Sessions Report: Participatory Methods

At annual conferences, we have come to expect a number of papers on participatory methods and issues related to modeling work based upon stakeholder groups. The Boston Conference was no different. A superficial examination of the program revealed eight presentations, ranging from new scripts for group-modeling work to experimental assessment of the effect of individual vs. group structure upon model-based decision making. This session report highlights these contributions and calls for interest in the formation of a new SIG or Chapter focused upon this line of research.

Participatory Methods and Issues (Continued):

There is a consistent and growing interest for effective approaches and tools to facilitate model-based interventions involving multiple stakeholders and group activities. In the early years of system dynamics, the notion of involving the stakeholders directly in the modeling process focused upon tapping their knowledge base and securing their commitment to implementation. With the advent of the group model-building approach, a fresh interest developed out of working in stakeholder-driven, action-research interventions. This evolution went beyond the natural curiosity of the investigator-modeler to provide and help implement good solutions to real problems for paying clients involved in situations of interdependency with others.

Rather, in these cases, “facilitation” took a more prominent role than “reflection,” as a response to the need to bring about trust and collaboration in the group of stakeholders. Using analytical tools couched in carefully scripted protocols, these interventions aimed at finding “good enough” solutions, or simply helping stakeholders understand and appreciate each others perspectives. Satisfying the consultant’s need for good information and the client’s drive for results are important, but so is developing a sense of collective ownership over the system, the problem at hand, and the possible lines of action for a group of people who might not have met prior to the intervention.

The need to work with and satisfy a diverse constituency during a model-based intervention is a larger concept than what became known as “group model building.” Work on environmental issues brought about the notion of “mediated modeling.” The inherent conflict present in these model-based negotiations –in what can often be perceived by the interested parties as a zero-sum game– is very different from the usually cordial environment I personally observed in GMB interventions. Others use the more generic term “participatory modeling.”

The Boston Conference added a number of interesting papers to this growing literature:

Aldo Zagonel


Call for Interest: Formation of a New SIG or Chapter on Participatory Methods and Issues

In light of the observed and sustained interest on participatory methods, described and illustrated in the session report above, I would like to propose the formation of a new SIG or Chapter focused upon this line of research. Informally, at the Boston Conference, I began to seek out reactions to this proposal and my sense is that they were, in general, positive and supportive.

The preliminary steps to the formation of such SIG or Chapter are: 1) identification of the Society members interested, 2) discussion of our collective purpose and goals, form of organization (SIG vs. Chapter), and initial activities, 3) preparation of our charter and collection of signatures of support, and 4) submission to the SDS-PC for approval.

Some of the initial activities could entail: a) creating and maintaining a comprehensive annotated bibliography, b) highlighting the major milestones and existing works, and c) promoting opportunities for communication and exchange.

I am offering to facilitate the process of forming this new SIG or Chapter. If this is of interest to you, please let me know so that you can be included in the upcoming discussion related to purpose, goals, charter, and initial activities. Please drop me a note with your input at Thank you.

Aldo Zagonel