System Dynamics Book

Updated: Aug 13



This short but comprehensive book has been designed to blend theoretical, conceptual exposure with hands-on engagement and collective building of systems models in groups. The course has been developed by The Sustainability Laboratory as part of the educational curriculum for its Global Sustainability Fellows (GSF) program. It was developed in collaboration with members of Loops Consulting, led by three of its leaders who, themselves, are alumni of the GSF program. The work was made possible by a grant from the Swiss, University-of-St. Gallen-based, Foundation for the Advancement of systems-oriented Management Education. Board members of the Foundation are, in their own right, leaders in the systems thinking movement.


Module One gives an introduction to the field of systems thinking, discussing its emergence as a new scientific paradigm and elaborating on some of the characteristics of a “systems” view of the world.


Module Two introduces the field of system dynamics, which is itself a methodology to help us think about issues from a systemic perspective. Here we discuss why we build models, and how they can help us to think and communicate more deeply regarding certain issues. Note that in this course we will deal only with qualitative system dynamics models, known as causal loop diagrams (CLDs), and will not be dealing with quantitative simulation models.


Module Three introduces the reader to the basic building blocks of CLDs, explaining how they use named variables and arrows to display the different cause and effect relationships that are assumed to give rise to certain patterns of behavior.


In Module Four, you will get the chance to apply the set of skills you acquired from the earlier modules, as we lead you through our own thought process for creating CLDs about selected issues. Here we will also introduce the concepts of stocks and flows, which are important in the field of system dynamics.


In the fifth and final module, we will discuss five case studies that demonstrate how CLDs have been used in particular situations and the value that they provided.

The ultimate goal is that by end of this course, you should be able to understand and even build your own causal loop diagrams, as well as have a better grasp of what it means to think in systems.

System Dynamics Book
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Take the course online with The Sustainability Lab at Kumu

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