Systems Thinking, Mapping, and Group Model Building

  • George P. RichardsonEmail author
  • David F. Andersen
Living reference work entry


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” (see “Group Decision Support Systems: a case study”). 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 (see “Group Decision Support Systems: a case study”). 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.


Boundary object System dynamic modeling Welfare reform Client group Modeling team 


  1. Akkermans H (1995) Modelling with managers: participative business modelling for effective strategic decision-making. Technical University of Eindhoven, EindhovenGoogle Scholar
  2. Andersen DF, Richardson GP (1997) Scripts for group model building. Syst Dyn Rev 13(2):107–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andersen DF, Richardson GP, Vennix JAM (1997) Group model building: adding more science to the craft. Syst Dyn Rev 13(2):187–201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Andersen DF, Bryson JM, Richardson GP, Eden C, Ackermann F, Finn C (2006) Integrating models of systems thinking into strategic planning education and practice: the thinking persons institute approach. J Public Aff Educ 12(3):265–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Andersen DF, Vennix JAM, Richardson GP, Rouwette EAJA (2007) Group model building: problem structuring, policy simulation and decision support. J Oper Res Soc 58(5):691–694CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Black LJ (2002) Collaborating across boundaries: theoretical, empirical, and simulated explorations. PhD dissertation, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyGoogle Scholar
  7. Carlile PR (2002) A pragmatic view of knowledge and boundaries: boundary objects in new product development. Organ Sci 13(4):442–455CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Eden C, Ackermann F (1998) Making strategy: the journey of strategic management. Sage, LondonGoogle Scholar
  9. Ford A (1999) Modeling the environment: an introduction to system dynamics of environmental systems. Island Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  10. Forrester JW (1961) Industrial dynamics. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, reprinted by the System Dynamics Society, Albany, NYGoogle Scholar
  11. Forrester JW (1968) Market growth as influenced by capital investment. Ind Manage Rev (MIT) 9(2):83–105Google Scholar
  12. Forrester JW (1969) Urban dynamics. MIT, Cambridge, MA, reprinted by the System Dynamics Society, Albany, NYGoogle Scholar
  13. Forrester JW, Senge PM (1980) Tests for building confidence in system dynamics models. In: Legasto AA Jr et al (eds) System dynamics, vol 14. of TIMS studies in the management sciences. North-Holland, New York, pp 209–228Google Scholar
  14. Howick S, Ackermann F, Andersen DF (2006) Linking event thinking with structural thinking: methods to improve client value in projects. Syst Dyn Rev 22(2):113–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lane DC (1994) With a little help from our friends: how system dynamics and soft or can learn from each other. Syst Dyn Rev 9(3):239–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Luna-Reyes LF, Martinez-Moyano IJ, Pardo TA, Cresswell AM, Andersen DF, Richardson GP (2006) Anatomy of a group model-building intervention: building dynamic theory from case study research. Syst Dyn Rev 22(4):291–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Maani KE, Cavana RY (2000) Systems thinking and modelling: understanding change and complexity. Pearson Education, North ShoreGoogle Scholar
  18. Milter RG, Rohrbaugh J (1985) Microcomputers and strategic decision making. Public Prod Rev 9(2–3):175–189Google Scholar
  19. Morecroft JDW, Sterman JD (eds) (1994) Modeling for learning organizations. Pegasus Communications, WalthamGoogle Scholar
  20. Quinn RE, Rohrbaugh J, McGrath MR (1985) Automated decision conferencing: how it works. Personnel 62(6):49–55Google Scholar
  21. Reagan-Cirincione P, Schuman S, Richardson GP, Dorf S (1991) Decision modeling: tools for strategic thinking, finalist in TIMS/ORSA second international competition for outstanding DSS applications and achievements. Interfaces 21(6):52–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Richardson GP (1991, 1999) Feedback thought in social science and systems theory. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia. Reprinted by the Sysgtem Dynamics Society, Albany, NYGoogle Scholar
  23. Richardson GP (2006) Concept models. In: Proceedings of the 2006 international system dynamics conference. System Dynamics Society, AlbanyGoogle Scholar
  24. Richardson GP, Andersen DF (1995) Teamwork in group modeling building. Syst Dyn Rev 11(2):113–137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Richardson GP, Pugh AL III (1981) Introduction to system dynamics modeling with dynamo. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, reprinted by the System Dynamics Society, Albany, NYGoogle Scholar
  26. Rohrbaugh J (2000) The use of system dynamics in decision conferencing. In: Garson D (ed) Handbook of public information systems. Marcel Dekker, New York, pp 521–533Google Scholar
  27. Rouwette EAJA (2003) Group model building as mutual persuasion. Wolf Legal Publishers, NijmegenGoogle Scholar
  28. Rouwette EAJA, Vennix JAM, Van Mullekom T (2002) Group model building effectiveness: a review of assessment studies. Syst Dyn Rev 18(1):5–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Schuman SP, Rohrbaugh J (1991) Decision conferencing for systems planning. Inf Manag 21(3):147–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Senge PM (1990) The fifth discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization. Doubleday/Currency, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  31. Star SL, Griesemer JR (1989) Institutional ecology, ‘translations,’ and boundary objects: amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s museum of vertebrate zoology, 1907–1939. Soc Stud Sci 19:387–420CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Stenberg L (1980) A modeling procedure for the public policy scene. In: Randers J (ed) Elements of the system dynamics method. Pegasus Communications, Waltham, pp 257–288Google Scholar
  33. Sterman JD (2000) Business dynamics: systems thinking and modeling for a complex world. McGraw-Hill, BostonGoogle Scholar
  34. Vennix JAM (1995) Building consensus in strategic decision making: system dynamics as a group decision support system. Group Decis Negotiation 4(4):335–355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Vennix JAM (1996) Group model building: facilitating team learning using system dynamics. Wiley, ChichesterGoogle Scholar
  36. Vennix JAM, Gubbels JW, Post D, Poppen HJ (1990) A structured approach to knowledge elicitation in conceptual model building. Syst Dyn Rev 6(2):194–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Vennix JAM, Andersen DF, Richardson GP, Rohrbaugh J (1992) Model building for group decision support: issues and alternatives in knowledge elicitation, in modelling for learning. Eur J Oper Res 59(1):28–41CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Vennix JAM, Andersen DF, Richardson GP (1997) Introduction: group model building – art and science. Syst Dyn Rev 13(2):103–106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Warren KD (2002) Competitive strategy dynamics. Wiley, ChichesterGoogle Scholar
  40. Wolstenholme EF (1990) System enquiry: a system dynamics approach. John WileyGoogle Scholar
  41. Zagonel AA (2002) Model conceptualization in group model building: a review of the literature exploring the tension between representing reality and negotiating a social order. In: Proceedings of the 20th international conference of the system dynamics society. The System Dynamics Society, PalermoGoogle Scholar
  42. Zagonel dos Santos AA (2004) Reflecting on group model building use to support welfare reform in New York state. PhD dissertation, Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany, Statement University of New YorkGoogle Scholar
  43. Zagonel AA (2003) Using group model building to inform welfare policy making in New York State: a critical look. Proceedings of the 21st International Conference of the System Dynamics Society. Albany, NY: System Dynamics SocidetyGoogle Scholar
  44. Zagonel AA, Rohrbaugh JW, Richardson GP, Andersen DF (2004) Using simulation models to address ‘what if’ questions about welfare reform. J Policy Anal Manage 23(4):890–901CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and PolicyUniversity at Albany, State University of New YorkAlbanyUSA

Personalised recommendations