Systems & complexitySystems thinking and modelling

Developing understanding: Summary [Systems thinking & modelling series]

This is part 16 of a series of articles featuring the book Beyond Connecting the Dots, Modeling for Meaningful Results.


  • Intent. Be sure you have a good idea of what you want the model to help you understand. This idea may evolve as you develop the model.
  • Time Frame. Ensure you have a sense of the time frame over which you intend the model to simulate. As you build the model you may find you need to adjust your initial thought on this.
  • Stocks & Flows. Identify the Stocks & Flows first, as they are key elements of the model.
  • Use Units. Units help to ensure your model is sound. Insight Maker will test for consistency of units. If the units are consistent the model is not guaranteed to be sound, though this adds a level of confidence.
  • Variables & Links. Add Variables & Links to influence the flows.
  • Test Often. Each time you make a logical addition to the model think about how you expect the model to behave. Run the model and see if there is agreement with your expectation. If there isn’t then it’s an opportunity to learn and improve the model. And if it does agree you should still consider the output. It may be that your expectation and the model are both wrong.
  • Time Step. Test the Time Step to ensure it’s small enough to capture all relevant transitions in the model.
  • Stop at the End. When the model serves the purpose for which you are developing it, STOP! There is always one more thing you can add to a model; resist the urge. You should only include what is relevant to satisfy the initial intent. That said, there are times when we learn things during the development of a model that warrant modifying the initial intent. Just be sure you know the manner in which you’re doing that.

Next edition: Applied Understanding: Systemic Strategy.

Article sources: Beyond Connecting the Dots, Insight Maker. Reproduced by permission.

Header image source: Beyond Connecting the Dots.

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Scott Fortmann-Roe and Gene Bellinger

Scott Fortmann-Roe, creator of Insight Maker, and Gene Bellinger, creator of SystemsWiki, have written the innovative interactive book "Beyond Connecting the Dots" to demystify systems thinking and modelling.

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