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The System Dynamics Conference From the Perspective of a Multi-Method Simulations Developer

The System Dynamics Conference From the Perspective of a Multi-Method Simulations Developer

System Dynamics, Agent-Based and Discrete-Event simulations are three competing and complementary simulation methods that are used to address a wide range of real-world problems. Each one of these has its pros and cons and can be applied better or worse depending on the context of the problem but can also be complementary in order to capture different pieces of the reality we want to simulate.

As System Dynamics seems to be an obscure topic for most discrete-event and agent-based modelers, the opposite is also true. And assuming good practices are in place, contrary to Agent-Based modeling guidelines, in System Dynamics, there is no standardized way in which a section of a model can be reutilized and the definition of what a sub-model or module is, depends largely on the context of the modeler. In other words, while in Agent-Based modeling, the sub-model is the agent itself, in System Dynamics, the sub-model can be a theme, an entity, a set of stocks that look good together, the importance of a sub-system, etc. A solution to this standard modularization problem, both in its qualitative and quantitative forms was discussed during this conference, in particular for Work-in-Progress sessions.

From a qualitative point of view, the presentation “Modelling the Complexity of Large Systems: A Network-aided System Dynamics Approach”, intends to use a method based on graph theory to identify themes within a complex network of causal relationships. Each theme can be approached separately by the subject matter expert that is associated with that theme, while also helping define boundaries for future work to be developed (see Figure 1). This is a great approach because it highlights the themes and transforms eventually this complicated network into a well-designed Causal Loop Diagram, with clear sections that are easy to read and understand. Looking at these themes, to a multi-method simulations developer, it appears that these themes are very closely related to the concept of an agent.

Figure 1: Social network of themes and causal loop diagram of selected themes
(Wang, Zimmermann: Modelling the Complexity of Large Systems: A Network-aided System Dynamics Approach, 2022 International System Dynamics Conference, figure used with permission.)

From a quantitative perspective, in their workshop “Using a Tool to Professionalize Model development” Copernicos showed a tool that attempts to improve the structure of a model by creating entities that represent certain hidden topics in models, mostly looking at dimensions and subscripts (or arrays), and generating modules in Stella or sub-models in Vensim that represent what they call hidden topics. This is done with an Excel plugin that acts as a transformation interface that reads the model and generates a new model that is organized with the concept of entities. The arrays are still there as defined by the modeler, but the way the model is organized in modules (in Stella) or sub-models (in Vensim) becomes very similar to what an agent would be in agent-based modeling or to what an entity would be in Ventity. In my opinion, this is a great approach since it goes in the direction of standardizing the modularization of a big complex model, which is the topic we are discussing in this article.

In the multi-method framework, mostly used by AnyLogic developers, it is common to solve these problems by having Agent-Based/System-Dynamics hybrids, in which modules or arrays are replaced by the concept of agent. From the qualitative side, having agents as part of the conceptual framework greatly helps build a hierarchical network of reusable modules that represent the system that needs to be conceptualized. From the quantitative side, Copernicos’ attempt to generate entities is a great idea to build a standardized model structure, which is what multi-method modelers like me do use the standard multi-method framework present in Software such as AnyLogic.

During the conference, work related to hybrid simulations was sparse, and of course, this is a System Dynamics conference, so it’s maybe expected, but it seems to me from conversations with people during the event, that the interest in relation to multi-method modeling is much higher than what the presented work shows. The presenter of “A Cross-Disciplinary Computational Framework for Hybrid Simulation and Modeling” reported on a systematic literature review on how hybrid modeling has increased in popularity. Only a few authors presented hybrid models, e.g. Portia Mupfumira showed hybrid agent-based/System-Dynamics models in two presentations: “Smart Cities Hybrid Conceptual Modelling” and “Development of Hybrid Smart Energy Distribution Decision Support Model: Case of Zimbabwe” and Al Thibeault used Ventity to present “Agent-based Model for Testing Policy Options for Long-term Stability and Sustainability in the Rare Earth Mineral Sector”. Also, the Software Modelica’s object-oriented and multi-method capabilities were presented in the poster “Hierarchical, Component-Based Modeling Using the Cyber-Physical Modeling Language Modelica”.

During the roundtable “Panel on Careers in System Dynamics”, one of the panel members, with 20 years of experience in the field, talked about Agent-Based as a sexy methodology. And this is true, in particular, because agent-based is significantly more used in the business world (along with discrete events), making it very useful to build a proof of concept models very fast with 2D and 3D animations that can be very beautiful and attractive. But he talked about Agent Based modeling as something that has nothing to do with System Dynamics, expressing a separation when it comes to comparing both methods, instead of a synergy. The panel also talked about the struggle to be taken seriously as a System Dynamics professional and the struggle to get stakeholders to buy into the System Dynamics concepts but isn’t maybe the multi-method idea, that is largely documented in the literature the first step toward a thriving System Dynamics community? I think it might be.

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Modeling for Improved Organizational Staff Diversity

Modeling for Improved Organizational Staff Diversity

We cannot all succeed when (more than) half of us are held back.

This slightly modified quote is from Malala Yousafzai, the courageous young woman who stood up for her right to be educated. It summarizes the ethos of presentations at the International Systems Dynamics Conference held in Frankfurt and online in July 2022 which focused on improving diversity within organizations. Systems Dynamics modeling is being used in various ways to understand the mechanisms by which more than half of the world’s populations are being held back, and to support evidence-based solutions for change.

In the first plenary, Jeroen Struben presented a model to explain why women chess players drop out of competitions in their late twenties, never to return. The data from the Netherlands showed that the presence of peers and role models, and the culture of the broader community were major explanatory factors. There is also a project that will look at women chess players with and without children, which is already finding that family caring commitments have a large impact on women’s decisions.

Suzanne Manning (disclaimer: that’s me) also highlighted the impact of caring responsibilities on women, on career progression in a social science research team. In a qualitative model of mechanisms that were holding women back, factors such as family commitments and expertise in ‘softer’ science disciplines like sociology and indigenous knowledge (compared to expertise in more quantitative systems dynamics), were partially career-limiting.

The model of Inge Bleijenberg looked at mechanisms to explain why ‘ingroups’ of white, upper-class men hold a pay advantage over ‘outgroups’ (everyone else) in academia. Her model showed that while the human capital of both groups was quite similar, the ingroups made more and higher wage claims which were more likely to be accepted. This model shows how structural bias is built into our systems.

Several presentations addressed systemic bias, with models that were used as heuristic tools for organizations to make changes to increase staff diversity. A common theme was that organizations needed to be shown the things that were within their control and to realize that business-as-usual was not good enough to make a difference. Systems Dynamics models were key for getting organizations to make these mental shifts. Amin Dehdarian from EDGE had a process for gender targets set within a framework of representation, pay equity, policies and practices, and organizational culture. Systems Dynamics models were used to show how effective the strategies could be. A similar approach was taken by Hugo Herrera, who used microworld simulation models to help organizations develop a coherent suite of strategies for decreasing their gender pay gaps. Ivan Taylor, Takuma Ono, and Saraj Koul presented their case study of a model for increasing diversity in organizations applied to Twitter that have a vision of 25% of their US staff being from disadvantaged groups by 2025. Like the other models mentioned in this post, their data shows that improving fairness and diversity in recruitment and promotion are key aspects for improving diversity in the organization. They do acknowledge that their model does not currently account for the intersectional nature of disadvantage, which is future work for them.

All of these models have been used to gain a greater understanding of why some people in our organizations are held back, not because of their skills, knowledge, and experience, but because of their demographic characteristics and the systemic bias that goes with it. Systems Dynamics has been used in these cases to explain, spark discussions, and generate solutions. With these tools to hand, perhaps we can all succeed in this world, rather than just a select few.

  • Gender segregation dynamics: Women participation and performance in competitive chess in the Netherlands. Presenter: Jeroen Struben.
  • Recognizing systemic gender bias: Career advancement case study in a science team. Presenter: Suzanne Manning.
  • Gender and ethnic pay inequality in academia: A formal systems dynamics mode. Poster: Inge Bleijenbergh.
  • System dynamics modeling to set effective gender targets. Poster: Amin Dehdarian.
  • Tipping the scales: Using microworlds to uncover systemic issues driving organizations’ gender pay gap. Presenter: Hugo Herrera.
  • A System Dynamics Model to assist leaders to increase diversity in their organizations applied to Twitter’s 25/25 vision. Presenters: Ivan Taylor, Takuma Ono, Saroj Koul

 

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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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2023 Conference Invitation Letter Requests

2023 Conference Invitation Letter Requests

We can’t wait to see you in Chicago for the 2023 International System Dynamics Conference. Due to long United States visa appointment waiting times at American embassies and consulates worldwide, the Society has started issuing Invitation Letters to 2023 Conference attendees.

Note that you do NOT need a visa to enter the United States if you’re a citizen of the European Union or countries in the Visa Waiver Program. You can check the estimated wait time for a nonimmigrant visa interview appointment at a U.S. embassy or consulate here.

To request your Invitation Letter you must be a current member of the Society and provide us with an abstract. This statement of no more than 250 words should describe your participation in the 2023 Conference. Please mention any work you plan to submit to the conference program and/or how System Dynamics is related to your current study program or work.

Each person requesting an Invitation Letter must fill out a separate form. All letters will be sent in PDF format to the email address provided. Please include in the notes if a paper letter is required. Allow 7-10 business days for your Invitation Letter to be processed. If you do not receive your letter within this time period contact us for assistance.

We regard the right to deny any request we believe to be fake and to ask for more information regarding the company or affiliation of the attendee to ensure the validity of requests. Please reach out to conference@systemdynamics.org with any issues.

 

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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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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

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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

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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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

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

Recent Posts

Data & Uncertainty in System Dynamics

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Modeling for Implementation: an Illusion of Control?

Modeling for Implementation: an Illusion of Control?

Every so often, I see someone in our field drawing attention to the fact that many client-based system dynamics modeling projects do not lead to effective implementation of their findings, and they wonder what can be done to fix this problem.  This is not a new idea, but rather one that has been expressed for more than 40 years.

The first important example was Ed Roberts’ 1977 paper, “Strategies for effective implementation of complex corporate models”, which advocated extensive client involvement, substantive real-world detail and metrics in the model, actionable findings, and supporting the client team into the implementation phase. 

Thirty years later, in 2007, came an even more assertive article from Andreas Grössler, “System dynamics projects that failed to make an impact” (System Dynamics Review 23:4). Grössler argues that System Dynamics projects should be viewed as nothing less than organizational interventions, involving both analysis and action planning. He asks for more research to be done on how modeling can be smoothly integrated into large-scale organizational change efforts.  

Jorgen Randers later amplified this message in his 2019 paper, “The great challenge for system dynamics on the path forward: implementation and real impact” (System Dynamics Review 35:1). Randers says that we need to focus much more on the question of implementation and to develop an effective implementation methodology to stand alongside our modeling methodology.

These are important thoughts on implementation, and I do not doubt the authors when they point to cases of successful implementation as evidence that we can do better.  I must confess, however, that I get uncomfortable when someone speaks of modeling as merely the lead-in to the broader task of organizational change.  I ask myself, “Have I not set my sights high enough?  Why can I not see beyond today’s modeling to the more profound organizational reverberations to follow?”  

But this is silly. Over more than 30 years of private and public sector consulting (often side by side with major-league consulting firms), I have never witnessed profound organizational change happening, not even with longtime clients. I have never expected that any of my models would lead to a cascading change of organizational structure or culture. I really only expect to complete a high-quality model that the client finds useful and clear.

Why would I expect more than that? What ends up happening after the model is completed is largely out of my hands.  I was not trained in organizational intervention, and even those who do claim expertise have a mixed track record.

I have decided that it is sufficient to do a good job of System Dynamics modeling for the client without any particular expectation of implementation afterward. Developing a useful model takes all of my attention. Neither the client nor I can know with certainty what the next step will be after the current modeling project is complete, nor in fact whether this work will continue to be supported by the organization.

So, to answer the question in this blog’s title—yes, I would say that a System Dynamics modeler who believes he or she knows how to maximize the chances of implementation is under an illusion of control. Changing an organization is an incredibly difficult undertaking, and it seems presumptuous to think that one’s modeling skills extend into social engineering or executive leadership. 

I plan to stick with my only real skill set, which is modeling for clients, and to keep trying to do a better job of it. The only way I “model for implementation” is by satisfying the client and putting them in a position to take a more confident next step, whatever it may be.

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Data & Uncertainty in System Dynamics

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Upcoming Events

Recent Business cases

RSC Uses System Dynamics to Increase HVACR Sales Against the Tide

RSC Uses System Dynamics to Increase HVACR Sales Against the Tide “Using the proven Strategy Dynamic process focused our limited resources on organizing strategic issues, identifying the critical resources, and developing the insight to more rapidly create intuitive...

Achieving a Polio-Free World Through System Dynamics Simulation

Achieving a Polio-Free World Through System Dynamics Simulation EXECUTIVE Summary This System Dynamics model underpinned a 192 country resolution to eradicate polio globally and led the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to give Rotary International $100 million to...

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Join us