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Introduction to System Dynamics

Systems are pervasive – we humans live and work within social systems, and we are constantly creating new technical systems. Systems thinking provides a holistic perspective on reality that sharpens awareness of wholes and of how the parts within those wholes interrelate, System Dynamics provides a concrete set of tools for studying systems.
Systems are pervasive – we humans live and work within social systems, and we are constantly creating new technical systems.
The term “systems thinking” became widely popular in the 1990s due to the very influential book “The Fifth Discipline” by Peter Senge. This book is based on a long tradition of research into systems and their behavior that was started in the 1940s by Norbert Wiener and continued through Ludwig Bertalanffy and Jay Forrester.
Within the systems community, there is much discussion about the relationship between systems thinking and system dynamics. We follow the late Barry Richmond (founder of isee systems and creator of the iThink® and Stella® simulation environments) in using the term Systems Thinking in a very broad fashion to mean either of the following:
  • A holistic perspective on reality that sharpens awareness of wholes and of how the parts within those wholes interrelate.
  • A set of tools for studying systems – such as causal loop diagrams, stock & flow diagrams and simulation models.
  • A specific vocabulary that expresses the understanding of systems, such as “reinforcing and balancing feedback loops”, “stock” and “flow”.
System dynamics is a method devoted to the study of systems and is thus a tool within the Systems Thinking tool kit. It uses simple graphical notations to model systems: Causal Loop Diagrams and Stock And Flow Diagrams.
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