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1999 Report of the United Kingdom Chapter

20 July 1999

Two factors have coincided to produce appreciable growth in system dynamics in the UK. One is the considerable increase in Society members recorded in the UK. The 1996 membership directory listed about 20 people; the 1998 edition shows 89. The UK now has far more Society members than anywhere else, apart from the USA. The second factor has been the informal gatherings of people interested in system dynamics which took place in June 1996 and January 1998. The joint effect has been to make the year from August 1998 to July 1999 particularly active for system dynamics in the UK. Six major activities are worth recording.

January, 1999, witnessed the third UK system dynamics gathering, generously sponsored by HVR Consulting Services Ltd. This was held at the luxurious Audleys Wood Hotel at Basingstoke, south of London. The mailing list of more than 100 people shows the extent of UK interest, and this was before we received the 1998 membership list, so many people who we should have contacted were inadvertently missed out. In the event, the meeting was oversubscribed with about 45 people able to be accommodated. A programme of speakers had been arranged to survey some novel aspects of system dynamics work. Peter Allen described his approach to evolutionary dynamics, Brian Dangerfield brought us up to date with his models of AIDS, David Exelby dealt with the validation of commercial models and Alfredo Moscardini covered modelling of economic problems. The meeting ended with an excellent dinner.

The second item is that the increase in membership and the success of this third gathering prompted John Morecroft to suggest that the time was now ripe to form a fully-fledged UK Chapter of the Society. A proposal to that effect, together with a draft constitution, was submitted to the Society's Policy Council and duly approved by them. The aims of the Chapter are to promote system dynamics in the United Kingdom by holding meetings and sponsoring other activities. The Chapter's Policy Council consists of Geoff Coyle as President and Eric Wolstenholme, John Morecroft, Michael Kennedy, Alfredo Moscardini and Jonathan Coyle as Vice Presidents. The secretary is David Exelby. Geoff Coyle will step down as President at the end of 2000 and will be succeeded by Eric Wolstenholme. This ensures rotation and the bringing in of fresh ideas. There are to be two grades of membership. Full Members of the Chapter must be members of the Society living in the United Kingdom, though they do not have to be British. They will be eligible to hold office in the Chapter and vote in its meetings. The Chapter's Council is, however, very keen to promote general interest in system dynamics so there will also be Associate Members who do not have to be members of the Society. They will be able to participate in all activities but will not be eligible to hold office or to vote. The Chapter's Council has met to get things rolling and Vice Presidents have undertaken various necessary tasks. Planning is already in hand for the next UK meeting to be held in January 2000 in the lovely spa town of Harrogate. We are using a larger, but equally luxurious, hotel than previously so that attendance will not have to be limited to about 40. The theme of the meeting has not been finalised but is likely to be 'System Dynamics in Consultancy'. Naturally, any Society members who happen to be in the UK at the time will be most welcome to attend, if space permits.

The third welcome initiative was the generous agreement of HVR-CSL to sponsor a cash prize for the best student project at a UK university. This year there were too few entries to justify a valid competition but a Chapter VP has taken responsibility for running the next competition at which the prize will be jointly sponsored by HVR-CSL and Cognitus.

John Morecroft and Geoff Coyle had a busy year as they were invited to be guest editors for a special issue of the prestigious Journal of the Operational Research Society dealing with system dynamics mainly in the UK but also in Europe. The issue appeared in April 1999 and has a total of 18 papers refereed to the usual standards. The first section recounts system dynamics work at the leading European institutions. The second part describes work which reaches into the broad policy arena. That is followed by coverage of how system dynamics influences people, policy and management education. The fourth section is devoted to methodological development and, in a final part, George Richardson was invited to summarise the themes in the special issue and give his reflections on the future of system dynamics. The special issue has attracted a good deal of favourable comment and will be distributed to all participants at the New Zealand conference. The Operational Research Society has printed a stock of extra copies for people who might not otherwise receive this important addition to the system dynamics literature. For information contact Geoff or John.

Item 5 is that the Chapter sponsored a meeting held in London to survey applications of system dynamics to policy and planning in Higher Education. The meeting was under the auspices of the Society for Research into Higher Education and was organised by the system dynamics team at South Bank University. By a happy chance, Lord Ron Dearing, who chaired a very influential committee of enquiry into the future of higher education in the UK, happens to be a former student of Geoff Coyle's and kindly agreed to give an opening speech. The speakers were a very international team and included Geoff Coyle and Mike Kennedy from South Bank University, London, Carol Frances from Claremont College in the US, Yaman Barlas from Bogazici University in Turkey, and Mike Radzicki from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the US. After the meeting, Mike Radzicki demonstrated various system dynamics models of HE problems at South Bank's computer laboratories.

Finally, the 41st annual meeting of the Operational Research Society will take place in Edinburgh in September. The meeting is divided into streams for particular OR topics and this year the system dynamics stream will be the largest at the conference, apart from information systems. There will be 12 papers from 11 authors representing 4 countries. The emphasis is on high-quality operational research which happens to have used system dynamics, as opposed to beating a system dynamics drum. Most of the papers are on practical applications, though theory and methodology development will also be represented.

All in all, system dynamics in the UK is in a healthy state and we look forward to an exciting future.

Jonathan Coyle
Vice President for Society Affairs
UK Chapter

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Last modified: November 02, 2000