System Dynamics Society
The President's Letter
Volume 9: June 1996
Let me begin this message by thanking the past President Khalid Saeed for all his hard work in leading the Society during 1995 - a task made all the more challenging by the fact that he was simultaneously the programme chairman for the 1995 conference in Tokyo! I had the pleasure of meeting Khalid for dinner on a dark January winter night in London, just after I had taken up the post of President. Khalid gave me the benefit of his considerable wisdom and experience in running the Society's affairs at a distance, some of which I hope has rubbed-off.
1996 reveals many signs of vigour and healthy diversity in our field. Let me report a selection of initiatives and events that reflect this sense of vitality for system dynamics in Europe. I invite readers to reflect on the equivalent developments in their own part of the world. In the past 18 months Paal Davidsen at the University of Bergen has launched the first specialist masters degree programme in system dynamics - the first in the world as far as I know. The programme provides a unique range and depth of training in system dynamics for young Europeans. The Bergen faculty team includes Paal himself and David Ford. They are joined by visiting faculty such as Erik Mosekilde, Christian Kampmann and Yaman Barlas. Several European institutions have entered exchange agreements with Bergen. For example London Business School has implemented an exchange in which doctoral students concentrating in system dynamics can spend one term at Bergen while students registered in the Bergen Masters Programme can spend one term in London.
David Lane has launched a new system dynamics course at the London School of Economics (LSE) as an integral part of an MSc in Decision Sciences. Meanwhile the faculty team at London Business School (Ann van Ackere, John Morecroft and Kim Warren) now runs a course-trio in the MBA programme comprising Strategic Modelling, the Dynamics of Strategy and the Art & Science of the Long View. Students who take these three electives emerge with a good understanding of the concepts, tools and processes that underpin the intelligent application of feedback systems thinking and system dynamics to business. Incidentally, it is not widely known that London Business School and LSE are both colleges of London University. So, in the future there is the opportunity for intercollegiate collaboration such as course exchange agreements and joint seminars.
1996 marks the 25th anniversary of the founding of system dynamics in the UK by Geoff Coyle. As many of you will know, Geoff is now Professor and Head of the Department of Defence Management and Policy Studies at the Royal Military College of Science, Cranfield University. The occasion was marked with a special meeting on 16th May in the market town of Faringdon, deep in the heart of rural England. Of the participants many had passed through the system dynamics group that Geoff founded at Bradford University in the 1970s. It was an opportunity to reflect on the many accomplishments of the Bradford group which include the first critical mass of faculty and students in system dynamics to be established at an English University; Dynamica as a precursor of the System Dynamics Review; optimisation methods and software for system dynamics; qualitative system dynamics; and the application of system dynamics to defence policy. Speakers included Graham Winch, Brian Dangerfield, Geoff Coyle, Norman Marshall and Jonathon Coyle. I spoke briefly about the System Dynamics Society. The combination of talks and conversations made for a most enjoyable and informative occasion.
Another recent European event has been the formation of the Italian Chapter of the System Dynamics Society by Habib Sedehi and Carmine Bianchi. This active new chapter, which was formalised at the Tokyo 95 conference, holds regular meetings and seminars in different Italian cities.
Taken together these developments (and the many others that are underway elsewhere in Europe and the rest of the World) are important and encouraging signals of progress in the field. However, there are many challenges ahead as we forge the future. I expect to address some of these challenges when I speak at the Boston conference in the summer. Two in particular deserve special attention and I intend to devote the remainder of my Presidency to tackling them.
The first challenge is a practical matter of administration. For many years the Society has benefited from the purely voluntary efforts of Julie Pugh as Executive Director. Without Julie the Society's affairs would grind to a halt. But as the Society grows and becomes more international it is unreasonable to ask anyone to fill this post on a voluntary basis. As a consequence I am beginning this year to examine the options for the future administration of the Society in the expectation that a professionally funded office will meet our growing needs, as other societies before have found. This venture will certainly run beyond my term as President and I am therefore pleased to say that George Richardson will be working with me and that our partnership will continue into 1997 when George takes over as President. Options we are preparing for eventual consideration by the Policy Council and the Society include affiliating with another professional society to share their administrative structure, acquiring a paid Society administrator who would be located at a system dynamics university centre, and maintaining a volunteer administrative structure but linking our conference administration with another professional society. We will also be listening for other options that members might suggest.
The second challenge is a matter of perception. The intellectual cradle of system dynamics is MIT and all of us expect leadership of the field to continue to emanate from MIT and its faculty and PhDs. However, the Society needs to recognise and communicate its own new-found breadth and internationalism. We are a truly international body with a growing number of academics, scholars and practitioners who devote a large proportion of their professional lives to advancing the discipline of system dynamics. The Society needs to be more conscious of the way it goes about projecting its new identity, both internally to new members and externally to the rest of the academic and business community. The Society's governance, administration, conferences, publications and awards all provide us with opportunities to signal who we now are and what we stand for.
John Morecroft, London Business School
Current Society Officers
The following list of current society officers, alongside their year of completion and their home country, has been compiled for this edition of the President's letter by Mike Radzicki.
Election of Society Officers
The following slate of officers for 1997 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 on 1st January 1997.
A Short History of the Society
The System Dynamics Society was conceived in the fall of 1980 when David Andersen from the University at Albany - SUNY brought together a group of colleagues and friends at MIT's Faculty Club overlooking the Charles River in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The group recognised the need to build a network of system dynamicists to promote the development of the field and to enhance communication between the individuals and groups then operating at universities dotted around the USA, Europe and Asia. The Society's first organised event was a small scale conference held in upper New York State at Renselaerville in the fall of 1981. Since then annual conferences have run as listed below. The Society formalised its constitution in 1983 and established a professional journal in 1985, paving the way for the organisation we know today.
System Dynamics Society Conferences
System Dynamics Society Presidents
As many of you will recall, the 1995 conference took place in Gakushuin University, Tokyo in early August. It was a memorable episode, combining a stimulating programme with a wonderful range of special events that our Japanese hosts had provided. The Society is most grateful to Professors Toshiro Shimada and Michiya Morita plus the local organising committee for all their efforts in managing such a thoroughly professional and rewarding gathering. I still remember vividly the spectacular fireworks display on the Sumida river near to Asakusa on the eve of the conference and the street party where we mingled with the local Japanese community to enjoy their unique tradition of food and drinks to accompany the fireworks. The programme itself, designed by Khalid Saeed, featured many interesting presentations. There were parallel sessions on systems thinking and learning, infrastructure planning, education, organisation design, business policy, public policy, methodology and more. The plenary sessions covered conceptual and technical issues in system dynamics, sustainable development, and the management of industrial operations. There was also plenty of opportunity to mingle with the other delegates in the pleasant surroundings of Gakushuin University. The conference culminated with a banquet held at Chinzanso. We enjoyed a wonderful array of Japanese dishes to the accompaniment of traditional Japanese music. The banquet speaker was Mr Toru Kusukawa, Chairman of the Fuji Research Institute Corporation, who spoke about the state of the Japanese economy. After the banquet there was time to appreciate the beauty of the grounds and formal gardens in the warmth of a Tokyo summer evening.
The 1996 conference is taking place in Cambridge Massachusetts, close to MIT where the field started 40 years ago under the leadership of Professor Jay Forrester. Appropriately the conference chairman is Jack Pugh who was a member of the startup team that joined Jay at the Sloan School in 1956. With programme co-chairs John Sterman and George Richardson we can expect an innovative event. Indeed they have already introduced one important innovation - electronic conference proceedings on the Internet. Downloadable full-papers coupled with compact four-page abstracts printed in conventional paper proceedings promise a versatile format and a new standard for the future. The virtual proceedings are available at:
The virtual proceedings include conference information, the registration form, a list of the papers to be presented, and, in many cases, links to the authors' work and related pages.
In 1997 the conference moves to Istanbul under the chairmanship of Yaman Barlas.
Jay Wright Forrester Award
The winner of the 1995 Jay Forrester Award was Khalid Saeed. Presented by John Sterman, Khalid's award was given in recognition of his book Towards Sustainable Development: Essays on System Analysis of National Policy (Progressive Publishers, Lahore, Pakistan, 1991). The book builds on Khalid's long record of research, scholarship and modelling of the dynamics of developing economies and societies. The text of his prize lecture was published in the System Dynamics Review, 12, 1, spring 1996 under the title "Sustainable Development: Old Conundrums, New Discords".
Nominations for 1996 are now complete. The awards committee would like to thank all those members who have taken the time and made the effort to enter a nomination. The award is an important symbol both inside and outside the Society for work that fulfills standards of excellence, innovation and scholarship that we collectively believe have demonstrably moved forward thinking and practice in the field.
It is not too soon to start thinking about nominations for 1997. Nominations are invited from all members in good standing of the System Dynamics Society. The award is presented as often as once annually for the best contribution to the field of system dynamics selected from work published in the preceeding five years. The winner receives a commemorative plaque and $2,000. Papers, articles, books or consulting reports, theses or other written materials that have been published or are in publishable form in the English language (in the original or after translation) are eligible for consideration.
Nominations should be laid out according to the following headings:
Send your nominations to:
John D. Sterman, Chair, Forrester Award Committee, Sloan School of Management, MIT, Room E53-351, Cambridge, MA 02142 USA. fax (+1) 617 258 7579, email email@example.com.
Nominations for the 1997 award must be received by 14th March 1997 at the latest, but John is happy to accept them earlier - the sooner the better.
Jay Wright Forrester Award Past Recipients
News and Events from 1995/96 - A London Perspective
I have titled this section "A London Perspective" because there is now so much going on in the world of system dynamics that it is clearly impossible to tell all the news. The pieces I report are therefore just a sample (of a more comprehensive whole) shaped by my location in London.
Two new books have been published that promise to bring serious feedback modelling and simulation closer to the business world. Geoff Coyle's new book System Dynamics Modelling: A Practical Approach, (Chapman & Hall, London 1996) develops skills in system dynamics model building, analysis and optimisation for practical and significant business problems. George Richardson's new edited collection Modelling for Management, volumes 1 and 2, (Dartmouth Publishing Company, Hampshire, UK, 1996) provides a unique compilation of previously published journal articles by leading modellers in the field.
A fascinating article called "The Paradox of Fast Growth Tigers", (McKinsey Quarterly, no. 3, 1995, pp 4-17, by Zafer Achi, Andrew Doman, Olivier Sibony, Jayant Sinha, and Stephan Witt) demonstrates clearly the increasing influence of feedback systems thinking in the mainstream of competitive strategy practice.
Developments in the PhD programme at London Business School are indicative of positive trends, repeated elsewhere in the world, to train a new generation of system dynamics modellers. PhD programmes are fundamental to the advance of the discipline. One has only to think of the cumulative influence of graduates from MIT's long-running doctoral programme in system dynamics to realise the potential.
In London both Kim Warren and Paul Langley successfully completed their doctoral dissertations over the past year. Kim's work examined regulatory change in the UK brewing industry. With some persuasive simulations he demonstrated unintended and damaging consequences stemming from the forced separation of beloved English pubs from the brewers that (historically) have owned them. Kim is on the faculty at London Business School. Paul's thesis was a well-designed piece of experimental work to examine the insights and lessons that users derive from microworlds - specifically the Oil Producers' microworld originally built for Shell. His work also spun-off new interface design tools for future microworlds. Paul is a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster. Isaac Dyner is nearing completion of his PhD on energy policy modelling and will return to his faculty post at the Universidad Nacional Medellin in Colombia. Two new PhDs are now in the doctoral programme at London Business School. Edoardo Mollona joined in October 1994 from Bocconi University in Milan, sponsored by SDA Bocconi's Strategy Group, and is now nearing the end of his second year. Shayne Gary joined in October 1995 from MIT with experience of working directly for Jay Forrester on materials development for high school courses in feedback systems thinking and modelling.
The MIT system dynamics programme is also growing. For the past several years Jim Hines has served as a full time visiting professor to help teach the growing enrollment in system dynamics courses. In addition, this year Sloan hired a new tenure track faculty member in system dynamics, Nelson Repenning. Nelson received his PhD from Sloan; his work brings system dynamics together with operations management to examine the organisational dynamics of improvement programmes such as TQM and Business Process Reengineering.
I know of equivalent thriving doctoral programmes in system dynamics at the University at Albany-SUNY, University of Mannheim, the Technical University of Denmark and also the National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan. There are other programmes too elsewhere in the world, some just established and others in formation, plus numerous individual faculty-PhD partnerships.
Newly qualified PhDs are beginning to break down traditional barriers in academic recruitment. Anjali Sastry's case makes the point clearly. Anjali graduated from MIT's system dynamics programme in 1995 having worked on topics that overlapped organisational behaviour. With her skills in system dynamics coupled to her knowledge of a core business school subject area she was actively sought by leading schools in both the US and Europe. She received offers from a number of top business schools and ultimately chose to join the faculty at the University of Michigan. Anjali's case is a positive sign for the future of the field (and also a considerable personal achievement for her), but it also contains a lesson. In her PhD she harnessed system dynamics to another discipline in such a way that she became recognised as a credible and promising researcher in that field. Her experience shows that thoughtful efforts directed at communication with our academic colleagues bring acceptance.
Two more items show other ways to enhance such communication. At the London School of Economics, David Lane is reviewing a collection of classic system dynamics books for the Journal of the Operational Research Society in the UK - starting with a review of Industrial Dynamics. His sequence of book reviews promises to inject a great deal of information about our field (both the classics under review and current literature) to an influential UK academic audience. This audience is mentally prepared to listen, but has been in need of more information that sets the history of system dynamics in a contemporary context (a history that has often been misperceived or misconstrued). Eric Wolstenholme's Stirling 94 conference and the accompanying special issue of the Review started this process of communication and David is continuing it.
My final piece of news takes us back to Japan to report the formation of a Japanese Chapter of the System Dynamics Society. The new chapter, announced in the Tokyo conference, will give a voice to the growing academic community of system dynamicists in Japan.
General Society Information
The System Dynamics Society
The System Dynamics Internet list established by Bob Eberlein in 1994 has become an important vehicle for dialogue among members of the System Dynamics Community. If you have not already subscribed then send the following email message to firstname.lastname@example.org:
A list also exists on the Internet for K - 12 educational projects in System Dynamics. Send messages to: email@example.com
Last modified: February 17, 2001