George P. Richardson - Papers on line

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Feedback Mechanisms and Self-Regulation in the Social Sciences, GP Richardson. Forthcoming in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Social Sciences, Sage Publishing.

Abstract: An overview of the idea of circular causality, including characterizations of information feedback and related ideas, its history and importance in the social sciences, and its crucial role in self-regulatory processes in individuals, groups, and society.

Reflections on the Foundation of System Dynamics. GP Richardson. System Dynamics Review (July 2011 early view; see Wiley's On Line Library).

Abstract: Jay W. Forrester's original statement of the foundations of system dynamics emphasized four 'threads': computing technology, computer simulation, strategic decision making, and the role of feedback in complex systems. Subsequent work has expanded on these to expose the significance in the system dynamics approach of dynamic thinking, stock‐ and‐flow thinking, operational thinking, and so on. But the foundation of systems thinking and system dynamics lies deeper than these and is often implicit or even ignored: it is the "endogenous point of view". The paper begins with historical background, clarifies the endogenous point of view, illustrates with examples, and argues that the endogenous point of view is the sine qua non of systems approaches. What expert systems teachers and practitioners have to offer their students and the world is a set of tools, habits of thought, and skills enabling the discovery and understanding of endogenous sources of complex system behavior.

Using a Group Decision Support System to Add Value to Group Model Building. F Ackermann, DF Andersen, C Eden, GP Richardson. System Dynamics Review 26,4 (Oct-Dec 2010) 335-346.

Abstract: This note intends to contribute to the practice of group model building by presenting group model-building scripts that can (1) create a preliminary problem boundary using less than one hour of group time, (2) convene discussions with the group that explicitly link dynamic structure with system behaviour, and (3) allow participants to "zoom" between a micro and a macro view of system structure. These scripts may be used during early phases of problem structuring. They build on an extended program of inquiry dating back to the Stirling System Dynamics Conference of 1994, and they utilize a well-established group decision support system to facilitate group discussion, negotiation, and decision.

ScriptsMap: A Tool for Designing Multi-Method Policy-Making Workshops. F Ackermann, DF Andersen ,C Eden, GP Richardson. Omega 39 (2011) 427-434.

Abstract: This paper reports on the development and structure of a framework - ScriptsMap - intended to facilitate the design of mixed method policy-making workshops. The ScriptsMap framework aims to provide a means of articulating and combining activities (which a script specifies) from two or more methods so that a facilitator or group facilitation team can construct, with the framework's aid, a thoughtful and careful design for a workshop. To provide an example of the framework, the combination of system dynamics group model building and group problem structuring incorporating causal mapping with the use of a Group Support System is used. The paper will illustrate ScriptsMap's structure through an example of the use of the framework in practice.

How Small System Dynamics Models Can Help the Policy Process. N. Ghaffarzadegan, J. Lyneis, GP Richardson. System Dynamics Review (forthcoming).

Abstract: Public policies often fail to achieve their intended result because of the complexity of both the environment and the policy making process. In this article, we review the benefits of using small system dynamics models to address public policy questions. First we discuss the main difficulties inherent in the public policy making process. Then, we discuss how small system dynamics models can address policy making difficulties by examining two promising examples: the first in the domain of urban planning and the second in the domain of social welfare. These examples show how small models can yield accessible, insightful lessons for policy making stemming from the endogenous and aggregate perspective of system dynamics modeling and simulation.

Systems Thinking, Mapping, and Modeling in Group Decision and Negotiation. GP Richardson and DF Andersen. Handbook of Group Decision and Negotiation, Springer Verlag (2010).

Abstract: The use of systems modeling and simulation contributes an endogenous dynamic perspective to group negotiations and decision making. In the field of system dynamics, group (participatory) model building has a rich history and growing literature. This chapter provides an introduction. It discusses the roles required to handle the intricacies of facilitation and group modeling and identifies the tension inherent in models as 'microworlds' or 'boundary objects'. It overviews the group model building process and focuses most extensively on an accumulating body of scripts for group modeling, including scripts for introducing model concepts, initiating systems mapping, eliciting system feedback structure, formulating formal models with client groups, and using them to help build a negotiated consensual view of their shared mental models. The keys to the success of group modeling building efforts appear to be engaging stakeholders, sharing mental models formally, assembling and managing complexity, using simulation to test scenarios and support or refute hypotheses, working toward alignment, and empowering people to have confidence in the strategies that emerge.

Applications of System Dynamics in Marketing: Editorial. P Otto and GP Richardson. Journal of Business Research, 61 (2008) 1099-1101.

Abstract: This special issue of the JBR illustrates a range of applications of modling and simulation from the system dynamics perspective to problems in marketing and related areas. The papers pertain to the diffusion of new products and technologies, advertising effectiveness, management decision-making, forecasting, project dynamics, and innovation ad leadership. Papers presented in this special issue were selected from submissions to attend a two-day workshop on applications of system dynamics in marketing, held at the Johnson School of Managemet, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, in June 2007.

On the Foundations of Systems Thinking and System Dynamics: What are we really doing? [Closing keynote at the Systems Thinking and Dynamic Modeling in K-12 Education conference, Babson College, June 28-30, 2008 (PDF of a PowerPoint presentation).]

Abstract: Forrester's original statement of the foundations of system dynamics emphasized four 'threads': computing technology, computer simulation, strategic decision making, and the role of feedback in complex systems. Subsequent work has expanded on these to expose the significance in the system dynamics approach of dynamic thinking, stock-and-flow thinking, operational thinking, and so on. But the foundation of systems thinking and system dynamics lies deeper than these and is often implicit or even ignored: it is the "endogenous point of view." The paper will begin with historical background, clarify the endogenous point of view, illustrate with examples, and argue that the endogenous point of view is the sine qua non of systems approaches. What expert systems teachers and practitioners have to offer their students and the world is a set of tools, habits of thought, and skills enabling the discovery and understanding of endogenous sources of complex system behavior.

Integrating modes of policy analysis and strategic management practice: requisite elements and dilemmas. C. Eden, F. Ackermann, JM Bryson, GP Richardson, DF Andersen. Journal of the Operational Research Society (forthcoming 2008).

Abstract: There is a need to bring methods to bear on public problems that are inclusive, analytic, and quick. This paper describes the efforts of three pairs of academics working from three different though complementary theoretical foundations and intervention backgrounds (i.e., ways of working) who set out together to meet this challenge. Each of the three pairs had conducted dozens of interventions that had been regarded as successful or very successful by the client groups in dealing with complex policy and strategic problems. One approach focused on leadership issues and stakeholders, another on negotiating competitive strategic intent with attention to stakeholder responses, and the third on analysis of feedback ramifications in developing policies. This paper describes the 10-year longitudinal research project designed to address the above challenge. The important outcomes are reported: the requisite elements of a general integrated approach and the enduring puzzles and tensions that arose from seeking to design a wide-ranging multi-method approach.

How to Anticipate Change in Tobacco Control Systems, in Greater Than the Sum: Systems Thinking in Tobacco Control, A. Best, P.I. Clark, S.J. Leischow, W.M.K. Trochim, eds. National Concer Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, 2007.

Anatomy of a group model-building intervention: building dynamic theory from case study research. L.F. Luna-Reyes, I.J. Martinez-Moyano, T.A. Pardo, A.M. Cresswell, D.F. Andersen and G.P. Richardson. System Dynamics Review 22,4 (winter 2006):291-320.

Abstract: The system dynamics group at the Rockefeller College of the University at Albany has been developing techniques to create system dynamic models with groups of managers during the last 25 years. Building upon their tradition in decision conferencing, the group has developed a particular style that involves a facilitation team in which people play different roles. Throughout these years of experience, the group has also developed several “scripts” to elicit knowledge from experts based on small-groups research, and well-established practices in the development of system dynamics models. This paper constitutes a detailed documentation of a relatively small-scale modeling effort that took place in early 2001, offering a “soup to nuts” description of group model building at Albany. The paper describes in detail nine of the scripts that the group has developed, offering some reflections about their advantages and limitations.

Group Model Building: Problem Structuring, Policy Simulation, and Decision Support. D.F. Andersen, J.A.M. Vennix, G.P. Richardson, E.A.J.A. Rouwette. Journal of Operational Research (Fall 2006).

Integrating Modes of Systems Thinking into Strategic Planning Education and Practice: The Thinking Persons Institute Approach, D.F. Andersen, J.M. Bryson, G.P. Richardson, F. Ackermann, C. Eden, C. B. Finn. Journal of Public Affairs Education 12,3 (Summer 2006): 265-293.

Abstract: Working periodically between 1995 and 2005, a team of scholar-practitioners involved in related streams of strategic management and systems thinking developed a series of conceptual maps that attempted to integrate ideas from these theoretical and practical fields. Whimsicially dubbed the Thinking Persons' Institute Worldview, these maps provided the basis for an integrated approach that has been used over the past five years to improve teaching and practical interventions in both areas. This paper reports on successful efforts to teach the TPI worldview to classes of students at the University at Albany, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Strathclyde, although the main emphasis is on a one-week seminar at the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota. The paper concludes with an evaluation of these experiences.

Concept Models, G.P. Richardson, Proceedings of the 2006 International System Dynamics Conference, Nijmegen.

Abstract: Working with groups unfamiliar with system dynamics, modelers need a quick way to introduce the iconography of the approach and some of its framing assumptions. In the early exploratory days of group model building interventions at the University at Albany, we settled on the use of sequences of tiny models for this purpose, which we call “concept” models. The intent is to begin with a sequence of simulatable pictures so simple and self-explanatory, in the domain and language of the group’s problem, that the group is quickly and naturally drawn into the system dynamics approach.

Dynamic Complexity. Plenary presentation at the 50th annual meeting of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS), Sonoma, California. (Powerpoint slides.)

Abstract: Dynamic complexity arises because systems are changing over time, tightly coupled, governed by feedback, nonlinear, history-dependent, self-organizing, adaptive, counterintuitive, policy resistant, and characterized by tradeoffs (Sterman 2000). The field of System Dynamics contributes to our abilities to understand dynamic complexity and manage complex systems by emphasizing Thinking dynamically, Thinking in circular causal / feedback patterns, Thinking in stocks and flows, and Modeling and simulation. This presentation provides examples.

Systems Mapping and Modeling for Tobacco Control. (Reporting on work done with ISIS – the Initiative for the Study and Implimentation of Systems in public health. Presented most recently at the March 2006 conference of the American Academy of Health Behavior in Carmel, California.)

ISIS is a consortium of researchers, public health experts, and policy and advocacy practitioners exploring a multidisciplinary approach to public health problems. The initial work focused on tobacco prevalence and control. In addition to substantive tobacco control experts, the group included experts in knowledge management, network analysis, systems modeling, and organizational change. The PowerPoint slides shown here present the systems mapping and initial modeling results. (Viewing the slides in the Notes view will shown some explanatory text to accompany the slides.)

Validation as a Social Process.  Workshop on System Dynamics Modeling of Physical and Non-Physical Systems for National Security, sponsored by Booz, Allen, Hamilton, Inc., held in Washington, DC, 21-22 April 2005. (Powerpoint slides in PDF format.)

An overview of thoughts about the evaluation of system dynamics models emphasizing social, rather than technical, dimensions. The presentation begins with the distinction between structure validating processes and behavior validating processes. It argues that validation considerations are present at every step of the modeling process: Conceptualizing, Mapping,
Formulating, Simulating, Deciding, and Implementing. The validation considerations put forward in each of these areas are developed.

Waging a Ratio: Federal policy could set self-adjusting pay equity standard. Albany Times Union, Perspective section, B1-B2, 5 June 2005.

Using Simulation Models to Address 'What If' Questions About Welfare Reform. A.A. Zagonel, J. Rohrbaugh, G.P. Richardson, and D.F. Andersen. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 23,4 (2004): 889-920.

Can System Dynamics Models Learn? (International System Dynamics Conference, Bergen, Norway, Aug. 6 - 9, 2000). (Powerpoint slides in PDF format.)

It is common to assert that while people might learn, system dynamics models do not. Our image of models that learn are neural net models, or LISP or Prolog programs, which can modify their structure and behavior as they run. 'Models that learn' are seen to be models that can change structure, usually interpreted as 'equations' or 'lines of code.' Since system dynamics models do not rewrite themselves as they run, we commonly conclude that they can not exhibit 'learning.'
This little study probes the question of whether these preconceptions of 'models that learn' are as evidently true as we have thought. The centerpiece of the study is a well-known model of instabilities in a workforce providing services in a noisy environment. To this structure is added a formulation representing the model 'learning' that it requires some internal adjustment to dampen the oscillations.
The presentation reflects on elements of this exercise, suggesting how far we can push this example of a model that 'learns' (and 'forgets'), what it might tell us about models of learning in dynamic situations (such as global sustainability), and what it might reveal about the deep harmonies and dischords between the various kinds of models that appear to display learning-like structure and behavior.
Learning model used in the presentation (Vensim). (This will appear in your web browser as text. Instruct your web browser to "Save as" -- it should give the file the correct name, e.g., Learning3.mdl -- and then save it where you put your Vensim models.)
Keynote Presentation: "Insightful Little Models" (Systems Thinking and Dynamic Modeling: a Conference for K-12 Education, Scamania Lodge, Washington, June 25-27, 2000.) (Powerpoint slides in PDF format; slide 5 is only partially there and slide 6 is not shown, for reasons I haven't figured out yet.)
The purpose of most system dynamics studies is insight. As an introduction to the field, this presentation explores what systems thinking is, how formal models help, and what sorts of insights one might expect. The overarching goal is insight into the connections between system structure, captured in stocks and flows and feedback loops, and system behavior, captured in graphs of dynamic patterns over time.
Examples of insightful structures captured in maps include prejudice, patterns in self-reported drug use, Newton's second law, and a first-grader's insight about marketing. Examples of insightful little formal models include deficit and debt, population growth, slinky oscillations, Volterra's principle in predator/prey systems, a social welfare system insight, and urban dynamics.
Vensim PLE versions of the formal models in this presentation: (These will appear in your web browser as text. Instruct your web browser to "Save as" -- it should give the file the correct name, e.g., Debt.mdl -- and then save it where you put your Vensim models.)
Deficit and debt
Constrained population
Driven spring
Welfare insight
Urban growth, stagnation, and decay
Welfare Reform Project (Powerpoint slides in PDF format)
Since February of 1997, a team of researchers at the Rockefeller College has been working with the New York State's Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and with three New York State counties to develop a series of simulation models and flight simulators to aid counties in planning for the impending loss of clients' elligibilities for Federal welfare support.
These slides give a history of the project, describe the group modeling process that produced the results, overview the final model developed, review simulation-based policy analyses and insights, and outline the implementation steps being taken in one of the counties.
Keynote Presentation: " enable Freshmen to do what once strained Newton's powers..." (Systems Thinking and Dynamic Modeling: a Conference for K-12 Education, New England Conference Center, Durham, New Hampshire, June 28-30, 1998.) (Powerpoint slides in PDF format)
This presentation addresses what "systems thinking" and "system dynamics" are, and why children as well as policy analysts ought to have the habits and skills they involve. It defines systems thinking as the mental effort to uncover endogenous sources of system behavior and then unpacks the meanings of "behavior," "system," and "endogenous."
The notion of endogenous sources of system behavior leads to the concept of feedback, which in turn leads to system dynamics, defined here as computer simulation modeling in support of systems thinking. The presentation contains lots of examples, from a first grader's personally discovered self-reinforcing feedback loop to descriptions of the applied work of practicing consultants.
President's Address to the System Dynamics Society, System Dynamics Conference, Istanbul, Turkey, July 1997
A vision for the System Dynamics Society is put forward, as a blend of four constituencies - academics, consultants, practitioners in business and government, and teachers - with two overlapping approaches - qualitative systems thinking and quantitative simulation modeling - who combine together in this community to achieve the synergies that will truly advance our field and the understandings of those we serve. Our joint mission is to improve policy analysis and design using systems thinking, simulation, and a dynamic feedback perspective.
Problems in Causal-Loop Diagrams Revisted (System Dynamics Review 13,3 (fall 1997); an edited version appeared in The Systems Thinker early in 1997).
Abstract: Word-and-arrow diagrams (causal-loop diagrams, influence diagrams, cognitive maps, and the like) are enjoying widespread use in the system dynamics and systems thinking communities. It is increasingly common to see these diagrams with links labeled "S" and "O" to identify causal effects in the "Same" or "Opposite" direction to changes in the causing variable at the tail of the arrow. But therein lies an old problem in a new disguise.

Loop Polarity, Loop Dominance, and the Concept of Dominant Polarity (System Dynamics Conference, Oslo, Norway, 1984; System Dynamics Review 11,1 (spring 1995))

Abstract: There is a conspicuous gap in the literature about feedback and circular causality between intuitive statements about shifts in loop dominance and precise statements about how to define and detect such important nonlinear phenomena. This paper provides a consistent, rigorous, and useful set of definitions of loop polarities, dominant polarity, and shift in loop dominance, and illustrates their application in a range of system dynamics models.
Consistent with the usual definitions, the polarity of a first-order feedback loop involving a level x and a single inflow is defined to be the sign of the rate of change of the rate with respect to the level x. Loop polarity is shown to depend upon the sign of parameters not usually considered to be part of the loop itself. The definition of loop polarity is then extended to multi-loop first order systems. All positive loops with gain less than one, such as economic multipliers, are shown to be multi-loop systems with dominant negative polarity. The shifts in loop dominance that occur in nonlinear system arise naturally as changes in the sign of dominant polarity.
The concepts developed in the paper are then applied to simple higher-order nonlinear feedback systems. The final application to a bifurcating system suggests that all bifurcations in continuous systems can be understood as consequences of shifts in loop dominance at equilibrium points.

Teamwork in Group Model Building (System Dynamics Review 11,2 (summer 1995).
Abstract: Ongoing research in the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy is focusing on strategies for efficient and effective modeling building in groups. The intent is to involve a relatively large client group in the business of model formulation, not just conceptualization. Recent projects have explored strategies for accelerated group model building in the context of three public policy problem areas: the burgeoning cost and caseload of foster care in New York State, recent unexplained increases in Medicaid costs in the state of Vermont, and homelessness policy initiatives in New York City.
Five roles appear to be essentil to support effective group model building efforts. We term the five roles the facilitator, the modeler/reflector, the process coach, the recorder, and the gatekeeper. This article identifies the five roles, briefly overviews the three problem areas, sketches the design of the group model building efforts, outlines the apparent results, and hypothesizes principles and strategies to guide future group modeling efforts.
Problems for the Future of System Dynamics (System Dynamics Conference, Tokyo, 1995; System Dynamics Review 12,2 (summer 1996))
Abstract: A list of eight problem areas is put forward as deserving of the attention of system dynamics practitioners now and in the future:
Understanding model behavior
Accumulating wise practice
Advancing practice
Accumulating results
Making models accessible
Qualitative mapping and formal modeling
Widening the base
Confidence and validation
The goal of the list is to initiate discussion of an agenda for concerted work in the field of system dynamics. If indeed these are the deep, difficult, and important problems facing the field, then we should begin to address them in collaborative and productively competitive ways.
Foundations of Mental Model Research. (System Dynamics Conference, Stirling, Scotland, 1994. Albany, NY: System Dynamics Society.)
Abstract: Ongoing research at the Rockefeller College is exploring the ability of subjects in a computer-based management laboratory to manage the implementation of welfare reform. Reflections on the design of such research have pushed us to develop a firmer theoretical foundation to guide our research on mental models in dynamic decision making. We posit that mental models are multifaceted, including distinguishable submodels focused on ends (goals), means (strategies, tactics, policy levers) and connections between them (the means/ends model). These distinctions, coupled with a view of human judgment from Brunswikean psychology, lead to a rich integrated theory of perception, planning, action, and learning in complex dynamic feedback systems.
From that theory we derive classes of testable research hypotheses about decision making in dynamic environments — in particular, “design logic” and “operator logic” hypotheses — that have serious implications for system dynamics research and practice. The operator logic hypothesis suggests that systems interventions focused on understanding detailed system structure will have little impact if they are not captured in easy-to-digest chunks of strategic insight that managers can integrate into relatively simple means-ends associations. Compounding the difficulties of mental model research is the likelihood that individuals’ mental models can not be directly elicited without distortion.
Scripts for Group Model Building (System Dynamics Conference, Stirling, Scotland, 1994; System Dynamics Review 13,2 (summer 1997))
Abstract: For the past seven years, the modeling group at the University at Albany has been experimenting with techniques for building system dynamics models directly with groups. This paper extends the previously reported work by discussing specific scripted techniques used to implement the group modeling building approach.
Our purpose is to initiate a larger discussion of shared scripts and techniques for group model building. The discussion is divided into planning for a group model building conference, scheduling the day, particular scripts and techniques for various group model building tasks, and closing a group modeling conference.
An Experiment to Evaluate Methods for Estimating Fossil Fuel Resources, J.D. Sterman and G.P. Richardson. Journal of Forecasting 4(1985): 197-226.
Abstract: Estimates of petroleum and natural gas resources vary substantially, both over time and across estimation methods. This paper develops a simulation model of global oil resources to evaluate different resource estimation techniques. Protocols for the Hubbert life cycle and USGS geological analogy methods are developed and applied to synthetic data generated by the model. It is shown that the Hubbert method can generate an accurate estimate as early as twenty years before the peak of global production, but the geological analogy approach overestimates the true resource base over the life cycle of the resource. The results show the applicability of simulation and the synthetic data approach to the problem of evaluating forecasting methods.

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