Abstract for: Conceptualization of Social Systems: Actors First

Social systems are formed by actors whose decisions form a complex structure of continuous inter-actions that shape the performance of those systems. System dynamics (SD) models help to redesign new configurations of a system in order to improve its performance, which for social systems requires thus intervening and modifying actions and decision-making processes. There are several ways for building SD models. In particular, the conceptualization stages are critical since they form the base for imagining the system and formulating models which later on serve as tools for developing understanding and taking actions to improve the system. However, it is not easy to find explicit guidelines that consider a full and systematic analysis of actors (in terms of their actions) as a source for conceptualizing the social system that dynamically “produces” the problem to be modeled. This paper presents a methodological guideline for conceptualizing models of social systems intended to address their actor-driven nature. The emphasis on decision-making in social systems serves as a heuristic that guides the model building process and leads to a shift from “variables” to “decisions rules”. Such heuristic favors the creation of policies that rest on the power of actors to change their own system.