Volume 22 – Number 4 October 2009
Links to many photos from the Albuquerque Conference are posted on the Society's conference webpage; please take a look. Each year we have volunteer photographers wandering around the conference taking photos. If you have any photos you would like to share, please send them and we will add them to the website collection. (If there is a photograph of you on the web that you would prefer us to remove, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Links to many full papers, including abstracts and supporting materials can also be accessed through the Society website. If you would like a copy of the printed proceedings, extra copies are for sale.
From the 2009 Conference Organizing Team, thanks!
Probably the Best Organized and Best Run Conference
I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed the conference. I spent over 30 years as a management consultant in the health care field and have attended hundreds of national and international conferences. The Albuquerque SDS conference ranks as probably the best organized and best run conference I have ever attended. Congratulations to you and your team for a really excellent job. I can only imagine the amount of work that went into the planning and execution of the conference, all of which was readily apparent to those of us attending.
System Dynamics, Chocolate Cake, Membership and Ph.D.s
I spent the week in Albuquerque, where my wife attended the annual conference of the System Dynamics Society. One of the benefits to being married to a brainy PhD, as I am, is first of all, she can help me with the Sunday crossword, because let’s be honest, I am usually only good with the easy clues, but also that there are a million societies and organizations that have meetings in various beautiful locations. As a spouse, I am an automatic add-on for any trip. The company pays for her to go, so my coming along is often just the cost of a plane ticket.
The great thing about this particular society is that they do the food part of their banquet very well. Look at this chocolate cake. The cake part was rich, almost gooey chocolate and the icing was rich, almost gooey chocolate. Put those two ingredients together and you have a cake that is worth traveling two-thirds of the way across the country for. I wanted to save some for Susan but thought of no good way to preserve it, so I had to do the hard work of eating it myself. Plus, I let my lovely wife have a bite as well. I guess she earned it by putting up with me and letting me come along and meet her brainy colleagues.
Let me do my own little system dynamics (SD) model here. If you are not an SD person, feel free to skim this. If you are an SD person, feel free to mock my simplistic model and likely misuse of key terms and ideas. It’s fair game, as long as I get the cake. Taking a stock of hungry people and feeding them delicious chocolate cake encourages retention of members and encourages new members as the as yet uninitiated hear about the great cake. These are two reinforcing loops that will maintain and increase the membership, or at least attendance in the annual meeting. Let the mockery begin.
Where is the last place you had really delicious chocolate cake?
Carl Weaver (link to the article on Carl's blog)
The 27th System Dynamics Society Conference. What a gathered community of scholar-practitioners can - and should - be.
From a previous posting, readers will know that I spent the past several days at the 27th annual meeting of the System Dynamics Society, held in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Society now numbers about 1100 members and more than 450 were in attendance. I attended the very first Annual Meeting and had not been back since, though I have been a Society member for most of those years. Not attending at least a few of these meetings and participating more actively in the Society’s work has, I can see, been not only a failed obligation but a personal and professional loss.
As the Society’s name suggests, what sets members apart is their interest in and knowledge of system dynamics. System dynamics is a way of seeking to understand complex problems that emphasizes the importance of interrelated stocks (like water in a bathtub), flows in and out of stocks (like faucets and drains) and feedback loops. Examples of feedback loops include, for example the bandwagon effect that causes a politician’s popularity to soar or an economy to collapse (reinforcing loops) and homeostatic ‘thermostats’ that, for example, keep our homes and bodies at livable temperatures (stabilizing loops). Often - not always - practitioners build and/or use computer simulation models to help them better understand and remediate such problems. A book published in 1972, The Limits to Growth, described the most famous system dynamics model, called World3. World3 raised important questions about the probability that the human race, following ‘business as usual’ practices, could live sustainably of planet earth beyond the middle of the 21st century. The book, which has been updated twice, with no significant changes in its conclusions, remains one of the best discussions of ‘sustainability’ issues ever written.
It is always hard to write about System Dynamics in a brief column or blog, because one must begin with a brief description, like the one I have attempted above, of what it is. One thing that quickly creates a strong bond among System Dynamics Society Meeting participants is that such explanations are not necessary. Not only do participants share a common language, the fundamentally agree on the value of the approach. Because the common language and shared agreement as to its value are points of departure, discussions can move quickly to matters of substance in which all can participate. This is true whether the topic is reversing global warming, managing large construction projects more efficiently, understanding the causes of terrorism or narrowing the gap between rich and poor in large urban megacenters.
Another distinction: the field is new enough so that most of its founding gurus are still active, passionately committed and were present at the meeting. Founder Jay Forrester, still vigorous and mentally incisive at age 95, rarely travels, but remains a living presence. Those who studied with him, all have ‘Jay Forrester stories’ to tell over meals and in other times of casual conversation. Two other field leaders who died prematurely and tragically, Limits to Growth principal author Donella Meadows and ‘Stella’ software developer Barry Richmond were known to many of us. References to them evoked bitter-sweet memories and stories to share with new and younger members.
Three other distinctions: the humility of field’s leaders, their active presence at the meeting at their obvious delight in mentoring newer members, old and young. Dennis Meadows was recently honored with the Club of Rome Lifetime Achievement Award and Japan for sustainability award. John Sterman holds the J.W. Forrester professorship at MIT. Peter Senge’s books on applying system dynamics principles to create ‘learning organizations’ are widely read. The demands on his time to speak and consult are far more than he can meet and his contributions have improved the management practices of thousands. These luminaries and many others of near equal emminence could be seen throughout the five days, mingling with the crowd, taking time to mentor a new member, gathering around a poster session describing system dynamics work of an elementary school teacher or high school junior. At the conferences ‘closing session,’ though it would continue for two additional ‘bonus days’ by popular demand, those who participated actively in organizing the event were asked to come to front of the hall. More than 100 participants gathered, and that did not include those of us who had reviewed papers for possible presentation. Had that group been included, more nearly half those in the room would have standing for acknowledgment.
I am so grateful to have been accepted once again as a member of this distinctive community despite having been so long absent and done so little to contribute over many years. And, God willing , there is still time for me to contribute. At the heart of my sabbatical research project on sustainable poverty alleviation will be a system dynamics model. I will be returning to active teaching in the field. And I intend to make attendance at future meetings of the System Dynamics Society a priority.
John Richardson (link to John's blog)
Policy Council Holds Summer Meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Minutes of the Meeting of the Policy Council and the General Business Meeting can be found in their entirety by clicking on the “Governance” button on the System Dynamics Society website. Please visit the website to learn about the business discussed and to view the complete reports and information presented for the summer Policy Council Meeting.
Motions approved at the 2009 Summer Policy Council Meeting:
Motion approved after 2009 Summer Policy Council Meeting:
To learn about the motions approved between the Summer 2008 and 2009 Policy Council Meetings, please visit the Governance page on the Society website.
This list represents a cross-section of conference sessions, as reported by attendees who volunteered to share their impressions with you. If you were not able to be there in person, here you can gain some of the flavor and a sense of the varied activity that made up the Albuquerque conference. If you were there, perhaps you will recognize yourself in a photo or a description. More importantly, you will gain to some extent what is impossible to achieve while in actual attendance at the conference: the ability to go to more than one session at once. Some reports have longer detailed accounts of the sessions; click on the link at the end of the short report.
Session Reports in Chronological Order
The System Dynamics Newsletter is published four times a year by the System Dynamics Society.