Abstract for: The Power of Operational Thinking for Engineering Social Systems: A Tale of Crime and Police Work in an Urban District

Criminologists typically develop causal explanations for explaining crime rates. Such “laundry lists”, as Barry Richmond called them, assume exogenous causes as the way to explain a problem and promote very abstract ways of thinking in terms of variables that might end up unrelated to concrete actors or improving actions—not to mention the absence of systemic thinking. System dynamics offers an alternative: the recognition of the performance of a social system as the outcome of the operations that take place between actors that display interests and choice. Such “operational thinking” promotes dynamic explanations that allows the identification of concrete courses of action for engineering (that is, transforming, redesigning and improving) a social system. Here we show the case of crime and security in an important urban district of Bogota. The police faces the challenge of improving a very complex social system that takes place and continuously evolves as the result of the continuous action of diverse actors. We developed a stock-and-flows conceptual model that illustrates how to boost operational thinking and how to envisage concrete interventions that consider the mental models and interests of actors. The latter condition is a requisite if the social system is expected to change.