Abstract for: Choosing the Right Tool for the Job: A Framework to Compare the Effectiveness of Problem Structuring Methods in System Dynamics

The understanding embedded in the mental models of participants in organizations is considered a crucial source of information for building system dynamics models. However, System Dynamics (SD) as a modeling methodology has not developed a standard way of eliciting and recording such understanding. Currently several methods of elicitation known as problem structuring methods (PSMs) are employed in the SD community to facilitate problem situation conceptualization in group model building (GMB). Despite a growing literature on the application of PSMs, very limited research has been undertaken to assess and compare the relative effectiveness of alternative PSMs. In this paper, we apply theoretical insights from cognitive science, in particular Cognitive Fit Theory, and visual notation analysis to suggest the characteristics of a PSM that are likely to be cognitively effective in conceptualizing problem situations in building system dynamics models. We then provide a preliminary report on an exploratory laboratory test of our predicted characteristics on four PSMs that are widely used by the SD community: (i) Causal Loop Diagrams (CLDs), (ii) Influence Diagrams (ID), (iii) Cognitive Maps, and (iv) (Magnetic) Hexagons. In the problem situation conceptualization used in our test, IDs were found to have the highest cognitive effectiveness, followed by CLDs, (Magnetic) Hexagons, and Cognitive Maps.