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Should system dynamics be described as a 'hard' or 'deterministic' systems approach?

By David C. Lane


This paper explores the criticism that system dynamics is a ‘hard’ or ‘deterministic’ systems approach. This criticism is seen to have four interpretations and each is addressed from the perspectives of social theory and systems science. Firstly, system dynamics is shown to offer not prophecies but Popperian predictions. Secondly, it is shown to involve the view that system structure only partially, not fully, determines human behaviour. Thirdly, the field's assumptions are shown not to constitute a grand content theory—though its structural theory and its attachment to the notion of causality in social systems are acknowledged. Finally, system dynamics is shown to be significantly different from systems engineering. The paper concludes that such confusions have arisen partially because of limited communication at the theoretical level from within the system dynamics community but also because of imperfect command of the available literature on the part of external commentators. Improved communication on theoretical issues is encouraged, though it is observed that system dynamics will continue to justify its assumptions primarily from the point of view of practical problem solving. The answer to the question in the paper's title is therefore: on balance, no

Topics: Q Science (General)
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd
Year: 2000
DOI identifier: 10.1002/(SICI)1099-1743(200001
OAI identifier:
Provided by: LSE Research Online
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