The Society e-Newsletter
Autumn 2018

Autumn 2018

Volume 39

Number 4

In This Issue...

  1. An Interview with the Executive Director
  2. Did You Know?  Presidential Thoughts
  3. Your Member Benefits
  4. Move Complete

Q&A Logo Mark Nelson

An Interview with the Society's Executive Director:
The Path Forward

Editor’s Note:  Dr. Mark R. Nelson took over as the Executive Director of the System Dynamics Society on September 1, 2018.  We thought for this issue of the newsletter, we would ask Mark about how he’s settling in and about the path forward for the Society.

Q. This month the System Dynamics Review released Volume 34, issues 1 & 2 – a Special Issue celebrating the 60th anniversary of the field of System Dynamics. Was there anything that stood out to you—or really connected with you?

A. The introductory article presented by John Sterman provides a thoughtful retrospective and a call to action to the field: 

Jay always dared us to have courage, be bold, and work on the most important challenges facing humanity. We must follow his example. We must master the state of the art and modern methods to develop, test, communicate, and implement rigorous, reliable and effective insights into the dynamics of complex systems, wherever they originated. Where needed, we must innovate to develop new methods to address the pressing challenges we face. We must hold ourselves to the highest standards for rigorous inquiry. The need is great. The path may be difficult. Will we take it?

Over the past few months I invested a great deal of time engaging in conversations with members and non-members, practitioners and academics, individuals representing many nationalities and disciplines, sponsoring and non-sponsoring organizations, partners and competitors, and many other stakeholder segments for the work we do as a Society. We want to make sure that we are reaching our full potential as a professional society and as a field.  

Q. How do we, as a Society move forward on the path?

A. We need to ask ourselves a series of questions that require some real thought and discussion:

  • What is our mission?
  • What are we about?
  • Who are the Society’s members, and who ought to be and is not?
  • What do we really know about the needs and challenges members face across the different phases of your careers?
  • What data and evidence do we have that enables us to provide members with meaningful value?
  • What aspects of our community do we most want and need to preserve as part of our identity?
  • How can the Society best help members to be more successful at addressing John’s call, mentioned above, to action for the field?
  • Do we understand the problem before us that we are trying to solve?
  • Are we ready to traverse a path different from what we have always done in the past?

I would argue that one key element to crafting that path forward resides in our communications, both among ourselves and with the world outside.

Q. What are your plans to address communications—both internal and external?

A. In the months ahead, we will begin expanding opportunities for all members to engage with us so that the Society can focus on programs that address the core needs of members. While we have just begun the annual membership renewal process for the Society, this year we will also invite members to participate in a member survey to help us focus our efforts and direction. When the survey invitation arrives, we hope that every member will take 10 minutes to respond and provide us with the data and feedback we need to make more effective and responsive decisions on their behalf.

Q. What else will members and supporters see in terms of new outreach and engagement?

A. This month we will also soft-launch a new blog, called wiSDom. The goal of wiSDom will be to gather the diverse voices and perspectives of Society members in a discussion open to the public. We will be asking for contributions from every Policy Council leader, every Past President, every Chapter and SIG, and every author of an SDR article (and every editor), too. Any Society member will be welcome to submit contributions to wiSDom, and we will share details on how to do that in the near future.

Q. You are working with the Society’s leaders on developing a plan for a successful and sustainable future. Where are you in that effort?  

A. After a couple months of listening and learning, I crafted an initial draft plan to capture what I was hearing from people I spoke to and the materials I was reading. A central element of that plan focuses on communication and adding value for members. A very common observation I heard was for the need for more scaffolding – resources or programs that could help members improve their comfort and expertise with System Dynamics, providing a bridge to greater quality and understanding across the field.

The initial draft plan is broad and contains more than we can do with current resources, but it also begins to show some common priorities and needs among the broader membership. We recently socialized that initial draft with more than 50 Society members. Most of the feedback was positive, recognizing the document for what it was—a synthesis of inputs, loosely framed into a directional statement.  Not all of the feedback was positive, and that is useful too in the process of narrowing scope.

I also want to thank the members of the Strategy Committee, and particularly Kim Warren and Wim Rill, for the hours they spent bringing me up to speed on their outstanding strategic modeling work on behalf of the Society. As we narrow the scope of the plan, we are also thinking about how to align our efforts with the existing strategy model. 

The next step is to refine the document a little based on the initial input and share it with another set of stakeholders.  We will continue to share portions of that plan for feedback to focus in on a small set of priorities. I encourage members to participate and engage with us in discussion as that process moves forward so that our path forward supports each of our members on their individual paths and the challenge John presents to us.

Q. What role do the Society’s members and supporters play in the ultimate success of the Society? 

A. Each of our members are part of the history of the System Dynamics field, and the Society. I look forward to working with members, and on behalf of members, to continue advancing our shared interests in positively affecting the world through the use of system dynamics.

Moving an organization like the Society forward in pursuit of its mission will require teamwork and collaboration across many stakeholder groups.  I am again thinking of John Sterman’s piece, which reflects on the past 60 years as the past and a foundation on which to build—not as a place to live forever. Under the heading, “Rigor or Rigor Mortis,” he correctly calls out that:

Many continue to hold fast to tools and methods for system dynamics practice dating to the 1960s even though better choices now exist and some old methods and tools are now neither effective nor acceptable for research or practice.

And he goes on to point out how the Society, for many years, described how system dynamics ought to be done—with a description that “violates fundamental principles for good modeling.”   Thus, while it is important to acknowledge and build upon the past, if the field is to both survive and thrive, both the field and the Society must evolve in new ways. That path may not be easy, and we may occasionally stumble, but a failure to innovate and move in new directions will lead to an almost certain demise. 

The Society exists for its members, not the other way around.  At the same time, as a volunteer-driven organization, the Society relies on members, sponsors, and other stakeholders in order to meet the needs of the community. As the Society, we must overcome the threat of rigidity that we face. We must increase transparency and utilize more evidence in support of decision making.  Moving in that direction means that we must leverage the community and engage our members.  We must continue to expand our ability to work together to focus on the problem, rather than the system.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to share with the Society’s community after your first two months at the helm?

A. Besides the insights and initiatives mentioned above, over the year ahead the community will begin to notice changes in how we report out, how we approach our conferences, and how we are providing our membership services.    The challenge John issued to the System Dynamics field applies equally, in my mind, to the Society.  We are building upon a remarkable history and must ratchet up the rigor behind the practices we use to serve members. 

It is a great honor to be working with a creative and thoughtful team of volunteer leaders and professional staff. We are committed to advancing the mission and work of the Society, maintaining and improving our outreach and service to the member community, increasing support and visibility for the field, and engaging both existing and new audiences to take part in developing a new path forward. 

I look forward to our journey together.

The 2019 Membership Drive is Underway
Have You Renewed?  Encourage a Colleague to Join the Society! 

The Society is preparing for its new membership year, which begins on January 1, 2019. You should have received a renewal notice--asking you to renew your membership and support for the Society. If you did not receive the notice, please let us know at [email protected].

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Also...we will soon be releasing our Member Survey...coming out soon. We want your insights and opinion about how you interface with the Society, its value to you, and your thoughts about its future.  You will soon be receiving a link to for it! 


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