Abstract for: Potential benefits of using a causal loop diagram in group model building: Evidence from a systematic investigation

Because of its roots in system dynamics, group model building is thought to be helpful to groups deciding on complex problems. It goes without saying that making a model is a core element of decision support by group model building. The model may be a quantitative, formal diagram (i.e., a stock and flow diagram) that allows simulation, or a qualitative, informal diagram (i.e., a causal loop diagram) in words and symbols describing the structure of the system in less detail (Lane, 2008). In group model building, the models are used for reaching a better understanding of reality in strategic decision making situations. But is the use of a model really a good way to enhance insights? Researchers examining the benefits realised with group model building have mainly focused on the effectiveness of the intervention as a whole. Mostly, the research is carried out in case studies. Beneficial processes and output have been reported. It has remained, however, unclear to what extent specific element(s) of group model building or tool(s) create effects (Rouwette, Vennix, & van Mullekom, 2002; Scott, Cavana, & Cameron, 2016). The classroom experiment in this study was designed to systematically examine the value of using a causal loop diagram in group model building. No previous study appears to have investigated the value of the model as a decision aid in an experimental setting. We built upon social psychology research in (small) group decision making and used a so-called hidden profile task. In a decision making task with a hidden profile, the researcher distributes task information to group members in such a way that they need to share their individually owned (unique) information with the others in the group to arrive at a superior group decision (Stasser & Stewart, 1992). This is similar to what is needed in group model building: As stakeholders typically have information on some parts of a feedback loop but not on the entire loop, they need to share their (unique) information to uncover feedback loops in a system. The participants in our study (N = 93) were third year students in a Bachelorís programme in Business Administration. In the conditions of our study, participants used a causal loop diagram in different ways (construct vs receive a causal loop diagram). In a third condition, participants started their task with full information and received a causal loop diagram (fully informed, receive a causal loop diagram). Finally, there was the control condition in which participants received task information in the form of notes. Participants worked individually on the task, but were assumed to participate in a fictitious group decision making situation.