President's Newsletter
Volume 11 - December 1998

Message from the President

Dear Members:

It is a pleasure to be contributing to this Newsletter of the System Dynamics Society. As the President,  I would like to share with you a few facts about the Society.

Our Society is the main international organization devoted to the development and use of the dynamic feedback perspective, system dynamics methodology and systems thinking around the world. It is an exciting time to be a member of the Society. The membership has continued its steady growth in 1997 and 1998, and is now at 650,  distributed over a record 47 countries. There are four international chapters (China, Japan, Italy and India) and more are in the process of being created. One recent initiative of particular importance in my opinion is the forming of the prospective "student chapter" of the System Dynamics Society. And last but not least, we celebrated this year the founding of the first full undergraduate degree in system dynamics, at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

With our new professional administration, the Society has now more to offer its members. In addition to the System Dynamics Review, the annual international conferences and the President's Newsletter, members can obtain information such as the Bibliography, historical data on the Society, and high school and college teaching materials on the Internet. There are also several electronic discussion lists for different interest groups. A sub-committee of the Policy Council is looking further into the issue of how we can make fuller use of electronic media - including electronic meetings, management of our web site and web-based conference proceedings. The Society finances, based on annual dues and conference income, look very healthy. Additional income is being produced by the Society office’s sale of the Beer Game and previous publications.  Another sub-committee is investigating how to make best use of the budget surplus, such as offering best student paper awards, conference travel support, etc.

There are also some challenges that the field of system dynamics in general and our Society in particular must face. You may read my views on some of these challenges in the President's address that I delivered at the International System Dynamics Conference '98, reproduced in this Newsletter. The Newsletter comes with a new format and is richer in content. I hope you will find it useful and interesting. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our Executive Director, Roberta L. Spencer and her assistant at the Society office for the fine work they did in producing the Newsletter.

In closing, I would like to thank you for contributing to the Society, urge you to remain a member, and challenge you to recruit additional system dynamicists.

Please accept my best wishes for 1999!

Yaman Barlas
Bogaziçi University, Istanbul

Society Information

System Dynamics Society Membership
(according to the membership directories)

Membership as of June 30, 1998 is 605, as compared to June 1997 which was 495, an increase of 22%. The 1998 membership directory will be dated September 1, 1998.


Sales of Products

The Society is managed around three cost centers and all three show a net profit. The cost centers are Conference, Core operations and Sales. Expenses for the Quebec conference will be reimbursed to the Society. Core operations are "holding their own" due to an increase in sponsor dues. Sales are up and profits are subsidizing the office as a whole.

Due to customer demand and conference involvement by the Society office, the Society has begun to accept credit card payments.

Presidents of the System Dynamics Society
Year President
Jac A. M. Vennix, The Netherlands 
Alexander L. Pugh, III, MA, USA 
Yaman Barlas, Istanbul, Turkey 
George P. Richardson, NY, USA 
John D. W. Morecroft, London, UK 
Khalid Saeed, Bangkok, Thailand 
Andrew Ford, WA, USA 
Peter M. Milling, Mannheim, Germany 
John D. Sterman, MA, USA 
Erich K. O. Zahn, Stuttgart, Germany 
Peter Gardiner, CA, USA 
Eric F. Wolstenholme, Bradford, UK 
Nathan B. Forrester, MA, USA 
(Served 18 months to switch presidency to calendar year terms) 
Dennis L. Meadows, NH, USA 
Jorgen Randers, Oslo, Norway 
David F. Andersen, NY, USA 
Jay W. Forrester, MA, USA 

Society Finances

The net income after adjustments for 1997 was $7,300. The projected net income after adjustments for 1998 is $29,000. Deciding which important investments and possible initiatives the Society should make using the surplus income will be discussed at the Winter Policy Council Meeting.

System Dynamics Society Special Awards

1998 R. Geoffrey Coyle - Lifetime Achievement Award
1997 Alexander L. Pugh, III - Lifetime Service Recognition Award

System Dynamics Society Jay Wright Forrester Award Winners
Year Winner and Work
Jack B. Homer 
For "A System Dynamics Model of National Cocaine Prevalence." System Dynamics Review 9(1): 49-78. 
Andrew Ford 
Khalid Saeed 
For Towards Sustainable Development: Essays on System Analysis of National Policy (Progressive Publishers, 1991) 
Tarek Abdul-Hamid and Stuart Madnick 
For Software Project Dynamics: An Integrated Approach (Prentice Hall, 1991)
George P. Richardson 
For Feedback Thought in Social Science and Systems Theory (1991, University of Pennsylvania Press)
Peter M. Senge 
For The Fifth Discipline (Doubleday, 1990) 
Dennis L. Meadows 
John D. W. Morecroft 
For "Rationality in the Analysis of Behavioral Simulation Models." Management Science 31(7): 900-916, 1985 
Barry M. Richmond 
For STELLA and the Academic User's Guide To STELLA 
John D. Sterman 
For "Modeling Managerial Behavior: Misperceptions of Feedback in a Dynamic Decision Making Experiment." In Proceedings of the 1988 International System Dynamics Conference (pp. 334-365) and Management Science 35(3): 321-339, 1988 
No Award 
Erik Mosekilde and Javier Aracil 
George P. Richardson and Alexander L. Pugh, III 
For Introduction to System Dynamics Modeling with DYNAMO (1981, MIT Press) 
No Award 
Nancy H. Roberts, David F. Andersen, Ralph M. Deal, Michael S. Garet, and William A. Shaffer 
For Introduction to Computer Simulation (Addison Wesley, 1983) 

1998 Sponsors of the System Dynamics Society

A.T. Kearney Ltd., Locations Worldwide
Arthur Andersen, Global Locations
Frank Davidson, Concord, Massachusetts
Jay W. Forrester, Cambridge, Massachusetts
High Performance Systems, Hanover, New Hampshire
The Magellan Group, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts
Paradigm Business Simulators, Bergen, Norway
Pegasus Communications, Inc., Waltham, Massachusetts
Powersim, Herndon, Virginia and Knarvik, Norway
Pugh-Roberts Associates. A Division of PA Consulting, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts
Successful Systems, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts
System Dynamics Group, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Ventana Systems, Inc., Harvard, Massachusetts

If you or your firm is interested in becoming a sponsor of the System Dynamics Society for the calendar year 1999, please contact the Society office.

News from Centers Around the World

Because of the enormous value and great impact of the ideas and work all around the world, the University of Sevilla in Spain has presented to Jay W. Forrester an Honorary Doctorate in December 1998.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) is currently accepting applications for its bachelor of science degree program in system dynamics. It is the first undergraduate system dynamics program and will begin in the Fall 1999. The goals of WPI’s system dynamics major are to train students to be critical thinkers, communicators, and leaders in society, as well as to equip them with the skills necessary to become system dynamics professionals in public and private sector organizations. Website:

The system dynamics community in the United Kingdom has grown considerably. Teaching and research activities are in several universities and a number of consultancy firms offer system dynamics. Two annual gatherings of the community have been well attended and the next meeting will take place in January. Given all this growth it seems appropriate to start a Society Chapter for Britain. The proposal will be put to U.K. Society members in January and, if supported, a petition will go to the Society.

Linda Morecroft has become web and publications coordinator for the System Dynamics Group at London Business School. System Dynamics Group web pages are currently being updated. The first phase of changes is going live at the beginning of March 1999:

SESDYN Research Group, located at Bogaziçi University, Turkey, does applied and theoretical research on the dynamics of socioeconomic systems. Some research projects are funded by Turkish National Research Council and other grants; some applied research is funded by private companies.  Contact Yaman Barlas <[email protected]>, FAX 90 212 265 1800, website:

Chapters:   Japan, Italy, China, India

Presidential Address at the International System Dynamics Conference '98


Bienvenue à la seizième conférence de Dynamiques des Systèmes. Je voudrais bien continuer cette présentation en Français, mais malheureusement, il y a vingt huit ans que je n’ai pas parlé ou écrit en Français sérieusement.

For those whose French may not be as great as mine, I just said "good morning" in French! (Well, I actually said "welcome to the sixteenth System Dynamics conference" and added that I would love to continue this talk in French, but unfortunately, it has been twenty-eight years since I last talked or wrote in French in any serious context).

Good morning and "it is great to be seeing you again" to many of you and "nice to be meeting you" to many others... About a year ago, far away in Istanbul, in my opening remarks as the chair of the 15th ISDC, I said that it was a great honor for me to be hosting the conference in my home country. And this time I am here to deliver the President’s address - another great honor and privilege. (I am afraid this is spoiling me!)

Today, I will first give you some good news and then talk about some challenges.

First, the good news:
The Society membership has been growing steadily. (About 50% increase in the last 5 years, now in the high 600’s).
The number of countries with members has increased to a record 47.
There are now four international chapters and more are in the creation process.
The professional administration of the Society is in full charge, involved in:
- Assisting conference organization
- Seeking sponsorship
- Managing sales (old journal    issues/proceedings and Beer Game)
- General information services to members (especially electronically)
Several electronic discussion lists are active, thanks to Bob Eberlein.
Internet/Web presence is strong, thanks to Mike Radzicki (the Society Secretary) of Worcester Polytechnic and Roberta Spencer and company at Albany.
Speaking of Worcester, we now have the first full undergraduate degree in System Dynamics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. (Many thanks to Khalid Saeed, Mike Radzicki and others involved in it).

So, things are in good shape in general. What about the "challenges?" I will now spend some time on a few conceptual and technical challenges - in my view - that we system dynamicists must deal with in the near future.

1- The first challenge has to do with choosing a good problem.
Many years ago when I was an undergraduate student, I recall my professors advising: "A good industrial engineer (modeler) is the one that examines a given problem and chooses the right modeling technique/tool from his/her toolbox; do not walk around with a screwdriver, looking for a screw that would fit your tool! Adjust yourself to the problem." Over the years, I gradually reached the conclusion that this advice was wrong at a very fundamental level (although there is partial truth to it at some technical/micro level).

I have gradually learned that good modeling primarily and precisely starts with looking around and finding a "good" problem that would fit our screwdriver (or narrow set of screwdrivers).  I
submit that much care must be exercised in "choosing the problem," more specifically in identifying, interpreting, shaping and even "defining" it. If a good dynamic feedback problem is chosen, then the system dynamics study is much more likely to be a success. On the other hand, an ill-chosen problem  (a static or open-loop problem) can be much better handled by other methodologies and a system dynamics study would most likely be ineffective. (The same general rule should naturally be applied to any other modeling discipline.) I see this as a challenge, because I have not only seen many "ill-chosen" system dynamics studies over the years, but also have personally been involved in a couple of such projects.

I thus challenge myself and all system dynamicists to be aware of this crucial necessary factor for a successful project and spend effort to find good problems (similar to the "well-posed problem" of the mathematician). The world has more than enough problems - both in quantity and in diversity. Let us look around for those screws and bolts and nuts that system dynamics, our unique tool, would best fit.

2 - The next challenge is about the role of models in analysis and design.
In recent years, we have been witnessing comparative evaluations of system dynamics and systems thinking. Simultaneously, we have been debating about a similar dichotomy between "qualitative" and "quantitative" (formal-model-based) approaches. I submit that a productive way of restating - and perhaps resolving - these dichotomies is to take a look at the relationship between "system dynamics model" and "system dynamicist." The ultimate set of insights offered by a system dynamicist about a dynamic feedback problem is in general much larger than the results directly "produced" by the model.
The analyst bases her conclusions on a much richer database of dynamic intuition, acquired as a result of years of experience with many other models. Through the exercise of building and analyzing many models, the analyst acquires a rich set of dynamic analysis skills. This is not to undermine the importance of models; it is just that the "last" model can not by itself do all the job. That is probably why to most critics a given model typically looks "unrealistic" (i.e. lacking many intangible factors that they believe are important in addressing the problem).

This type of criticism may tempt the modeler to make the model larger, more and more detailed. But this path often makes the situation worse rather than resolving it: new additions to the model will still not satisfy the critic and the model now becomes large, complicated and unrealistic! The crucial factor ignored in this debate is the fact that the ultimate analysis and results are helped by  many mental models that the analyst has in her repertoire. So, what is the way out of this dilemma?

I believe the key is to make systematic use of our mental models and dynamic insights and go through extensive sessions of model simplification so as to end up with a final model that is as compact as possible, yet able to explain the fundamental dynamics. Systems thinking and qualitative system dynamics can play an important role in this process and it is in this sense that they can complement system dynamics modeling projects. Toward the completion of a study, the analyst acquires a dynamic understanding of the problem that s/he did not have in the early phases. I therefore submit that there must be an additional, final formal step in system dynamics modeling: model simplification. The study cycle must be completed by the analyst crafting a much simpler, yet fundamental version of her "working" model.  This means substantial time and effort, but I believe it is well worth it. The final model would be much more likely to be put in use, published and disseminated.

3- This takes me to the third challenge: Low record of scientific publications.
I have historic yearly data on system dynamics publications (in SYSTEM DYNAMICS REVIEW and elsewhere). The general behavior consists of a boom until the late 1970’s, a sharp decline between ‘80-’85, a second (smaller) boom after ’85 and finally another decline after 1990. There are of course many causes and mechanisms behind this undesirable behavior, beyond the scope of this talk. I just want to give two brief messages: First, we should simply recognize that there is a problem and start working on it, both as a Society and as individuals. Second, I believe that one important cause of the low publication record is the fact that many of us do applied work, involving large-scale detailed models. Such models are very difficult to publish in a scientific format. They must first be drastically simplified and reduced in size and detail. Many of us may be unwilling to go through this time-consuming step. (I admit not to have a very good record myself). But this extra step is definitely worth the effort, as I mentioned above in item 2.

Model simplification is not only needed for publication, but  must actually be seen as an integral part of the project itself. The publication challenge is more important for the academicians (for promotion), but let us keep in mind that publishing, disseminating our good work is also crucial for the recognition of our field in general.

4- Finally, the last challenge is improving our communication links.
I believe that we face several communication challenges, within the field and between us and other fields:

We now have significant system dynamics activity in many different geographical regions - in many countries on almost all continents. The field started at MIT and for many years an overwhelming portion of system dynamics activity occurred at MIT and in the northeastern USA. Although MIT is still the center of activity, many other locations around the world have recently become increasingly more active. The trend is expected to continue and it is of course a positive development for the field, provided that the growth is healthy. In this process of growth and geographical dispersion, there are several communication risks: there may be communication delays can be large relative to the speed of the growth; there may be linguistic (in the technical sense) communication problems, due to different centers adopting different technical "jargon"; and there may be cultural communication differences. In short, we will increasingly face the challenge of setting up and managing effective communication channels, the most important one being proper use of electronic communication.

Another similar intra-field communication challenge has to do with the four constituencies of system dynamics that our Past President George Richardson talked about in his ’97 speech in Istanbul: Researchers, educators, consultants and practitioners. (I urge the Society members to read Richardson’s talk especially if they were not at the Istanbul conference.) Although these four constituencies do share the general mission of the System Dynamics Society, each has different specific goals, needs, problems and even jargon. Bringing these different constituencies together at conferences and other meetings is necessary but not sufficient. The challenge is to create a synergetic interaction environment so that both the Society and each individual constituency benefit from it.

There is also a communication weakness between our Society and other sister disciplines (such as the Society for Computer Simulation, INFORMS and several "systems" societies). We need to be more actively involved at other conferences and seminars, announce our activities more aggressively in their publications (such as SIMULATION and OR/MS TODAY) and pursue more inter-disciplinary projects. We must also try to publish in a wider variety of journals (not instead of  but in addition to  SYSTEM DYNAMICS REVIEW, of course).

And finally, a non-scientific observation of mine (shared by many friends): It  seems that in many publications/presentations dealing with system dynamics,  authors avoid using the term "system dynamics." Instead, they use various terms like "STELLA" or "DYNAMO" model, "Simulation" model, "Forrester" approach, "Systems Thinking," etc. I am sure there are many different reasons why this is the case: practical convenience or other concerns, scientific/technical reasons, and some social, historical and psychological factors. From a purely technical perspective, system dynamics means "dynamics of systems" and it is a reasonable name for our Society in general. On the other hand, it seems like other specific usages like "system dynamics model" or "system dynamics approach" are awkward, non-descriptive, even linguistically incorrect. (For those interested, I have a small library of research on the various uses, misuses and
"non-use" of "system dynamics.")  But
whatever the reason, I believe that the current situation constitutes an unnecessary communication handicap for the Society. In particular, it is totally unacceptable for our models and methodology to be reduced to software names. I suggest that we should adopt a standard name for our models and methodology and urge all members to  use it. Examples of such terms descriptive of our methodology could be: "systemic feedback" model (method, approach) or "systemic dynamic feedback" model... Alternatively, we could adopt an acronym (like SDFS, standing for "systemic dynamic feedback simulation") - although I am personally not a great fan of acronyms. The name does not have to be perfect; the critical issue is that it be accepted and consistently used by all members of the Society, as well as non-members involved in system dynamics.

In closing, I believe that the System Dynamics Society is in good shape, as you heard in the "good news" part of my talk. And I believe it would be in much better shape if we can tackle these challenges in the near future. I know that these are not easy tasks; they present many difficult sub-problems. But as the French philosopher Alain said: "tout est complex dans la nature" (all is complex in nature). And strangely enough, we system dynamicists like this complexity. It is this "masochistic" character that makes us truly unique!

That is all I have to say. Thank you for your time and have a great conference!

Yaman Barlas
Quebec City,
July 1998

NOTE: Item 4 above was skipped in the actual talk due to lack of time.

Conference Information

The 1999 Conference will be held in Wellington, New Zealand from July 20th to the 23rd. For more information, please contact the Conference Chair, Bob Cavana, at <[email protected]> or the Society office. The theme for the conference is "Systems Thinking in the Next Millennium."

The Quebec ‘98 Conference had the highest attendance to date with 331 registrants.

If you or your firm is interested in becoming a sponsor of the International Conference of the System Dynamics Society 1999 in New Zealand, please contact the Society office.

International Conference Sites

2000 Bergen, Norway
1999 Wellington, New Zealand
1998 Quebec City, Canada
1997 Istanbul, Turkey
1996 Cambridge, Massachusetts (USA)
1995 Tokyo, Japan
1994 Stirling, Scotland (UK)
1993 Cancun, Mexico
1992 Utrecht, The Netherlands
1991 Bangkok, Thailand
1990 Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts (USA)
1989 Stuttgart, Germany
1988 La Jolla, California (USA)
1987 Shanghai, China
1986 Seville, Spain
1985 Keystone, Colorado (USA)
1984 Oslo, Norway
1983 Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts (USA)

General Guidelines for Conference Site Selection

The conference site selection process consists of three phases:

i) Pre-proposals are received 3-4 years before the bid year. These are short 1-2 page documents that describe the proposed location, dates, organizing group and any other information that the bidding group may find crucial.
ii) The Policy Council reviews the pre-proposals and invites full proposals from those parties that meet minimum criteria (like "time eligibility" with respect to the geographical rotation rule, no conflict
with other planned conferences, etc).
iii) The Policy Council makes a decision after having reviewed all the full proposals received by a certain deadline (3 years to the conference).

The total conference costs should be kept as low as is reasonably possible. The conference site should be chosen so as to have easy international access. The site should have inexpensive and convenient accommodations available. The conference site and associated accommodations should keep delegates close together to facilitate informal communication.

Programs will include plenary sessions and parallel/poster sessions with time allotted for special interest groups and Society Policy Council meetings. There will be time allocated in the formal program for the General Business Meeting of the Society. The conference will be held during the summer (July or August) at a time that is convenient for the participants. For more information on hosting a conference, please contact the Society office.

For more information, please contact:

Roberta L. Spencer, Executive Director
System Dynamics Society
Milne 300 - Rockefeller College,  University at Albany - SUNY
Albany, New York 12222 USA
Phone: (518) 442-3865     Fax: (518) 442-3398
e-mail: [email protected]

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