The efficacy of a problem solving and learning process comprising model building and simulation analysis seems to be undoubted within the System Dynamics-Community (e. g. Milling 1991, p. 20, de Geus 1988, p. 73, Morecroft 1994, p. 4). However, there have always been doubts and only small hints for learning induced from black-box simulation tools like Management Flight Simulators for individuals or Computerized Planning Games for groups (Paich and Sterman 1993, p. 1456). On the other hand, these tools usually offer a user friendly interface and fast access to the simulation because users do not have to have specific knowledge about simulation techniques.
But what is the special advantage Systems Thinking and in particular System Dynamics has to offer management simulations? How can the user take advantage of tools and techniques System Dynamics are providing if he or she does not see this model at all? How can a user be sure a model is correct if there is no chance to inspect it? And in fact, there is quite a number of business simulations which do not use System Dynamics for building the underlying model, even though the mathematical presentation is similar or identical to a System Dynamics model. The importance of System Dynamics models lies in the clear conceptualization of model structure which becomes possible (Machuca 1992, p. 175). Not giving access to this model structure therefore lets System Dynamics become just another tool for representing internal data structures in a computer program.
Adding features to provide structural information about the underlying model could be a means to combine the advantages of user friendly simulators with the power of model building and analysis tools, which are supposed to give structural insight. Users are able to examine not only the results of their decisions but also the causes of these results (like in so called "Reflective Computer-Based Learning Environments", see Isaacs and Senge 1994, p. 279). This introduces transparency to the former black-boxes, producing so called Transparent-Box Management Simulations (a term used by Machuca and Carrillo 1996, p. 329). Users become capable of criticizing or even advancing and improving the underlying model. At the same time their mental models are challenged when compared to the formal model. Thus, the mental models could be changed and improved as well (see Senge and Sterman 1992, p. 140, for the importance of challenging and improving mental models by management simulations).
However, there are certain areas where the transparency feature
is not wanted. Such situations are all uses of management simulators
which are not primarily intended to help the user learn about
the subject. For example, simulators as a means for personnel
selection, should support group building processes, etc. Thus,
the need for giving background information (to which structural
feedback belongs) varies according to target group and area.
The question how this transparency can be provided has remained unsolved so far. The best solution is probably to integrate structural feedback into the user interface of the Management Flight Simulator or Planning Game. Other researchers also experimented with giving back this information in paper-based or other form (Langley and Morecroft 1996, p. 303). Structural feedback could also be given in form of additional seminars or an intervention at the beginning of the training. Various technical and conceptual problems have to be addressed when giving integrated structural information to the user:
These questions must be considered in combination with general
issues of designing business simulators as for example described
in Kreutzer, Gould, and Kreutzer (1993, p. 222).
In this chapter some practical issues about structural feedback are discussed: How far is structural feedback already realized in a given Management Flight Simulator? How can it be added? Which forms of feedback seem to be useful? As an example a well-known German Management Flight Simulator is used: Learn!, which was developed at the Industrieseminar at Mannheim University during the last years (Simcon 1997).
These steps were taken to provide structural feedback to management simulation users:
de Geus, Arie P. 1988. Planning as Learning. In: Harvard Business Review, Vol. 66 No. 2: 70-74.
Isaacs, William and Peter M. Senge. 1994. Overcoming Limits to Learning in Computer-Based Learning Environments. In: John D. W. Morecroft and John D. Sterman (eds.): Modeling for Learning Organizations. Portland, OR.
Kreutzer, David P., Janet M. Gould and W. Brian Kreutzer. 1993. Designing Management Simulators. In: José A. D. Machuca and Enrique Zepeda (eds.): Proceedings of the 1993 International System Dynamics Conference: The Role of Strategic Modeling in International Competitiveness. Cancún, Mexiko.
Langley, Paul A. 1995. Building Cognitive Feedback into a Microworld Learning Environment: Results from a Pilot Experiment. In: Toshiro Shimado and Khalid Saeed (eds.): System Dynamics '95. Cambridge/Tokyo.
Langley, Paul A. and John D. W. Morecroft. 1996. Learning from Microworld Environments: A Summary of Research Issues. In: George P. Richardson and John D. Sterman (eds.): Proceedings of the 1996 International System Dynamics Conference. Cambridge, MA.
Machuca, José A. D. 1992. Are We Losing One of the Best Features of System Dynamics? In: System Dynamics Review, Vol. 8 No. 2: 175-177.
Machuca, José A. D. and Miguel A. Domingo Carrillo. 1996. Transparent-Box Business Simulators versus Black-Box Business Simulators: an Initial Empirical Comparative Study. In: George P. Richardson and John D. Sterman (eds.): Proceedings of the 1996 International System Dynamics Conference. Cambridge, MA.
Milling, Peter. 1991. Strategische Planungs- und Kontrollsysteme zur Unterstützung betrieblicher Lernprozesse [Strategic Planning and Control Systems for the Support of Organizational Learning Processes]. In: Peter Milling (ed.): Systemmanagement und Managementsysteme. Berlin.
Morecroft, John D. W. 1994. Executive Knowledge, Models, and Learning. In: John D. W. Morecroft and John D. Sterman (eds.): Modeling for Learning Organizations. Portland, OR.
Paich, Mark and John D. Sterman. 1993. Boom, Bust, and Failures to Learn in Experimental Markets. In: Management Science, Vol. 39 No. 12: 1439-1458.
Senge, Peter M. and John D. Sterman. 1992. Systems Thinking and Organizational Learning: Acting Locally and Thinking Globally in the Organization of the Future. In: European Journal of Operations Research, Vol. 59: 137-150.
Simcon GmbH. 1997. Learn! Bedienerhandbuch [Learn! User's Manual] Version 1.1. Schwetzingen, Germany.
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