Scriptapedia/Roles in Group Model Building
Group model building (GMB) requires successfully managing multiple roles, including starting a session, facilitating an exercise, and documenting the process (Richardson and Andersen, 1995). While a session could potentially be completed by as few as two experienced facilitators, the results may be compromised as the facilitators have to balance the group process with the need to produce outputs using a series of structured exercises. Consequently, GMB workshops are typically done in teams with one or more roles assigned to each team member. Below are some of the team roles needed for this project along with a description of their primary function and qualifications.
The community facilitator's primary responsibility is to extend their social capital to help the community accept and work with the modeler facilitator. This is a person who is familiar with the local or substantive knowledge of the problem being modeled and knows the local language and community norms in cross-cultural situations. The substantive expert/facilitator should have strong group facilitation skills, some exposure to system dynamics (e.g., through the planning process and training session or workshop), and have sufficient knowledge of the topic and/or community to anticipate and mediate conflicts that might arise within the group model building session.
The data manager's primary responsibility is to ensure that the information collected during the exercises, which includes diagrams, group model building scripts, agenda, pictures, notes, electronic versions of diagrams, etc., are collected, appropriately archived, and made available.
The debriefer's primary responsibility is to facilitate the discussion after a group model building session. This is a rotating role among the core modeling team. The debriefer follows a semi-structured format asking for people’s initial reactions, identifying areas of strength, and identifying areas of improvement for subsequent sessions. The debriefer essentially allows members of the core modeling team to debrief and reflect on group model building sessions in a systematic way for a limited period of time. The debriefer should not be someone who experienced a particularly challenging situation during the group model building.
The facilitator's primary responsibility is to facilitate the group model building sessions and manage the group dynamics during the session with training in system dynamics and group model building. This person must be able to provide participants with the right “facilitative attitude” (Vennix 1996; 1999).
The gate keeper's primary responsibility is to ensure that the modeling project is meeting the needs of the client organization or community, and to communicate the modeling process and results to the client organization or community.
The convener's primary responsibility is to start the session, introduce participants to the exercise, make sure that participants understand the purpose of the exercise within the context of their organization or community, and introduce the facilitators.
The closer's primary responsibility is to bring the session to close and thank participants for their time.
The modeler facilitator's primary responsibility is to conduct system dynamics modeling and the group model building process. This is a person who is trained in systems thinking/system dynamics modeling with expertise teaching and leading groups in the use of systems/thinking/system dynamics. The person should also have experience facilitating groups and leading group model building sessions. If the goal of the project is to develop a simulation model, it is expected that the modeler facilitator also be an expert modeler and able to anticipate and address the variety issues that can arise in data and modeling.
The modeler's primary responsibility is to build the system dynamics causal maps, models, and simulations. This is a person with expertise in system dynamics modeling and software (Vensim, IThink/Stella, etc.), formulating and entering equations, testing and analyzing the model, and running simulations for answering policy questions.
The participants' primary responsibility is to contribute substantive, local expertise to the modeling sessions. The participants play a key role throughout the sessions in helping to develop problem definitions, identify variables of interests, major stocks and flows, defining terms, suggesting potential data sources for the model, and generating policies for intervening in the system.
The process coach's primary responsibility is to observe the group process with attention to how participants are experiencing the session. This role requires someone who is able to reflect on the group process and accurately identify what is happening for participants based on observing their behavior and language. The process coach also plays an evaluation role and helps provide accurate feedback to the core modeling team about how the sessions are going. The process coach should be noticing when group dynamics begin to interfere with the process and identify potential solutions.
The recorder's primary responsibility is to take detailed notes during the modeling session. This person listens carefully to participants and writes downs the words, definitions, and terminology they use to describe causal relationships, variables, and structures, as well as comments and questions asked. After the session, the recorder takes part in consolidating notes and materials from the modeling session to ensure that the model produced captures the full richness of the participants’ thoughts and conversations. The recorder should have sufficient training in system dynamics to identify causal structures and stock-flow distinctions, strong note taking skills, and the ability to integrate their notes from the modeling session into the final model.
The reflector's primary responsibility is to help the group reflect on what they have done so far and recognize the issues/insights that have been developed during the modeling. This role requires someone who is familiar and comfortable with the language of system dynamics (e.g. can point out reference modes, stocks and flows that were mentioned, etc.) and has strong listening skills, especially in accurately paraphrasing participants’ comments in their own words. The lead recorder is the person who ensures that all materials produced during the session are archived and made available to members of the team. The lead recorder also types up notes that summarize each modeling session and takes part in training other recorders on the team.
The role of the runner is to help transfer the products from an exercise, from participants to the wall builder. This function may sometimes be performed by the facilitator of the exercise as well.
The time keeper's primary responsibility is to manage the time of the group model building session, keeping the group on schedule by starting and ending on time and taking breaks, and ensuring that the overall structure of the session is predictable. When there is a need to adjust the schedule, it is the time keeper’s responsibility to become aware of the issues and help negotiate a solution to end on time. It is overall very important to start and end on time as much as possible.
Translators may be used in GMB workshops where there are language differences between the modeling team and the community members. Translators thus help to provide simultaneous translation between the local language of the community and the language of the modeling team.
The primary responsibility of the wall builder is to organize products from an exercise into thematic clusters, as well as to explain the clusters to the participants in order to elicit their feedback.
Hovmand, P. S., Andersen, D. F., Rouwette, E., Richardson, G. P., Rux, K., & Calhoun, A. (2012). Group model building “scripts” as a collaborative tool. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 29, 179–193.
Richardson, G. P., & Andersen, D. F. (1995). Teamwork in group model building. System Dynamics Review, 11(2), 113-137.