Abstract for: Varieties of System Dynamics Practice

What is system dynamics? Traditionally, the explanations have been complex and implicit, e.g. 10 steps, 25 types of validation, and 33 questions model users should ask. Such elaborate explanations can create hurdles in teaching SD, innovating within SD and communicating about it and its value to the wider world. This paper examines several varieties of system dynamics practice, with “classic” SD more or less at the center. All of the variations of system dynamics can be described as different elaborations and iterations of testing only three hypotheses: our understanding of 1) the situation or problem to be improved, 2) the system in which the problem is created, and 3) the actions that will improve the situation. We use diverse sources of knowledge for all three, especially general knowledge about how people interact, expert participant knowledge, and statistics. We use computer simulation to test the system and candidate actions. This comprehensive reality-checking is what makes system dynamics a trustworthy approach to complex situations. This simple definition of system dynamics is a movement toward a simple, compelling “elevator explanation”, which should also useful for teaching about the complexities of SD within a simple overarching structure.