Date:    January 28, 2005

For:      System Dynamics Society Policy Council

From:    Jim Thompson

Subject:Feasibility and desirability of a professional conference


Jim Hines contacted me a year ago with an idea for a “professional conference” to be run by the Society.  We discussed how that even might be different from the Annual Conference.  In Jim’s words:

The first time I thought of a separate conference was when Roberta and I did a session at the Lean Manufacturing Conference run by the U of Michigan. That conference was very different from our current SD conference.  The sessions were primarily – if not exclusively – training, not papers reporting on recent work.  The key notes were mostly by people in business, not academia.  It was what you'd call a professional conference as opposed to an academic conference.

The feeling and the content of such a conference is so different from our SD conference, that it wasn't clear to me where the synergies would be.  On the other hand it seemed to me that there might be some advantages to running two conferences separately. 

Right now we have two distinct constituencies:

·         Those who see the conference as an introductory experience for folks who'd might be thinking of using SD in their businesses;

·         Those who see it as the venue for presenting cutting edge work.

There are those who would like to use the conference as a place to promote their consulting businesses and those who think anything smacking too much of promotion is a mistake.

We're torn between those who want the conference at comfortable ‘commercial’ venues that would attract wealthier people consultants and those who favor a more modest place that's affordable by students and academics.  

It turns out that these purposes, venues, and foci split naturally between an academic conference like we've had, and a new conference that would focus on "professionals", i.e. training and introductory material. 

Lots of people in our field routinely cross over between an academic and a professional focus.  John Sterman, Nelson Repenning, David Peterson, Alan Graham, Jay Forrester, Jim Lyneis, Henry Weil, and Peter Senge come immediately to mind. 

We've tried to attract business types to our academic conference for as long as I can remember.  Not once have we come remotely close to what Roberta and I saw at the Lean Manufacturing conference put on by the University of Michigan.  I doubt it's possible to have a conference with such radically different agendas. 

And, if it were possible, would we want it?

Jim’s closing question might be answered together with some others such as desirable locations, potential content providers, and the like in a on-line survey of the members.  That is purpose of this memorandum.

If the Council agrees, I would work to conduct an on-line survey of the membership and potential members to explore questions about likely co-promoters, content availability and control, location, timing and financial impact.  The survey would be conducted on one of the many low-cost online survey Web sites; estimated cost is under $250, with some sites offering free service to first time users.  The questions would be prepared by a public relations consultant who would speculate on having the task of promoting the conference.

My daughter, Jennifer Thompson, was an account executive at Barry Blau & Partners and Brann Worldwide, and is freelancing with a small agency in Westport.  She would be willing to coordinate the taking of a survey, calling on her professional affiliations to develop and implement a questionnaire. 

I wish I could be with you to answer questions and otherwise participate in discussions.  However, let me conclude by reiterating that, at most, I am asking for a go-ahead to conduct a survey and to be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses.

Jim Thompson