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System Dynamics Society

The President's Letter

Volume 8: January 1995

President's Message

The 8th edition of the president's letter originates from a developing country, Thailand, while this year's president hails from another developing country, Pakistan. This is, perhaps a significant measure of the globalization of system dynamics, which has for a long time been viewed as a highly specialized field, with practitioners residing mainly in New England. An excerpt reproduced below from a recent United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UN-ESCAP) report refers to an environmental assessment technique based on system dynamics as an expensive, time consuming and largely expatriate activity for the developing countries:

The technique can be time consuming and may impose a severe burden on the monetary resources available for the purpose of environmental assessment. Simulation models, especially of ecosystems, are still in an embryonic stage of development and their accuracy and predictive capacity is yet to be proven. The use of this technique requires input of people trained in its use and function. This may lead to the need for expatriate expertise in proportions greater than required for other techniques and this may be the limiting constraint in developing countries.

Notwithstanding these impressions, system dynamics society membership has greatly diversified since its inception in 1983, both in terms of the regions and the disciplines covered. Our recent conferences have typically drawn delegates from over 30 countries, widely distributed over the two hemispheres. The number of practitioners of system dynamics in China alone probably exceeds the number in the rest of the world. A wide variety of curricula ranging from pre-college to graduate school now incorporate system dynamics, while the problem areas to which system dynamics is applied have also greatly diversified.

Over the 12 years of its existence, the system dynamics society's annual conferences have been hosted in a variety of locations covering both the industrialized and the developing countries. The society presidentship has also been regionally quite dispersed. Bob Eberlein, Mike Radzicki and George Richardson have helped me compile records of the society presidentship and conference locations, which should be of interest to you. List 1 depicts the society presidents and their places of residence. List 2 enumerates the locations of the society's annual conferences. Both records show a wide regional coverage, even though New England as the birth place of system dynamics, continues to occupy a prominent position in organizing the Society's activity.

List 1: System Dynamics Society Presidents

1983 Jay Forrester, MA, USA
1984 David Andersen, NY, USA
1985 Jean Lebel, Paris, France
1986 Dennis Meadows, NH, USA
1987 Jorgan Randers, Oslo, Norway
1988 Nathan Forrester, MA, USA
1989 Eric Wolstenholme, Bradford, UK
1990 Peter Gardiner, CA, USA
1991 Erich Zahn, Stuttgart, Germany
1992 John Sterman, MA, USA
1993 Peter Milling, Manhiem, Germany
1994 Andrew Ford, CA, USA
1995 Khalid Saeed, Bangkok, Thailand

List 2: System Dynamics Society Conferences:

1983 Boston, MA, USA
1984 Oslo, Norway
1985 Keystone, CO, USA
1986 Seville, Spain
1987 Shanghai, China
1988 La Jola, CA, USA
1989 Stuttgart, Germany
1990 Boston, MA, USA
1991 Bangkok, Thailand
1992 Utrecht, the Netherlands
1993 Cancun, Mexico
1994 Stirling, Scotland, UK
1995 Tokyo, Japan

With the introduction of user-friendly expert systems software for model development, like STELLA, iTHINK, VENSIM, POWERSIM, and many others, which are now commercially available on DOS/Windows and Apple platforms, the modeling process can be learnt and implemented quite quickly, which is confirmed by the phenomenal growth witnessed in the use of system dynamics for experimental learning in pre-college education and for brainstorming in the board rooms. It should be conceded, however, that there remain a number of deficiencies which continue to dampen the impact of system dynamics.

Experimental learning is a key component of the instruction in physical sciences and some forms of fine arts education, but its practice in social sciences instruction is still not well established, nor can it be expected to be fully established overnight. While system dynamics methodology can be easily adapted to develop curricula using experimentation in social sciences teaching, existing text materials on system dynamics are inadequate for supporting this and currently much improvisation is needed to incorporate experimentation into instruction.

The experimental procedure of system dynamics can indeed be applied very widely to policy design for improving the performance of human organizations and management of abstract man - machine - built environment - natural environment systems which are now widely discernible in the complex world of today. While there have been significant developments on creating heuristical procedures facilitating the modeling of such systems and using the models as apparatuses for experimental analysis, the documentation of these remains weak, which has made it difficult to learn and apply them at a wide scale.

Policy design has traditionally incorporated an interventionist perspective, requiring a precise forecast of events so an external hand can intervene to assure meeting of the exogenously determined targets. On the other hand, the spirit of the system dynamics method is to create policy designs aimed at mobilizing the internal forces of the system into creating functional patterns and avoiding dysfunctions, however, this difference is not widely understood since there is insufficient documentation on this. Unfortunately, forecasting is a mirage to which policy-making has become addicted, hence, analysts are often compelled to forecast. Policy designs created on the basis of forecasting often call for power intervention, which often destroys the institutional fabric sustaining self-correcting information relationships in the system. System dynamics is often also expected to deliver forecasts for the policy makers. It can perhaps be said that forecasting using system dynamics has as much validity as with any other method, but forecasting using system dynamics adds little value to the traditional policy design perspective.

System dynamics model building has often been likened to an art, learnt through apprenticeship rather than from books and this has created considerable heterogeneity in system dynamics practice as well as a large variety in the expectations from its use. There is a need to create clear and penetrating documentation on system dynamics and on the procedures we use in its practice, which should guide new practitioners in its prudent use. I hope to see concerted efforts made by us to record our modeling experience that should transform the practice of system dynamics from a limited art learnt through apprenticeship to a craft which can be learnt from books and practiced widely.

Incidentally, I did write to the UN-ESCAP offering to identify system dynamics professionals in any country they might wish to name and received a rather gracious acknowledgement of my offer.

Khalid Saeed, Asian Institute of Technology

Current Society Officers

After a decade of dedicated work as Editor-in-Chief of the System Dynamics Review, George Richardson stepped down. I would like to share with the society members my personal appreciation for George's work. Graham Winch replaces George and I would like to welcome Graham to this very demanding assignment. Another onerous society office is the secretary's, which Bob Eberlein has very ably served for the past several years. Bob is also stepping down. I wish to thank Bob for all the work he has done and welcome Mike Radzicki, who replaces Bob in 1995. Following list of current society officers, complete with the years of completion of their respective terms, has been compiled for this edition of the President's Letter by Bob Eberlein.
President: Khalid Saeed (1995)
President Elect: John Morecroft (1995)
Past President: Andy Ford (1995)
Secretary: Mike Radzicki (1996)
VP Finance: Jack Pugh (1995)
VP Publications: David Lane (1996)
VP Member Activities: Janet Gould-Kreutzer (1995)
VP At Large: Jose Machuca (1997)
VP Meetings: Jim Hines (1997)
Review Editor-in Chief: Graham Winch
Executive Director: Julie Pugh
Policy Council - 1995: Paal Davidsen, Julia Di Stefano, Jim Lyneis, Enrique Zepeda
Policy Council - 1996: Tarek Abdel-Hamid, Lou Alfeld, Erling Moxnes, Sauwakon Ratanawijitrasin
Policy Council - 1997: Bob Eberlein, Saburo Kameyama, David Kreutzer, Erik Larsen

Election of Society Officers

Following slate of officers for 1996 has been approved by the policy council. Unless, alternative candidates are nominated by the society members according to the laid down procedures, the slated candidates will take office in 1996.
President Elect: George Richardson
VP Finance: Jack Pugh
VP Member Activities: Henry Weil
Policy Council Members: David Andersen, Yaman Barlas, Geoffrey Coyle, Michiya Morita

Conferences

The 1994 conference of the society, hosted at the University of Stirling in Scotland, set many superlative records. It was clearly the largest conference, with the most Scottish ambience, the heaviest proceedings, most deluxe trophies and with a plenary program that invoked most ambivalence. It was also the most expensive in terms of participant fees. The conference must also be credited for featuring a much needed interdisciplinary discourse and Eric Wolstenholme and our colleagues in UK, who organized the big bash, should be congratulated for this.

The 1995 conference will be hosted by Gakushuin University in Tokyo, July 30 - August 4. The conference is being organized by the Japanese chapter of the system dynamics society under the leadership of Toshiro Shimada. For further information, please contact Michiya Morita, Conference Secretary, Faculty of Economics, 1-5-1 Mejiro, Toshima-ku, Tokyo 171, Japan. Email: isdc95@gakushuin.ac.jp; Fax: 81-3-5992-1007.

The 1996 conference is expected to be hosted at MIT. John Sterman and Jack Pugh have offered to organize the conference with plenty of help from our colleagues in New England. Istanbul has been proposed as a tentative location by Yaman Barlas for the 1997 conference. Formal proposals for 1997 and latter years will be considered at the next policy council meeting.

Jay W. Forrester Award, Call for Nominations

The 1994 Jay Forrester Award was given to Tarek Abdul-Hamid and Stuart Madnick for their book, Software Project Dynamics, An Integrated Approach, published in 1991 by Prentice Hall.

The Jay Wright Forrester Award is presented as often as once annually for the best contribution to the field of system dynamics published in the preceding five years. The recipient receives a commemorative plaque and $2000. Papers, articles, books, research or consulting reports, theses or other written material that have been published or are in publishable form in English language in the original or after translation are eligible for consideration. The previous recipients of Jay Forrester Award are shown in List 3.

List 3: Jay Forrester Award recipients
1983 Nancy Roberts, David Andersen, Ralph Deal, Michael Garett and William Shaffer
1985 George Richardson and Alexander Pugh
1986 Erik Mosekilde and Javier Aracil
1988 John Sterman
1989 Barry Richmond
1990 John Morecroft
1991 Dennis Meadows
1992 Peter Senge
1993 George Richardson
1994 Tarek Abdul-Hamid and Stuart Madnick

Nominations are invited from all members in good standing of the System Dynamics Society. Nominations should include the title of the nominated work, author, publisher, and publication date. Nominations should include a letter describing the contribution of the nominated work, and must include the nominator's name and address.

Send your nominations to:

John D. Sterman, Chair, Forrester Award Committee, Sloan School of Management, MIT, Room E53-351, Cambridge, MA 02142, U. S. A. Fax 617/258-7579, Email: jsterman@mit.edu

Nominations for the 1995 award must be received by 28 February 1995

Tattle

Judged from the limited information I had access to, 1994 was quite a productive year for system dynamics in terms of the accomplishments of its members. John Sterman was promoted to full professor's rank at MIT, Mike Radzicki received tenure at Worcester Polytech. David Lane received appointment on the faculty of London School of Economics. Mark Paich finally completed his PhD at MIT after 16 years of work -- mostly consulting, teaching and traveling around. Dana Meadows received the coveted "genius award" from MacArthur Foundation. Kevin O'Neill's PhD dissertation at Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at SUNY-Albany won the 1994 Academy of Management award.

Our colleagues also made progress on many new academic initiatives during the year. Paal Davidsen reports the establishment of a new graduate program in the department of informatics at the University of Bergen, leading to Master of Philosophy in system dynamics. Khalid Saeed reports the establishment of another new graduate program in the School of Civil Engineering at the Asian Institute of Technology, leading to masters and doctoral degrees on Infrastructure Planning and Management with system dynamics as a core methodology. John Sterman reports establishment of a new faculty position in System Dynamics at MIT for which nominations and applications are invited. Mike Radzicki reports a new K-12 (Kindergarten to grade 12) system dynamics economics curriculum project at Worcester Polytech., which is funded by Mr. Jim Waters of Framingham, Massachusetts, to catalogue new and existing K-12 economics materials in a database that can be searched in a variety of ways by interested teachers.

On significant new publications, System Dynamics Review increased the number of its issues per year from two to Four. Several new books appeared. Notable among these are Development Planning and Policy Design by Khalid Saeed, published by Ashgate under Avebury imprint and Modeling for Learning Organizations by John Morecroft and John Sterman (editors), published by Productivity Press. STELLA, the well-known simulation system for the mac platform spawned a PC version while POWERSIM, another recently introduced simulation system for the PC platform won the 1994 European Academic Software Award in the category "computer science/economics".

Communication among system dynamics community improved greatly over 1994 with many members getting access to the Internet. A System Dynamics Mailing List has now been created on the Internet. To subscribe, send the following email message to majordomo@world.std.com:

subscribe system-dynamics
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A K-12 System Dynamics list also exists on Internet. Send messages to:

k-12all@mit.edu

A new membership directory of the society is currently under preparation and is expected to be distributed soon.

The System Dynamics Society
49 Bedford Road
Lincoln, MA 01773
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Last modified: February 17, 2001