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MODEL->UNDERSTAND->ACT: SYSTEMS THINKING AND SYSTEMS DYNAMICS

Len Malczynski, lamalcz@unm.edu
       

COURSE DESCRIPTION
Systems thinking and system dynamics have connections back to the early use of feedback thinking in the Golden Age of Greece (1). These ideas and techniques had a resurgence in the late 1950s (2) due to the work of Jay Forrester at MIT and later by his student Peter Senge in 1990 (3). Today systems thinking and system dynamics are practiced worldwide as an approach for critical thinking and a methodology for problem solving. System dynamics has been applied to problems in business (Master Card), public policy (Veteran’s Affairs), conflict management (Afghanistan), resource management (Middle Rio Grande), medicine (kidney disease), health care (polio eradication), psychology (depression), and other areas. Many more details can be found at www.systemdynamics.org

In this course students will learn how to approach a problem from the systems thinking/system dynamics perspective and have the opportunity to build system dynamics simulation models. Students will learn a methodology that has been successfully applied successfully across multiple disciplines (political science, business, medicine, health care, natural sciences, and engineering). The course will introduce participants to the seminal works in system dynamics and the wide and growing literature in system dynamics. Students will also gain hands on experience in constructing and communicating models on paper and in computer simulations. Successful participation will give students the tools that will allow them to tackle real world problems, build and test models, and present their results to policy makers thereby increasing their ability to understand complex problems in not one, but many domains. They will also attempt to tackle a real-world problem. The technical challenge is much less than the change in thinking that comes from studying systems thinking and system dynamics.

Students will play the interactive hands-on learning games, the ‘Beer Game’ and Fish Banks.

1. Richardson, George. Feedback Thought in Social Science and Systems Theory. Pegasus Communications, Waltham, MA, 1999.
2. Forrester, Jay W., ”Industrial Dynamics: a major breakthrough for decision makers”. Harvard Business Review, July-August, 1958.
3. Senge, Peter. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Currency Doubleday, 1990.


READINGS AND TEXTS


The majority of readings will come from the MIT Guided Study Program (GSP) in System Dynamics. Readings will be available in a booklet and in electronic format. These will be supplemented with other free materials. Students will have access to an 11,000 bibliography of material that includes hundreds of peer reviewed articles from the System Dynamics Review. In addition, there is a free collection of video instruction on modeling tool use. Students will also have free access to the leading software tools (1).

1. The leading tools are: Powersim Studio (www.powersim.com); Ventana Vensim (www.vensim.com). In addition there are limited 30 day licenses to other modeling tools.

OTHER COURSE MATERIALS
We will also have in-class discussions of speculative poetry in other media: the Pre-Raphaelite artists’ Tennyson-influenced paintings, for example, as well as modern musical settings of poems from the Middle Ages and Romantic era by recording artists such as Medieval Baebes and Loreena McKennitt. 

 

STUDENT REQUIREMENTS

Students should have access to a microcomputer (UNM computing labs may be used) to make use of the free software. Assignments will be both individual and in groups if a group wants to tackle a sufficiently large problem. Students are also expected to participate in two interactive games that highlight human decision making and unintended consequences of rational behaviors. Students are expected to attend every class.

Performance evaluation
1. Attendance and participation: 15%
2. Data research and project: 35%
3. Short assignments in Learn: 25%
4. Modeling assignments: 25%

ABOUT THE INSTRUCTOR

Len Malczynski is a current ASM instructor in microeconomics. He has been teaching part-time at ASM since 1988. He holds a BSF in Forestry from the University of Michigan, an MS in Agricultural Economics from Purdue, an MBA from ASM concentrating in MIS, an MA in Economic Theory from UNM, and a Graduate Certificate in System Dynamics from MIT/WPI. He is recently retired from Sandia National Laboratories where he has been building system dynamics models of the US nuclear energy enterprise, world energy consumption, illegal-immigration, transportation transition to biofuel, and water rights and watershed management. He is currently the President of the System Dynamics Society (www.systemdynamics.org).