FAQ

1. What is the System Dynamics approach?

The System Dynamics approach is a formal problem-solving technique that can employ computer simulation and qualitative system thinking methods. It is used to map, understand and design physical and social systems where the focus is representing their dynamic behaviour over time. This requires explicit representation of the system structure including flows of resources and the information links that drive these. It was first introduced by Jay Forrester in the late 1950s who first applied the underpinning control engineering principles of System Dynamics to industrial challenges including inventory management. Since then it has been applied to wide range of studies across business, urban planning, environmental studies, macroeconomics, healthcare and other public policy areas.

2. Is there a professional body?

The System Dynamics Society is the worldwide body for workers in the field who include academics, researchers, students, consultants, public policy workers and corporate employees. The UK Chapter has been formally adopted by the Society. The Society produces the peer-reviewed journal, System Dynamics Review and also organizes the annual conference each July.

3. What is System Thinking?

Systems Thinking is a qualitative method that focuses on mapping a system under study. It typically will not use simulation but use qualitative discussion and mapping to identify drivers of system behaviour and potential policies to improve its design. Systems Thinking approaches include the concepts of System Dynamics but also adopt a wide range of other systems methods.

4. What is Simulation?

Simulation is a representation of the real world system that can be used to observe its behaviour over time. Simulation models are typically computer generated and allows the user to modify variables and structure and understand the impact this has on the system.

System Dynamics simulations use a stock and flow representation to describe the system under study and a number of software tools are available.

 5. Where I can study System Dynamics?

The field of System Dynamics can be studied around the UK at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Click here for a list of UK courses. System Dynamics training is also available from several consultancies.

6. Are there specialist software tools?

System Dynamics uses control engineering principles at its heart with the attendant simulation approach of numerical integration. A key element of the methodology that has evolved over the years is the need to describe system structure in a visual manner to share with model developers and stakeholders within the system under study.

Although simulation models can be developed in spreadsheets or code, a number of tools have been developed that provide graphical user interfaces to represent the structure of the system, input data and plot and interpret results. Each has strengths and this list is not intended to endorse a particular tool.

The major tools are:

Vensim

Powersim

IThink/Stella

There are also several other tools that have been designed to represent particular areas of System Dynamics including mystrategy that provides a modelling environment reflecting Strategy Dynamics.

7. I’m interested in business applications. How successful has it been?

Many businesses are using System Dynamics. Not all publish their work widely of course but key several organizations that have had a long association with the approach include BP Amoco, BT, and Shell.

Business application areas are wide and include strategic marketing, human resource planning, due diligence for M&A, product development and innovation, asset management, capital investment.

8. Is it being applied to public policy challenges by government?

Several government departments have been using System Dynamics for some time. The Prime Ministers Strategy Unit has used systems approaches to cover a range of studies including fisheries and energy. Other departments with known application include Ministry of Defence, Department of Health, Department for Work and Pensions.

9. What can the Chapter provide?

The UK Chapter of the System Dynamics Society is a group of System Dynamics practitioners and educators. The Chapter is to enable networking, support and information sharing within the group. In addition it seeks to promote within the UK, the value of Systems Dynamics. To achieve this, the Chapter has produced this website, hosts meetings and provides a UK focus for System Dynamics.

10. Do I have to join the System Dynamics Society to be in the Chapter?

No. The Chapter is free to join and you need not be a member of the System Dynamics Society. However, as the Chapter is a formally adopted by the Society, you must be a Society member to stand for office within the Chapter or vote in the elections.

11. I’m considering introducing System Dynamics into my teaching curriculum. Can I get advice?

The Chapter seeks to promote the use of System Dynamics within teaching curricula. The Chapter provides a list of courses, the leaders of which could be first points of contact. The World Wide Web provides a range of freely available teaching resources, notably at MIT.

12. How do I join the Chapter?

The Chapter is free to join, all you have to do is complete this form.

13. I’d like to join the System Dynamics Society. How do I do this?

The System Dynamics Society is the worldwide body that hosts the annual conference and publishes the peer reviewed System Dynamics Review. More details and on line application is available at their website.

Note that this will not automatically enroll you in the Chapter. This is free to join at any time and you need not be a full member of the Society.

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