System Dynamics Society


Performance of the second wave

95 President's Speech


Khalid Saeed



The president's address was formalized into the conference program in 1991. Erich Zahn gave the first formal presidential address at the society conference held in Bangkok, which I organized. Had I known, that the task of delivering this address would fall on me later, I might have tried to keep the president's speech giving role as informal as possible, but this is out of my hands now. The 1992 presidential address was given by John Sterman at the Utrecht conference and as you would expect from John, he did a great job, delivering a well researched speech complete with data and transparencies, which made the president's address an even more important event. Subsequent speeches by Peter Milling at Cancun, and Andy Ford at Stirling were equally well conceived and delivered. I wish to say at the outset that it would be difficult for me to equal those traditions at this conference and although I can give many valid reason's for this, suffices here to say that trying to manage a conference program renders one temporarily useless for anything else.


I am grateful to our hosts, however, for very graciously scheduling the President's speech at this pleasant party instead of in a formal session, which gives me an opportunity to be less formal. I also hope sincerely that you might have had a few drinks and be sufficiently relaxed not to expect to concentrate very much on my speech and take it easy.


In 1981, David Andersen organized a very fine conference at the Institute for Man and Science at Renneselairville, NY,  which many of us attended. It was at this conference that many of the conventions we now follow at our conferences were initiated. It would not be inaccurate to say that the Rennselairville conference was the fore-runner of the subsequent conferences of the System Dynamics Society. I particularly remember a keynote speech delivered at this conference by Edward Roberts after a sumptuous dinner. Ed is a great public speaker and the fact that his speech was delivered in a party setting like this one did not make it any less logical and powerful both in terms of its content and impact.


If I recall correctly, Ed likened the process of propagation of system dynamics to a series of waves, the first of which consisted of the pioneers with a religious zeal, whose work was seen with curiosity and received with mixed feelings. He saw the second wave to consist of deeply committed practitioners quietly at work over the late seventies and early eighties attempting to create linkages with the other fields and setting up an organization that could nurture the field into an established science. He predicted that the second wave will, in time, transform the field into a mature and widely recognized discipline.


As a pioneer in the field of System Dynamics, Ed clearly had a deep understanding of its organization and fourteen years later, we can see many aspects of his vision being realized. 


For example,


1. System dynamics practitioners seem to have moved out of a circumscribed field and are now located in a variety of programs and fields of study. The appearance of System Dynamics curriculum at its birth place, MIT, in the areas of operations management, organizational learning and other fields of study is a prime example of this change. The formulation of a variety of programs in other universities in Management Sciences, Regional Development and Infrastructure Planning, Economics, MIS, Behavioral Science, Psychology, etc. are other examples.


2. There has appeared a diversity of concepts in system dynamics. If knowledge creation implies also the creation of variety, this ought to be seen as a very healthy development. Three conceptual streams can now be identified:  The neo-classical system dynamics stream led by the MIT group that emphasizes problem solving through an experimental process driven by heuristics; the Systems Thinking stream led by Wolstenholme which relies on mapping of information feedback to understand complex phenomenon and conceive possibilities of system change; and the formal analysis stream led by Raimo Kelharju, which employs formal techniques for system identification, parameter estimation and model analysis. This diversity in my observation has increased the potential for application of system dynamics.


3. System Dynamics continues to spread as a vehicle of learning and analysis at a variety of levels and in a variety of programs in educational institutions worldwide. Its relevance to research and learning contexts is now widely recognized.


4. A large following is in place in the business sector. Many of our university colleagues are simultaneously involved with the strategic planning work in the businesses while many businesses maintain in house strategic planning facilities. The presence of many colleagues from the business sector at our conferences reflects positive interest in the applicability of system dynamics to practical problem solving.


5. The growth rates of the high school and the consulting sectors have been quite phenomenal. This has created also a large demand for software and canned materials for dedicated use. A variety of innovative software has appeared for model development and analysis. DYNAMO was one of the most user-friendly packages of its time. The new software continues to extend further that tradition. The supply of canned materials for applications in pre-college education and consulting is, however, currently quite limited.


6. The System Dynamics Society, the professional organization with the remit of advancing the practice of system dynamics has developed now into viable institution which is able to regularly organize high quality conferences and also oversee a variety of other professional activities. the number of issues of the journal of the society, System Dynamics Review has increased from two to four. This was made possible by the dedicated work of the its members at large who continue to serve its interests with great loyalty and personal devotion.


7. The internet has lately greatly enhanced the exchange among the society members on professional and organizational issues. A large part of the business of this conference program was conducted through email. The work of the policy council of the society is now also greatly facilitated by email. The agenda we will cover in our business meetings at this conference has already received substantial inputs from the society officers. Additionally, there are two discussion fora already functioning on the internet which have generated valuable dialogue among practitioners. If you have not yet subscribed to these, please do so at your earliest. There is no charge.


8. The society now has a fine journal, System Dynamics Review, published by John Wiley, and printing  four issues a year. It fills information needs of a wide cross-section of academic and business interests and its  contents are listed in many important academic and professional indexes, readily accessible through your libraries.


The credit for the progress I have reported goes to the society members at large. Each member I have known is dedicated to the practice of system dynamics and its improvement with utmost integrity and sincerity.


Each conference I have been to, and I have been to almost all, is organized with unparalleled care and devotion by its hosts, who routinely put in an enormous amount of effort to create an innovative program as well as a pleasant ambiance for the delegates that makes attendance both enjoyable and rewarding.


The work of the society has received dedicated attention both from its elected officers and our honorary executive director, Julie Pugh. The longest serving elected officer is our VP finance, Julie's husband, Jack Pugh, whose excellent financial management has placed the society on a sound financial footing.


The other society office that provides continuity to its activities is that of the secretary. The thumb rule so far has been that if you are elected secretary, you stay in office until you throw your hands up in the air and say that you have had enough. As far as I remember, John Morecroft was the first secretary of the society. When he threw his hand up in the air in 1987, Bob Eberlain was elected to replace him. Bob served with great dedication until 1994 when threw his hand up in the air and now we have Mike Radzicki. Hang in there Mike.


Last, but not least, the credit for founding the fine journal we have goes to Eric Wolstenholme and Graham Winch who created its forerunner, Dynamica in the late 70s. Dynamica was transformed into System Dynamics Review when System Dynamics Society was instituted in 1983. Thereafter, it stayed in the caring hands of George Richardson until last year, when George threw his hand up in the air. As you all know, Graham Winch is back at the helm of System Dynamics Review .


The growth of the field from the dedicated work of its practitioner will inevitably create a growing demand for professionals trained in system dynamics, the signs of which are already appearing. The existing practitioners are often so busy in their work that there is little time for them to create documentation of the new heuristics they have uncovered as well as the practical insights they create. They often also do not have enough time to write papers for our journal. These are the areas that need our attention. I wish to repeat the message I tried to send in the president's letter sent last January. Write up your work as much as possible and send your good papers to the review for consideration.