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Is System Dynamics the Missing Subject in our Educational System?

Is System Dynamics the Missing Subject in our Educational System?

Is System Dynamics so valuable that we should encourage its inclusion in our educational system? This year, presentations at International System Dynamics Conference (ISDC) supported this hypothesis. The President of System Dynamics Society, Shayne Gary, noted a growing trend in appreciating systems thinking as a useful tool to explain complexities. The ever-expanding requirement to cope with a complex world opens room for increased utilization of System Dynamics in our daily life. The power of the method was proved in the global study “Limits to Growth” fifty years ago. Jorgen Randers reflected on this Anniversary by comparing the initial study results with today’s worldwide situation[1]. The project signals one of the most important features of System Dynamics, the capacity to describe phenomena and present their behavior in time, on a global scale.

“Fish Banks has a long history and has been successfully implemented in learning at pre-college, college, and adult levels.”

A major practical application of System Dynamics is as Interactive Learning Environment (ILE). Without the necessity to build a model, these applications allow direct visualization of the system, game playing, storytelling, or simulation of behavior. Notable are two general formats: desktop and online. Will Fisher used the System Dynamics game Fish Banks to explain environmental economics[2]. The students play actors in the fishery system, trying to maintain it. By changing the system parameters they were able to see how the system responds to the altered policies. Results show an easy understanding of the topic, increased awareness about the system, and ‘enthusiasm’ to play. Fish Banks has a long history and has been successfully implemented in learning at pre-college, college, and adult levels.

In another presentation, Juliette Rooney-Varga and her team studied how the use of the online simulation platform helps to change public opinion about climate change, especially at the level of public decision-makers [3]. In their work-in-progress study, they investigated, at which level readymade online interactive medium EN-Roads helps the transformation of insights and action of the politicians towards climate change. Although at the preliminary stage, the results brought some facts that simulation improves overall attitudes toward climate change.

“Lectures that utilize System Dynamics influence change in students’ thinking, enhance capacity to understand calculus, and increase skill in mathematical modeling.” Diana Fischer

Teaching by applying System Dynamics modeling is another practice. Diana Fisher presented work from her long experience in educating pre-college students[4]. She stressed how lectures that utilize the method influence change in students’ thinking, enhance capacity to understand calculus and increase skill in mathematical modeling. Fisher noted that modeling with System Dynamics is not learned quickly but requires support from the institutions and commitment by the learner.

Another approach to practicing System Dynamics in teaching was reported by Zimmermann[5]. She utilizes the participatory group model building method in her classroom environment and has developed instructions to teach System Dynamics through collaborative methods. The benefits of this approach are both learning the use of System Dynamics and also learning group dynamics and participatory processes.

“System Dynamics enhance understanding of complex macro-economic situations, increases soft skills, and improves analytical thinking with a possible wide range of applications with an overall positive impact at the social level.”

Programs to use System Dynamics have been developed at the country level. In Turkey, an environmental and climate change education program at the middle school level has been developed[6]. Students are taught via the direct application and changes in the System Dynamics model. The results are increased knowledge about the subject as well as a proactive attitude to create actions to fight climate change. The students reported interest in seeking environmental-friendly solutions and wanted to continue with the class during the next term. One activity within this program was an online platform for teachers to learn systems thinking and Systems Dynamics. In another case, David Wheat and the Ukrainian team highlighted experiences from the ten-year-long project to learn economics through System Dynamics[7]. The project developed capacities in Ukraine in cooperation with Bergen University. Activities were done in university settings, at the pre-college level, and at the National Bank of Ukraine. They also organized an annual conference, established a competence center, developed a system for scientific cooperation, and incorporated the program into the Ukrainian educational system. Now, without external aid, project members remain enthusiastic and continue the project. The outcomes proved that the use and teaching of System Dynamics enhance understanding of complex macro-economic situations, increases soft skills, and improves analytical thinking with a possible wide range of applications with an overall positive impact at the social level.

“Postponing the decision to involve System Dynamics in the regular curriculum is a loss of opportunity to improve the education of our children and the population in general.”

The 2022 ISDC showed System Dynamics as a useful tool to improve our teaching process with remarkable potential. This didactic instrument supports the learner to focus systemically on the topic and discover internal relationships that sustain or change behavior, expanding cognitive potential through visualizing the nonlinear problems in an array of feedbacks. Teaching System Dynamics extensively from childhood up through the academic levels could enhance children’s holistic understanding of real-world problems, increase their structural thinking capabilities and develop mathematical modeling skills. Our strategy should be to incorporate System Dynamics as a regular tool in our educational system, utilizing it in different formats and adapting the method to each topic. Holistic penetration of System Dynamics in our society was predicted by its founder Jay W. Forester and the method itself was created with the purpose to describe and explain the behavior of any system. Such a powerful method should be considered among the essential capacities for the new era of human development. Postponing the decision to involve System Dynamics in the regular curriculum is a loss of opportunity to improve the education of our children and the population in general.

 

Presentations: 

[1] Jorgen Randers: “From Limits to Growth to Earth for All – Overshoot and collapse in a 100-year perspective”

[2] W. Fisher: “Teaching the tragedy of open access: a classroom exercise on governing the commons”

[3] J. Rooney-Varga at all: “Can interactive simulation impact what policymakers say and do on climate?”

[4] D. Fisher: “A Model-Building Lesson on Global Warming & Potable Water Availability for a High School Science Class” and “Creating and Building System Dynamics Models From the News (Workshop)”

[5] N. Zimmermann: “Participatory modeling in an introductory systems thinking and System Dynamics class”

[6] M.C. Alibeyoglu et all: “An Educational Program Design: Environmental Education with Systems Thinking and the World Climate Game Project”

[7] David Weat et all: “Learning Economics with Dynamic Modeling in Ukraine, in Collaboration with Norway”

 

 

Changed!

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System Dynamics Focuses More on Sustainability Than the Sustainable Development Goals

System Dynamics Focuses More on Sustainability Than the Sustainable Development Goals

Register today to watch all 2022 conference recordings. Available until September 30!

The world is facing major global challenges that result in moving towards or beyond social and ecological tipping points and in the exacerbation of drivers of climate change, but also in the consolidation of simulation modeling and systems thinking to solve those global problems.

As a newcomer to the International System Dynamics Conference in Frankfurt 2022, I was intrigued by the great combination of topics, experts, and complex problems, but mostly by the large community of practitioners hungry to share and learn about Systems Dynamics. Full of energy, the entire conference had the intensity to encourage everyone’s interest and advance everybody’s practice.

Clearly, in the Anthropocene, there is a need to use integrative approaches to support transitions towards sustainability in general and the United Nations 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in specific. The acceleration and practice of systems thinking and modeling are fundamental for this and an increasing understanding of complex dynamical behaviors is at the roots of applied sustainability science. Sustainable and resilient socioecological systems maintain indefinitely into the future both human development and valued environmental functions.

Systems thinking and modeling are crucial for dealing with the complexity of our living world and its resources, and what better way to learn more about this than from practitioners of System Dynamics and sustainable development, which have progressed alongside for the last 50 years.

Systems Thinking and Modeling for the SDGs

In the Climate Change, sustainable drivers parallel session, the social tipping mechanisms for rapid decarbonization presentation by Sibel Eker, Assistant Professor at Radboud University and Research Scholar at International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), explained the Functional Enviro-economic Linkages Integrated Nexus (FeliX) model. The model simulates complex interactions among 10 global systems: population, education, economy, energy, water, land, food, carbon cycle, climate, and biodiversity and represents the modeling of indicators representing eight SDGs related to sustainable food (SDG 2), health and well-being (SDG 3), quality education (SDG 4), clean energy (SDG 7), economic growth (SDG 8), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), climate action (SDG 13), and life on land (SDG 15). The FeliX model is one of the very few models of human-natural systems that cover feedback interactions of sustainability in one integrated framework suitable for SDG analysis.

In conversation with Professor Birgit Kopainsky from the University of Bergen, she highlighted the Millennium Institute’s Integrated Sustainable Development Goals (iSDG) model, a policy simulation tool that helps policymakers and stakeholders to make sense of the immense complexities of the SDGs. Due to the highly integrated nature of the model, most policies will impact more than one SDG. The model is categorized into environmental, social, and economic dimensions in computer-generated connectors that show extensively integrated sectors. Rather than SDGs per se, the model explores sustainability aspects, as it can simulate numerous policies simultaneously and map policy impacts across sectors.

Reaching The SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to “provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.”

The improving a population’s well-being parallel session presentation by Takuma Ono and Ivan Taylor showed how to conceptualize connections between SDGs based on network development by Le Blanc (2015) adapted to causal loop diagrams (CLDs). The SDGs alone give no clear understanding of causal interactions between SDGs, which can create difficulties for interpretation and implementation for any government.

Le Blanc’s work suggests that network modeling helps in identifying “extended” targets that are not necessarily core targets under any of the goals. The existence of the 169 targets turns what could have been a collection of unrelated goals into a system. However, they need to be adjusted to specific contexts and situations to avoid overly generic (but not actionable) statements about trade-offs and synergies. Therefore, the network modeling framework facilitates integrated thinking and policy-making. By using CLDs adapted from Le Blanc’s diagram, the model can include connections among all 17 SDGs, using the scores of the Sustainable Development Report[1]. By doing so, when the score of one SDG goes up relative to its initial value, it influences the target value of all indicators, as targets are collections of quantifiable indicators that underline each SDG. This means that there is an array of opportunities to assess different optimization goals that can be applied to any country in the world, provided an SDG score is available for calibration purposes.

Conclusion

Sustainability-related presentations at this year’s conference seemed to focus more on Sustainability as a societal goal than on specific studies about the Agenda 2030 and the SDGs. This presents the system dynamics community with the opportunity, and responsibility, to join in the global efforts to build a sustainable world. My expectation is towards more collaborations from different sectors and systems thinking approaches. That way our society might navigate the challenging interdisciplinary work required for genuine progress towards global sustainable development.

[1] Sachs, J., Lafortune, G., Kroll, C., Fuller, G., Woelm, F., (2022). From Crisis to Sustainable Development: the SDGs as Roadmap to 2030 and Beyond. Sustainable Development Report 2022. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Available at: https://dashboards.sdgindex.org/downloads

 

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Climate change. Biodiversity loss. Racial, gender, and economic inequity. Global pandemic and other health crises. Each of these challenges is serious on its own, but they also interact. Inaction on one crisis can erode gains in another, as when climate impacts threaten gains in health, well-being, or development. And sometimes an apparent solution to one crisis can worsen others, as when environmental protections were loosened in some countries to try to counteract pandemic-related economic slowdowns. But the same interconnections that lead to cascading crises also open up the possibility of synergistic solutions.

“Sometimes we feel this tension between what people need today and what people will need in the future. I mean those are always really difficult moral choices, and multisolving focuses on where those interests align” – Elizabeth Sawin

Multisolving focuses on these possibilities – instances where the same intervention can yield multiple benefits. This one-hour webinar shares bright spots of Multisolving from around the world. We’ll also explore the obstacles to Multisolving, and how systems thinking and systems tools can help people overcome these obstacles. The webinar will also introduce the Multisolving Institute, which was launched earlier this year, and may be familiar to some members of the System Dynamics Society from its roots in the Multisolving Program at Climate Interactive

“One thing that has led us to realize is that there isn’t a formula for multisolving. We say sometimes it’s more of a way than a what. It’s a set of attitudes and approaches” – Elizabeth Sawin

Watch the recording below

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Presentation: Multisolving 

Cited by the presenter

Science
COVID-19 Recovery Funds Dwarf Clean Energy Investment Needs

World Health Organization
Climate Change and Health

The International Energy Agency
How Much Will Renewable Energy Benefit From Global Stimulus Packages?

Energy Policy Tracker

Useful Links

Multisolving Institute Social Media
Newsletter | Twitter | LinkedIn

TEDx
The Power of Multisolving for People and Climate 

Stanford Social Innovation Review
The Magic of Multisolving 

Non-Profit Quarterly 
Equity, Health, Resilience, and Jobs: Lessons from the Just Growth Circle

Podcasts with Elizabeth Sawin
Dumbo Feather Interview With Extraordinary People
Elizabeth Sawin: Scientist, Systems Thinker, Multisolver

ReSeed Podcast
A Web of Relationships

 

About the Presenter

Elizabeth Sawin is the Founder and Director of the Multisolving Institute. Beth is an expert on solutions that address climate change while also improving health, well-being, equity, and economic vitality. She developed the idea of ‘multisolving’ to help people see and create the conditions for such win-win-win solutions. Beth writes and speaks about multisolving, climate change, and leadership in complex systems for both national and international audiences. Her work has been published widely, including in Non-Profit Quarterly, The Stanford Social Innovation Review, U. S. News, The Daily Climate, and System Dynamics Review. She has trained and mentored global sustainability leaders in the Donella Meadows Fellows Program and provided systems thinking training to both Ashoka and Dalai Lama Fellows. Since 2014, Beth has participated in the Council on the Uncertain Human Future, a continuing dialogue on issues of climate change and sustainability among a select group of humanities scholars, writers, artists, and climate scientists. Beth is also a member of the advisory board of the Kresge Foundation’s Climate Change Health and Equity Program. A biologist with a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Beth co-founded Climate Interactive in 2010 and served as Climate Interactive’s Co-Director from 2010 until 2021. While at Climate Interactive, she led the scientific team that offered the first assessment of the sufficiency of country pledges to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2008. Beth also led Climate Interactive’s efforts to integrate measures of equity, health, and well-being into decision support tools and computer simulations. Beth trained in system dynamics and sustainability with Donella Meadows and worked at Sustainability Institute, the research institute founded by Meadows, for 13 years. She has two adult daughters and lives in rural Vermont where she and her husband grow as much of their own food as they can manage.

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Using System Dynamics to Teach and Learn about COVID-19

Using System Dynamics to Teach and Learn about COVID-19

This Webinar is free due to the generous contribution of the University at Albany and California State University, Chico

A distinguished team of panelists demonstrated how we can all think globally and act locally on the most challenging topics of the day. From David Anderson’s discussion of work that has been ongoing since the onset of Covid to Babak Bahaddin’s pointing us to the latest diaries at the New Fadam farm site (needs website reference), the entire webinar is packed with insight.

By showing how cross-discipline expertise and international exchange of ideas and experiences can come together in a system dynamics initiative, this panel has placed the impacts of Covid at the center of their work.  We all know how the pandemic has influenced our lives, and this team is looking into why that happened and how to lessen its impact on us going forward.

Using a model developed by Ali Mashayekhi and applied extensively by Daniel Gordon, a component-based study and survey tool for COVID has been refined over the course of the COVID era. Luis Lunar-Reyes has applied the model to its effects on business and governmental response and Hyunjung Kim has taken the model and developed a self-study learning tool kit that is available under a Creative Commons license.

There is so much great work going on, watching this video can inspire System Dynamics specialists, and researchers from all disciplines, to take a look at Covid-19 through the lens of this model.

Ali N. Mashayekhi is a retired professor of management from the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, Iran where he taught System Dynamics and strategic management. He received his BSc in Mechanical Engineering from Sharif University and his Ph.D. in System Dynamics from MIT in Cambridge Massachusetts.

Babak Bahaddin works as an associate consultant at isee systems. Babak holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Sharif University of Technology, and a Ph.D. in Information Science, from the University at Albany, State University of New York.

Daniel Gordon trained in System Dynamics at Rockefeller College, the State University of New York at Albany. He is retired from the New York State Health Department, where he spent 34 years working in health care policy analysis and HIV epidemiology.

David Andersen is Professor Emeritus in Public Administration and Information Science at the University at Albany – SUNY. He is a former President and Vice President for Finance for the System Dynamics Society as well as a winner of the Forrester Award.

Hyunjung Kim is a professor of management at California State University, Chico. She teaches strategy and management courses using system dynamics. She received her Ph.D. in Public Administration from the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany.

Luis Felipe Luna-Reyesis a Professor of Public Administration and Policy at the University at Albany and a National Academy of Public Administration Fellow. His research is at the intersection of Public Administration, Information Systems, and Systems Sciences.

Present at the Seminar Series

The Society Seminar Series consists of periodic online meetings on topics of interest to the systems thinking and System Dynamics communities. These virtual activities cover a wide range of topics that cross many domains while bringing together academics, practitioners, and students together for learning and lively discussion. Send your seminar proposal here

Sponsor a Seminar

The Society is actively looking for Seminar sponsors. This allows making a seminar open to all and free of charge. If your organization would like to sponsor one of these events, where you can promote your organization, firm or software, for instance, contact us at office@systemdynamics.org

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Economics SIG News: Summer 2022

Economics SIG News: Summer 2022

Summer 2022 Events

Tyrone Keynes on “The Impact on National Accounts from NPI’s: Economic Pandemic Model”

May 12th, 2022 Noon – 1PM (New York)

Demonstrating the effects on the national and regional accounts of lock-down measures.

Click here for more details.

Alfonso Martinez Valderrama on “Dynamic National model for prospective and analysis of Environmental and Socioeconomic policies”

June 10th, 2022 Noon – 1PM (New York)

SD detailed model for a National Economy (case Spain: 2000-2030). Overview of structure and main modules. View of some results and scenarios.

We will email the event details closer to the date of each event.

Requests

Please help the Econ SIG by checking out the current list of cases and blog posts and IDENTIFYING the ones that are relevant to the Econ SIG by May 13.

News

Dr. Saeed Langarudi, Ph.D. has accepted a position as an associate professor of system dynamics at the University of Bergen.

“Economics to prevent social collapse: Raworth & Keen speak to Extinction Rebellion UK” (YouTube video).

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Interested in getting involved? We are always looking for volunteers to help out with tasks. Please fill out this form if any of our activities interest you and we will reach out to you.

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If you want to join the Econ SIG, present your work, or report news, please email Christine Tang (ctang@wpi.edu).

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New Horizons of Systems Science

New Horizons of Systems Science

This Seminar was sponsored by the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE).

Systems theory is developing to include new perspectives with a focus on integrated and inclusive transdisciplinary system approaches. This panel discusses new advances in systems science including critical systems thinking, social/socio-technical systems, and complex systems, which come together in the systems engineering principles. They also discuss where Systems Dynamics fits into this picture as well as other types of systems models.

By providing three perspectives on the discipline of Systems Engineering, the panelists shared a wide range of insights and experiences.  What the perspectives shared were ways Systems Engineering practitioners and the System Dynamics community could work together going forward.  One key to making New Horizons for System Science become reality is to merge the insights and experiences of each group into a shared, and sharable, practice.

 The relationship between Systems Science, Systems Thinking, and Systems Engineering is a key to understanding the range of applicable solution patterns

Erika Palmer began with the hope that both organizations, INCOSE and the System Dynamics Society, would continue to engage, learn, and innovate as part of a worldwide collaboration. The goal of the INCOSE panel is to foster an inclusive dialog on Systems Science. The purpose of the dialog is to accelerate the exchange and adoption of tools, techniques, and theories between the two sets of practitioners.

Michael Watson shared with the attendees that the upcoming release of System Engineering Principles will include Sociology as a topic.  By setting out the fifteen principles of Systems Engineering concisely, System Dynamics solutions can be applied to the principles.  Common patterns used across domains or across principles will provide leverage for other contributors.

Javier Calvo-Amodo shared insights from the perspective of building Systems Science disciplines and that students can participate with journal articles. Since System Dynamics provides a specific lens through which to view models, it can be used to validate the findings of other modeling types or to provide insights into what other modeling systems might reveal. A Systems Science map using Randomness and Complexity as the axes provided a guide to where specific System Dynamics developments can be best applied.

Erika Palmer (Cornell University) began with the hope that both organizations would continue to engage, learn, and innovate as part of a worldwide collaboration. The goal of the INCOSE panel is to foster an inclusive dialog on Systems Science. The purpose of the dialog is to accelerate the exchange and adoption of tools, techniques, and theories between the two sets of practitioners.

Michael Watson (NASA) shared with the attendees that the upcoming release of System Engineering Principles will include Sociology as a topic. By setting out the fifteen principles of Systems Engineering in a concise manner, System Dynamics solutions can be applied to the principles. Common patterns which apply across domains or across principles will provide leverage for other contributors.

Javier Calvo-Amodo (Oregon State University) shared insights from the perspective of building Systems Science disciplines and that students can participate with journal articles. Since System Dynamics provides a specific lens through which to view models, it can be used to validate the findings of other modeling types or to provide insights into what other modeling systems might reveal. A Systems Science map using Randomness and Complexity as the axes provided a guide to where specific System Dynamics developments can be best applied.

Complex systems are engineered by complex organizations.

Watch the recording below

Q&A

Q: Question to Javier: Why are there so few academic programs in Systems Science compared to Systems Engineering? Is this a problem?

A: They require interdisciplinary approaches, which are difficult to implement as they usually would span across different colleges within a university (e.g. College of Science, College of Liberal Arts, College of Business, College of Engineering, etc.)

Q: Question to Javier: What textbooks or papers would you recommend for learning more about systems science theory and the principles of systems science?

A: I recommend the following: Introductory: Cabrera, D., & Colosi, L. (2008). Distinctions, systems, relationships, and perspectives (DSRP): A theory of thinking and of things. Evaluation and Program Planning, 31(3), 311-316. and Cabrera, D., & Cabrera, L. (2022). DSRP Theory: A Primer. Systems, 10(2), 26.

Original work on systems science: Bertalanffy, A. R., Boulding, K. E., Ashby, W. R., Mead, M., & Bateson, G. (1968). L. von Bertalanffy, General System Theory. New York: George Braziller. and Von Bertalanffy, L. (2010). General systems theory. The Science of Synthesis: Exploring the Social Implications of General Systems Theory, 103.

Latest work on systems science: Rousseau, D. (2015). General systems theory: Its present and potential. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 32(5), 522-533.;

Rousseau, D. (2018). On the architecture of systemology and the typology of its principles. Systems, 6(1), 7.

Rousseau, D., Billingham, J., Wilby, J., & Blachfellner, S. (2016). In search of general systems theory. Systema, 4(1).;

Rousseau, D. (2018). A framework for understanding systems principles and methods. Insight, 21(3), 9-18.;

Rousseau, D., Billingham, J., & Calvo-Amodio, J. (2018). Systemic semantics: A systems approach to building ontologies and concept maps. Systems, 6(3), 32.

Q: Can you suggest further introductory reading on category theory? This is new to me and a bit uncomfortable with this framing

A: Conceptual Mathematics by William Lawrence

Q: One thing caught my attention comments from Mike…. we need …. “to help build the complex system” and this…. helps… “development of a complex system”…. this is quite different from the underlying philosophy of System Dynamics where the emphasis is often trying to understand an existing system and adjust

A: The difference is in the context and/or domain of application; SD is designed to understand the underlying structures that give rise to System Dynamics as a means to understand from a high-level perspective how the system works. While useful for that purpose, the SD perspective places its main focus on control through feedback and feedforward loops, which may not capture other systemic and holistic arguments necessary to realize a complex engineered system. This is in alignment with Prof. Mike Jackson’s CST and CSP.

Q: Michael’s explanation of Category Theory introduced several concepts that are new (at least, new to me). Does INCOSE offer an introductory reference to supplement his insights?

Yes, go to INCOSE Systems Science Working Group Wiki and search in meetings. We have several presentations by Category Theorists in the meetings section.

Q: How would you differentiate between detailed complexity and dynamic complexity?

A: Those are two kinds of complexities that might or might not be present at the same time.

Q: The term engineering can mean the designing of a system, but is also heavily based on the activity of problem-solving. System Dynamics has problem-solving very strongly in its intellectual foreground. How are the latter activity and strength of System Dynamics used in Systems Sciences activities?

A: Causal loop diagrams and if needed the following simulation can be very powerful to help initial conceptualizations of complex problems. But they rarely yield the full answer; mostly because the models are difficult to verify and validate rigorously (especially if what is being designed is new and there is no frame of reference).

Q: Systems thinking means many things to many people some of these definitions are very loose and perhaps meaningless… is this a problem? Can it be fixed?

A: We believe that Derek Cabrera’s definition is quite good (it was developed using the scientific method). See Cabrera, D., & Colosi, L. (2008). Distinctions, systems, relationships, and perspectives (DSRP): A theory of thinking and of things. Evaluation and Program Planning, 31(3), 311-316. and Cabrera, D., & Cabrera, L. (2022). DSRP Theory: A Primer. Systems, 10(2), 26.

Q: How do we reduce the distance between the research and practice in Systems Engineering? The gap is much wider than, say, between physics and electrical engineering.

A: That is an excellent question that requires a much longer answer than what I can provide here. At the Systems Science Working Group, we are tackling exactly that. What I can say for certain is that we first MUST begin by defining the theoretical foundations for systems engineering. We have several projects working on that. Join us at INCOSE International Workshop to learn more.

Q: Can one mention articles and cases where the presented principles (of both speakers) are applied?

A: Calvo-Amodio, J., & Rousseau, D. (2019). The human activity system: Emergence from purpose, boundaries, relationships, and context. Procedia Computer Science, 153, 91-99. ;

Kittelman, S., Calvo‐Amodio, J., & Martínez León, H. C. (2018). A systems analysis of communication: defining the nature of and principles for communication within human activity systems. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 35(5), 520-537.;

Taylor, S., Calvo-Amodio, J., & Well, J. (2020). A method for measuring systems thinking learning. Systems, 8(2), 11.;

Q: Why haven’t we seen System Dynamics modeling get as much attention as did machine learning modeling in recent years?

A: It is difficult to verify and validate rigorously.

Q: Does “Organized simplicity” equate to a reductionist approach?

A: Not quite, but the reductionist approach is most efficient in an organized simplicity

Q: Can you please talk about the role of soft systems methods (problem structuring methods for example) in systems engineering? They are useful in scoping poorly understood problem spaces but you rarely see them linked directly to System Engineer.

A: They are very useful to help address the social aspects of Systems Engineer endeavors (John Warfield and Peter Checkland developed their approaches (IM and SSM) to help with this issue); however, it is important to have frameworks that help us integrate all approaches. Mike Jackson’s CST and CSP are great foundations.

Q: Any books you’d recommend?

Mike Jackson’s 2019: Managing Complexity

Q: In System Dynamics, we often talk about the dynamic problem and the reference mode, then try to mode the system with the dynamic problem in mind. What might be the code switch for Systems Engineering’s approach?

A: There is no code switch conceptually. I would say that in Systems Engineer we look at requirements, value, or mission, and we design based on those (maybe similar to dynamic hypotheses, but not quite the same). We use MBSE (model-based System Engineer), in particular, a digital twin as the closest to a reference mode, but these are not isomorphic.

 

Erika Palmer is a Senior Lecturer in the Cornell Systems Engineering Program. She is the founder and chair of the Social Systems Working Group (SocWG) at the International Council for Systems Engineering (INCOSE); the Americas lead for Empowering Women Leaders in Systems Engineering (EWLSE) at INCOSE and represents Cornell on INCOSE’s Academic Council.

Michael D. Watson is the chair of the INCOSE Complex Systems Working Group and chair of the Systems Engineering Principles Action Team. He is the Technical Advisor in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) Advanced Concepts Office. He graduated with a BSEE from the University of Kentucky in 1987 and obtained his MSE in Electrical and Computer Engineering (1996) and Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering (2005) from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Javier Calvo-Amodio is an Associate Professor of Industrial Engineering at Oregon State University; Chair of the Systems Science Working Group at INCOSE and Deputy Editor of Systems Research and Behavioral Science Journal. His research focus is on developing a fundamental understanding of how to integrate systems science into industrial and systems engineering research and practice to enable better engineering purposeful human activity systems.

Present at the Seminar Series

The Society Seminar Series consists of periodic online meetings on topics of interest to the systems thinking and System Dynamics communities. These virtual activities cover a wide range of topics that cross many domains while bringing together academics, practitioners, and students together for learning and lively discussion. Send your seminar proposal here

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The Food Packaging Problem. A Food System Problem Not a Packaging Problem

The Food Packaging Problem. A Food System Problem Not a Packaging Problem

Starting with the five components of the supply chain for food packaging, the presentation proceeds to describe a process for adopting System Dynamics. The process describes and uncovers the visible and invisible challenges to making the food packaging industry less dependent on single-use plastics. While the visible challenges are often identified through research and market analysis, the invisible challenges need to be uncovered by interviewing subject matter experts, government regulators, and those who operate in the food distribution supply chain, itself.

As the process unfolds, the search for a more sustainable solution led to the adoption of the System Dynamics causal loop diagram as a modeling tool. The practice of using semi-structured interviews and Connection Circles enabled non-academics to explain their own insights into how the food packaging systems operated. By combining the causal loop diagram with the information obtained from the interview process, a composite of food packaging market dynamics was developed.

System methods were applied from the study of events and outcomes down to creating new mental models.

The work done to apply System Dynamics to the pressing issues of Food Packaging and global sustainability cannot be praised enough. This webinar explores from a system perspective the role that food packaging plays in modern society. The growth-driven globalized food economy and time-deprived society are responsible for the dependence on food packaging. The presentation sheds light on the mental models driving the system and leverage points able to reduce modern food packaging addiction.

“After exploring existing and proposed solutions, it was discovered that there was no connection between the drivers of the use of plastic and the existing solutions” Sabrina Chakori

Learn more about the Seminar Series.

Watch the recording below

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About the Speaker

Sabrina Chakori holds a BSc. in Biology (University of Geneva), and an MSc. in Environmental Economics (The University of Queensland), and she is currently finishing an interdisciplinary Ph.D. research that explores food packaging reduction in food systems. Sabrina is a passionate systems modeler (systems thinking, System Dynamics, network analysis). She believes that systems approaches are crucial to understanding and tackling current socio-ecological wicked problems.

For more than a decade, Sabrina has been advocating for a more sustainable society, leading numerous collaborations in various countries across Europe, Kenya, Ecuador, Mexico, and Australia, including an initiative with Queensland’s Environment Minister to introduce the law banning single-use plastic bags. Sabrina is convinced that to solve the interlinked social and ecological crisis we need to change the roots of our economy, shifting away from the growth-driven system. To translate into practice her knowledge and vision, in 2017, she founded the Brisbane Tool Library, a social enterprise that encourages people to borrow tools, camping gear, and other equipment. This community-driven circular economy model reduces productivism and consumerism. The Brisbane Tool Library is Australia’s first and only ‘library of things’ to be located within a public library – State Library of Queensland.

Sabrina is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and, in 2021, she has been selected as Post Growth Institute fellow. Winner of the 2020 Create Change: 7 News Young Achiever Award (QLD) and recipient of the Emerging Female Leader bursary from the National Council of Women of Queensland (2020), Sabrina is a multi-award social entrepreneur, researcher, educator, and most of all activist. Sabrina is fully invested in creating systemic change that would build a more socially just and ecologically sustainable post-growth society.

Present at the Seminar Series

The Society Seminar Series consists of periodic online meetings on topics of interest to the systems thinking and System Dynamics communities. These virtual activities cover a wide range of topics that cross many domains while bringing together academics, practitioners, and students together for learning and lively discussion. Send your seminar proposal here

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The Dark Side of Projects: Delays, Disruption, and Disputes

The Dark Side of Projects: Delays, Disruption, and Disputes

When a project moves from the honeymoon phase to finger-pointing and distrust, you have reached the dark side of Project Management.  Whether a dispute gets to the level of legal action or not, the process of disputing workflows or work product content is a costly part of project management.

“We’ve all heard “This project is different.’” Kenneth Cooper

What is needed is a way to forecast the impact of change requests and find ways to mitigate the effects those changes cause later on in a project.  An example given by Kenneth Cooper is that changes in engineering documents affect how construction teams planned to accomplish their part of the project. The impact of unplanned events and conditions has been studied for decades so there are examples today’s modelers can use as starting points.

“Undiscovered rework is the source of snowballing downstream costs.” Kenneth Cooper

From the presentation, we gained insight into the project management process, itself.  While what can go wrong might not always go wrong, every project has the potential to get over budget, to get delivered late, and then to cause morale to deteriorate. Being able to plan around and through change requests is one key advantage of system dynamics applications to projecting management.

            “Simulating the future to examine mitigating actions elevates project quality.” Kenneth Cooper

The five components of dispute cost

  • Attorney and analyst fees
  • Work to document the issues under dispute
  • Staffing the dispute effort
  • Every level of management having its focus diverted to the dispute
  • Business relationships that are damaged or ruined

               

Watch the recording below:

Q&A

Replies to questions from Ken Cooper

1. Do you think new methodologies to manage projects incorporate some of the lessons you provided over the years?

Yes. Some of the most impactful methods & tools for project management and performance have been in Engineering, which has such a highly leveraged impact on Construction performance. This is particularly true of new methods that improve either (a) Engineering “Quality” (in the Rework Cycle, quality is simply the fraction of work being done that will not require subsequent rework) or (b) the time it takes to discover needed rework. The numerical value of Quality obviously drives the amount of revision work that will be needed, thus cost and schedule a performance in Engineering. The “rework discovery time” drives how long a time that any necessary rework remains unknown, or as-yet Undiscovered Rework. The more Undiscovered Rework persists for a longer time, the much greater the knock-on impact on later stages of Engineering, as well as on the productivity (& rework) in Construction. An excellent example in this arena is 3D CAD systems that enable avoidance of rework (thus Quality), as well as the more rapid discovery of rework–for example, physical interferences being identified much earlier, rather than being discovered later, or even during the build process. 

2. Do you think that the bulk of your work has been taking that superb model and making it work in real cases?

Yes, the bulk of work I’ve led has been applying (and improving) the model for hundreds of real-world projects. The modeling has occurred at every stage of the project life cycle, from pre-bid to post-completion retrospective, and for purposes ranging from bid support to real-time management, to policy improvement, to dispute resolution. The real cases in my own experience include large complex projects such as shipbuilding, aircraft, satellites, missiles, major tunnels, refineries, power plants, and more.

3. What aspects of the model have changed?

The core structure of the model we developed originally is mostly unchanged (i.e., the Rework Cycle, productivity and “quality” effects that work in multiple feedback loops, and multiple work stages that are affected by precedent work…), but there have been continual improvements made as we learned from more and more real-world project applications. In my own experience, those improvements have been in virtually every sector of the model. Some were made to accommodate peculiarities on a specific project, but I would say that most of the detailed changes I know about have been made to improve the clarity, accuracy, and elegance of formulations. Of course, many other modelers have worked on adaptations of the project model, and some of those changes are visible in publications.

4. What areas of model and usage process are in need of work today?

As noted above, almost every one of the hundreds of real-world project applications I’ve led contributed some degree of improvement to the project model. I’m sure that will continue.

Beyond the area of model formulation, there has been substantial improvement in the tools that assist modelers and clients, such as those developed to aid feedback loop analysis, explanatory diagnostics and graphics, and numerical validation. All of these areas will benefit from even more work.

Key point: In addition to improving analyses, there needs to be more effective “selling” of models and findings to potential and current clients—an often under-emphasized area that would benefit from more development and skill-building. An important contributor to “selling” will be publications that reach out beyond the SD community, in trade and project management journals. This should be a major focus.

5. Can you provide advice to other modelers who want to successfully take a specific type of model and generalize it for sale to others? Like Pugh Roberts does? We haven’t managed to do this in many areas.

 An excellent question. My experience developing and championing the project management application of System Dynamics suggests that this takes many years of persistence and “selling” in the face of understandable inertia and natural resistance to change. In my case, it was even a battle within my own firm at the start. That said, there are a few things that I think are necessary for successfully “genericizing” a model for selling to clients—

1) A problem recognized by many potential clients, to be important, perhaps a problem that is seen to have major financial consequences.

2) A problem that is widely acknowledged to need “a better way”.

3) Connecting with organizations that could be early adopters.

5) Connecting with a senior individual who is influential (or even decision-making) in an organization, who is willing to champion an initial use, and to continue championing repeated use. In my career, I have seen how just a handful of senior executive champions have made the “genericized” project modeling successful.

6) Ideally, early uses of the model that has large visible (& publicized) impacts, one or more uses that “make a splash” in the target market.

7) In what should go without saying…working with a highly talented team that brings together a portfolio of skills—modeling & technical, commercial managing, client relations, and presentation and selling, of course.

6. The outbreak of COVID19 and subsequent lockdowns resulted in project schedule reviews. How many of these reviews would have been used to slip in additional slippage? 

 See reply to question on “Forces Majeure” below

7. Are there any experiences using System Dynamics to improve budgeting and planning “pre-project”? 

 Yes. Because many projects build off a base of prior similar projects (new versions of ships, aircraft…), once there has been at least one model developed and proven on a project in an organization, there can be pre-project planning uses on upcoming similar projects. Examples from my own personal knowledge —

1) Shipbuilding. Two broad situations here, one for subsequent ships within a single program (e.g., CG-47, then CG-48, CG-49…), as well as for brand new program ships (e.g., the CG cruiser ships were loosely based on prior destroyers in reality and in our modeling— which we used to test, for example, cost-schedule tradeoffs during the pre-project bidding and planning process).

2) Aircraft development. For example, the modeling of the F/A18 Super Hornet fighter aircraft began before the defense contract was awarded to our contractor client. We worked closely with the program manager conducting “what if” analyses of different plans and conditions, to test in advance good impact mitigation practices. The program was later recognized by the Defense Department as one of the most successful aircraft programs ever.

3) Missile programs. Multiple missile programs at one client benefited from our modeling of the likely performance and bidding plans of competitors. Every known difference in conditions for the main competitor was injected into models, to foresee what the range of project bids by the competitor was likely to be. This led to multiple successful bids for our client. Of course, doing this requires an extremely well-proven model to start with.

4) Fluor Corporation. A notably special example comes from Fluor, with whom we worked for many years, first helping settle large disputes, but then moving on to pre-project planning to help avoid disputes (see “Managing the Dynamics of Projects and Changes at Fluor). We built a system to enable widespread use of a Fluor-specific model before projects started, or very early in their process. The work was documented as saving hundreds of millions of dollars and was the winner of the System Dynamics Society Applications Award 2009-2010, and an Edelman Award Finalist in 2011.

8. The project model is a very interesting metaphor to address industrial disputes. How to deal with class action disputes, like health impacts, environmental impacts, etc.?

Using a simulation model to help deal with other kinds of disputes would be entirely feasible in some circumstances, so long as—

1) The model of the system’s historical behavior can be shown to be accurate.

2) There are specific and documentable “direct impacts” that are included in the historical simulation. These direct impacts will be the sources of “secondary” feedback-driven broader impacts.

3) The objective of the analysis is to quantify and explain the full amount of “damages”, which can be done by removing the “direct impacts” to execute a simulation of the system’s performance in the absence of those impacts. The quantum of difference between the historical case and the “would-have” case is the number of damages to which the damaged party would be entitled.

9. Less experienced staff leads to a higher risk of safety incidents. Safety incidents can escalate to the point where work has to be stopped for the safety issues to be addressed. 

 Fair point, although, fortunately, I have seen only minor instances of this.

 10. Would the COVID epidemic be considered an exemplar of “Force Majeure” and reasonably lead to a re-thinking approach to a project(s) and then to re-estimating? Or, would you consider COVID (et al) a “normal cost of business?” 

 Acknowledging first that I am not an attorney, COVID seems almost unparalleled in the annals of Forces Majeure. There are of course the effects of the virus illness itself on, for example, staff availability.  In addition, the business disruptions from government responses, lockdowns in particular, have certainly led to delays in work conduct, availability of design information, availability and cost of supplies, and more. These areas of impact seem like they would be worthy of designation as Forces Majeure. 

Present at the Seminar Series

The Society Seminar Series consists of periodic online meetings on topics of interest to the systems thinking and System Dynamics communities. These virtual activities cover a wide range of topics that cross many domains while bringing together academics, practitioners, and students together for learning and lively discussion. Send your seminar proposal here

Sponsor a Seminar

The Society is actively looking for Seminar sponsors. This allows making a seminar open to all and free of charge. If your organization would like to sponsor one of these events, where you can promote your organization, firm or software, for instance, contact us at office@systemdynamics.org

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How to Publish in the System Dynamics Review

How to Publish in the System Dynamics Review

In this webinar, we had an overview of the System Dynamics Review – the journal of the System Dynamics Society. We learned about its growing positive performance and impact. We reviewed the process of submitting, revising, and eventually publishing your manuscripts in the Journal, including some tips on what works and what doesn’t work. Andreas answered several questions about the process.

“If you’re a system dynamicist, the System Dynamics Review is your Journal.” Andreas Größler

We had over 150 attendees from around the world which reflects the high interest of our community to disseminate high-quality System Dynamics work through the System Dynamics Review.

Since its beginning thirty-eight years ago, the Review has covered advances in systems thinking and System Dynamics domains.  Today, the editorial staff and reviewers are providing enhanced levels of support for new and experienced contributors. The flow chart for publication in the Review was discussed in detail during the presentation, and there are several ways for those interested to provide material.

During his discussion on contributions to the System Dynamics Review, Andreas provided the following tips about your work when submitting it to the System Dynamics Review

  1. It should be relevant to the System Dynamics community and its principles, its debates, and the existing literature.
  2. Include elements of System Dynamics or discuss System Dynamics from a methodological perspective.
  3. System Dynamics Review papers support a profession and its development. The System Dynamics Review is not a place for social media content.
  4. Before submitting a paper, review the documents covering related or similar materials to learn from past contributors.
  5. Plan to invest time in the submission process as there could be constructive criticism requiring rework on a document throughout the process.

The Journal staff provides guidance to any practitioner interested in contributing using four tips for authors. These tips were covered in detail by Dr. Grossler in the webinar.

The System Dynamics Review welcomes contributions from anyone working with qualitative and quantitative System Dynamics-related work. Get guidance and learn more about the Journal here.

“This is a peer-reviewed journal where editors and reviewers provide constructive criticism for authors.” Andreas Größler

Andreas Größler is a full professor at the Operations Management Department at the University of Stuttgart, Germany, teaching in undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs. Andreas is the Executive Editor of the System Dynamics Review and holds several other leading positions in academic associations, including in the European Operations Management Association, the System Dynamics Society, and the Society for Business and Social Cybernetics. His research focuses on operations strategy, behavioral operations management, and System Dynamics.

Q&A

Questions answered by Andreas 

1. Do you have any tips for qualitative model papers?

“Qualitative” papers are welcome (as also indicated by an upcoming special issue on the topic) but should follow the same rigor as papers applying quantitative models (regarding argumentation, documentation, and the like).

2. If I am intending to submit a research paper to the upcoming International System Dynamics Conference, but also considering publishing it in the System Dynamics Review (maybe 1-2 months later, and with a few improvements), what is the recommended procedure?

Papers submitted to apply for the conference are not public, so no problem here. After the conference, you’ll be asked to put your paper in the conference record. If you intend to submit your paper to any journal (including the System Dynamics Review), I suggest uploading an extended abstract or a clearly abbreviated version of the paper only.

3. Can the submitted paper only include a Causal loop diagram and be considered for publication in the System Dynamics Review?

In principle, yes but see my comment about qualitative papers above.

4. In the past, the System Dynamics Review seemed less interested in practitioner perspectives, insisting on well-researched and citation-rich submissions. Has that changed?

We do encourage the submission by practitioners. But also for these papers, we would clearly like to see the novelty and quality that we require for academic papers. However, there’s no such thing as a minimum number of citations, for example.

5. How long will it take to publish a journal in the System Dynamics Review? (reviewers to review, getting feedback)

This depends a lot on the topic and the work of the reviewers (but also on the authors’ turn-around time for revisions). I would guess, half a year is a minimum, maybe with some exceptions for “fast track” papers.

6. I’ve been a practitioner of System Dynamics in supply chain management for a few years and modeled many inventory and replenishment policies but I think it’s hard to propose a brand new methodology in terms of academic development. What would be the criteria in terms of publications in his view?

You don’t need to propose a methodological innovation but, for instance, need to clarify how your policies are “better” than those usually discussed in SCM, or how you can do something with System Dynamics that usually isn’t done in SCM.

7. When you say it needs to be about System Dynamics, it doesn’t mean it needs to be a “methods paper” on System Dynamics, right? (So the scope is any paper using System Dynamics as a methodology?)

Yes, correct, it doesn’t need to be a paper about the System Dynamics methodology but it should use it in another domain.

8. If a paper is rejected, and we decide to do a major revision on our own, can we attempt re-submitting it?

Sure. Technically, it will be a completely new submission. Anyhow, might be good to indicate that it was submitted before and what was changed.

9. Is there any template we can use?

No. We are quite flexible when it comes to the formatting of the initial submission (exact formatting can come later). However, this doesn’t mean it can be full of typos, unclear references, etc.

10. If our paper is accepted, can we also submit it to another journal as well in an unrelated field?

No, not the exact same paper as it might be considered plagiarism. But you might consider writing two papers based on one research project.

11. It would be great to see some examples of practitioner papers that the System Dynamics Review has previously published – any chance that could be put together and sent out as an email or something? The discussion around practitioner papers always ends up sounding very vague

Well, there is no general answer, unfortunately. We had some quite practice-oriented papers about online modeling sessions recently, for example. Homer’s 2019 paper about best practices in System Dynamics modeling might be another good example.

12. The submission system states that main articles should be approximately 5,000 words (some years before, we were asked to resubmit below this limit). In your presentation, you have mentioned that it should be less than 10,000 words. Could you kindly clarify better about the article limit?

We are currently overhauling the information about paper types. Please remember that I said, the shorter it is the more likely a paper will be accepted.

13. What is the System Dynamics Review publication frequency?

Four times a year (every quarter) but accepted papers are published online continuously.

14. Other than the length, what is the difference between notes and insights vs the main paper?

Main article: clearly explaining a novel phenomenon; N&I: often a descriptive account, without the intention to explain fully.

15. Architecture is a specific area and discipline, but there is no topic for this except the Urban category. Is it a chance or not for publishing in a journal and also in a conference presentation?

Yes, why not, no general restrictions.

16. What do we know about the spread/balance of topic areas published, also the geographical and discipline mix of authors?

In principle, quite widespread. The System Dynamics Review is listed in the “Management” and “Social Sciences/Mathematical Models” journal categories; this should give an indication.

17. In which quartile is the System Dynamics Review currently?

The first issue of 2022 should be published these days.

18. “2022 Qualitative aspects” – could you send a link to the call, please?

The deadline has passed for initial abstracts. Nevertheless, you can always submit your work on a regular issue.

19. Is there a maximum length that a paper definitely should not exceed?

Papers tend to grow during the review process. So, please do not exceed the limit already for the initial submission.

20. Do you prefer active or passive voice?

Well, active but don’t try to slavishly change your text.

21. What are the parts of the paper that need to be completed before submitting? Abstract plus Introduction or it is necessary to have the complete paper and models?

For the System Dynamics Review, you need a complete submission.

Present at the Seminar Series

The Society Seminar Series consists of periodic online meetings on topics of interest to the systems thinking and System Dynamics communities. These virtual activities cover a wide range of topics that cross many domains while bringing together academics, practitioners, and students together for learning and lively discussion. Send your seminar proposal here

Sponsor a Seminar

The Society is actively looking for Seminar sponsors. This allows making a seminar open to all and free of charge. If your organization would like to sponsor one of these events, where you can promote your organization, firm or software, for instance, contact us at office@systemdynamics.org

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