional practicing Systems Engineering in
the MedTech industry with specialization in New Product Development and Risk
Management of Medical Devices including Surgical Robotics and Combination
Products. During his entrepreneurial experience in past, Yash co-founded Oxygenie
LLC to develop a closed loop oxygen weaning system for in-hospital patients. He is
currently associated with THINK Surgical Inc. (Fremont, CA) as Sr. Systems
Engineer developing an Intra Operative Surgical Robotics System. Yash holds a
Masters in Engineering Management from Northwestern University, Chicago (USA)
and a Bachelors of Technology in Mechanical Engineering from UP Technical
University, Uttar Pradesh (India).