Pre-conference Workshops

Understanding Change: Introducing Community Driven System Dynamics for Modeling the Commons

General Description
The application of system dynamics modeling in community settings, particularly with diverse stakeholders, is relatively new and many see the activity as being inaccessible and relying on highly skills professionals. The goal of this pre-conference workshop is to introduce participants to system dynamics modeling and participatory group model building methods that have been used in field work with FES and other organizations. Participants will be introduced to the basic language of system dynamics and participatory group model building methods, which will then be illustrated through a series of group model building exercises or “scripts”. The workshop will also cover process design issues and mapping, considerations on how to integrate system dynamics within an existing NGO’s capabilities through capacity building workshops, and cross-cultural aspects of this approach.

Target Workshop Participants: Practitioners and academics

Workshop Goals

  • Introduce participants to principles and language of system dynamics
  • Introduce participants to group model building methods for building system dynamics models with community stakeholders
  • Demonstrate group model building methods by involving participants in a set of model building exercises with participants 

Agenda and Topics


  • Introduction to system dynamics and basic concepts
  • Overview of participatory group model building


  • Group model building
  • Considerations for planning group model building sessions

Duration: Full-day class

Size: 25 participants

Workshop Methodology
The morning workshop will consist of a mixture of PowerPoint lecture and interactive demonstration of a system dynamics model that introduces some of the basic concepts of system dynamics and illustrates why some systems can be hard to understand. Key concepts will include the stocks-and-flows, balancing and reinforcing feedback loops, structure-behavior relationships, and dynamics such as tipping points, threshold effects, and shifts in loop dominance. The history and motivation for participatory group model building will be introduced in the second half of the morning session with an emphasis on linking the development and application of the methods in joint work between FES and the Social System Design Lab at Washington University in St. Louis. This will emphasize the use of capacity building throughout the planning process and use of group model building exercises or “scripts”. The afternoon session will walk participants through a set of group model building exercises where participants will develop an initial graphical (non-simulation) model of a dynamic problem related to commons. The workshop will end with some closing thoughts and reflections on what it takes to plan effective group model building sessions in a question and answer format.

Materials and facilities

  • Room with large wall area (at least 4 meters wide x 2 meters high) for posting sheets of paper, flip charts, etc.
  • Two easels with flip chart paper
  • One ream of paper with paper that won’t bleed through with markers
  • “Blue” masking tape that won’t damage walls
  • Thirty thick markers
  • Sticky dots
  • Data projector and screen for presentation (no computer required)

Workshop Leader/s

  • Peter Hovmand
  • Gautam Yadama

Supporting Organization/s

  • Foundation for Ecological Security
  • Social System Design Lab, Brown School of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis