System dynamics (SD) is a method for understanding, designing, and managing change. It models the relationships between elements in a system and how these relationships influence the behavior of the system over time. It incorporates the use of informal maps and formal models with computer simulation to uncover and understand endogenous sources of system behavior (Richardson, 2011). It aims to enhance learning in and about complex systems, as well as to improve group processes and to overcome defensive routines for individuals and teams (Sterman, 2000). It also encompasses a set of tools to elicit and represent mental models we hold about difficult dynamic problems, and to test those models (Sterman, 2000).
Community Based System Dynamics
Community based system dynamics (CBSD) is a participatory method for involving communities in the process of understanding and changing systems from the endogenous or feedback perspective of system dynamics (Hovmand, 2014).
CBSD places an emphasis on building capacity to understand models, their use, and limitations. Using community based system dynamics, we can help people frame problems, visualize the system, identify potential leverage points, develop skills for communicating system insights, analyze policies, and ultimately design more effective and sustainable solutions.
CBSD combines the principles of system dynamics and all of the basic elements of a group model building process.
Group Model Building
Group model building (GMB) is a process of involving multiple stakeholders that are central to a project in developing an informal or formal model, as well as to create shared insights, consensus, and motivation for implementing the results (Hovmand, 2014).
GMB belongs to a family of participatory systems modeling approaches, and is often regarded as a form of grounded theory, action research, implementation strategy, decision support and strategic planning (Hovmand et. al., 2012). As a participatory method, GMB is a promising tool for working with marginalized communities as there is a greater emphasis on collaboration and empowerment of participants through the process (Hovmand et. al., 2012).
The design of GMB workshops differ along four key dimensions as outlined below (Hovmand, 2014).
- Who is defining the initial issue or problem?
- In communities with little or no experience with SD or GMB, this will often start with someone with training in SD. However, as community members become more familiar with SD principles and methods, they may start to take a greater lead in defining the problem (this is explicitly pursued in CBSD).
- Does the project follow a structured or unstructured group process?
- In a structured group process, a detailed agenda of the GMB session is developed, usually in collaboration with the client or sponsor of the project.
- In an unstructured group process, there may be a loose agenda and reliance on improvising group activities in response to the group dynamics and conversation flow. This generally requires high levels of SD and GMB training and expertise to be successful.
- CBSD is often a highly structured approach as it places emphasis on building capacity and designing community-specific GMB workshops.
- What type of model is going to be developed?
- This may include an informal causal map or a formal computer simulation model.
- Is the group starting with a "blank slate" or an initial model structure?
- In the "blank slate" approach, one begins the workshop rather open-ended, usually through some type of exercise that elicits issues or variables related to the problem of interest.
- When one starts with an initial model structure, one might use a concept model to introduce the language of SD, or some type of seed or backbone structure of the system as a starting place to elicit causal structures of a system.
Hovmand, P. S., Andersen, D. F., Rouwette, E., Richardson, G. P., Rux, K., & Calhoun, A. (2012). Group model‐building ‘scripts’ as a collaborative planning tool. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 29 (2), 179-193.
Hovmand, P.S. (2014) Community Based System Dynamics. New York, Springer.
Richardson, G.P. (2011). Reflections on the foundations of system dynamics. System Dynamics Review, 27(3), 219-243.
Sterman, J.D. (2000). Business dynamics: Systems thinking and modeling for a complex world. McGraw-Hill, Boston.