The Social Impact SIG (SISIG) was established during the ISDC 2018 in Iceland as a Special Interest Group of the System Dynamics Society.
To join the SIG or inquire into our activities, please write an email to socialimpact [at] systemdynamics.org or join the discussion in our Facebook group:
The SISIG has a simple mission: to connect system dynamics to social impact. People who work on social impact—international bodies, development agencies, foundations, philanthropists, impact investors, social enterprises, nonprofits, and sustainability-minded corporations—are concerned with finding sustainable, system-level solutions (rather than short-term fixes) to important social problems and global challenges. System dynamics (SD) is ideally suited to help them identify such solutions. The SISIG clears that market. It identifies opportunities to engage those communities on the relevance and strategic potential of SD in their social-impact ambitions. And it fosters collaborations among SDS members, including those involved in other SDS special- interest groups (SIGs), to produce models and other SD resources that could help them achieve those ambitions. Our vision is to drive breakthrough social impact by capturing and sharing the knowledge of social science in system dynamics models.
To fulfill our vision of using system dynamics to drive social impact and our mission of fostering collaboration within and between the SD community and the broader social-good sector, the Social Impact SIG will pursue the following goals:
1) Make existing SD models accessible to social changemakers
Models of specific problems (e.g., sex trafficking, political polarization, etc.) already exist, some validated and published, others still in development. For example, a model of human trafficking in a particular country might not available in an unpublished working paper, but a coalition of organizations working on that issue in a different country might be interested in an adapted and validated version of that model. SISIG members might work with that author and with the or publication and usable to people working on that social issue on the ground.
2) Create a forum for collaboration to build “big” models of specific challenges
It is sometimes the case that multiple SD models have been built that focus on different aspects of the same problem, or the structure of one problem might be similar to that of another. It might also be the case that there are multiple SD professionals interested in the same social problem, and there might be organizations and foundations focused on that problem who would be interested in a system-level view of their work. For example, the WEF might want to work with SISIG and the SDS to build a “big” model of one of the 14 global systems it is trying to get its members to fix. Or SISIG might work with an international development agency on one of the targets of the UN’s SDGs in a particular country. SISIG members might facilitate collaborations to build “big” models on specific topics such as these where there is mutual interest between researchers and changemakers alike.
3) Translate theories from social science into system dynamics models
Throughout social science, a number of self-contained theories (e.g., social identify theory, security dilemma, legitimation, etc.) are fairly well defined in the literature but have not been explicitly modeled in SD. SISIG members might collaborate with, for example, the Human Behavior and Psychology SIG on a model of system justification theory, which can be applied to a wide range of social problems (e.g., ethnic tensions, the role of misinformation in political polarization, etc.). Or SISIG members might collaborate with the Conflict, Defense, and Security SIG on a model of the security dilemma, which is useful in addressing social problems in places affected by conflict and violence.
4) Build a repository of molecules, archetypes, and cases related to social impact
It is often encouraged that SD professionals build libraries of reusable model components (modules, molecules, entities, etc.) to facilitate and speed model-building. For example, in supply chain modeling, a library of molecules has been developed reflecting common themes in that field. SISIG members might collaborate with other SIGs to identify ike this and make them available in an open repository: theory molecules (as in the previous goal), entities common across social systems (e.g., demographic groups, policymaking entities, etc.), or other molecules/modules that can be used as submodels in a variety of system models.
Similarly, the standard SD archetypes are directly applicable to many social problems. SISIG members might compile additional archetypes (or variants of existing ones) that they discover are relevant to specific social problems (e.g., a policy of “decapitation” of illicit networks might be a predictable variant of “shifting the burden”; strategy dynamics as applied specifically to nonprofits and social enterprises might turn out to have special archetypes useful for helping different social movements, etc.).
Further, it will be useful to build a repository of cases where SD has been used to help with breakthrough social change. SISIG members can help to identify and collect such cases and make them available to other SDS members as well as the broader social impact community.
5) Encourage and enable systems thinking and modeling for social innovators
Many social innovators are already trying to figure out how to achieve large-scale social change, and some understand that systems thinking needs to be part of that process. SISIG members can build relationships with those whose ambitions or mindset are ripe for an introduction to group model building, system mapping, strategy dynamics, simulation, and of course SD modeling. SISIG members who work with such organizations already might also identify opportunities for strategic partnerships with the SDS and be in a position to facilitate introductions.
Membership in the Social Impact SIG is open to all SDS members in good standing. Non-SDS members will be welcome to participate in some activities, such as a collaboration on a model on a particular topic, but will not be considered SISIG members as such. No dues shall be charged to join the SISIG or to participate in its activities; from time to time, a modest fee might be charged for specific events to cover certain expenses (for example, refreshments), but this is expected to be rare.