This being the third segment of the STIA Certification course and hoping to have started to convince some that system thinking could be helpful in addressing challenges facing our communities the need to be more hands on was realized.
As mentioned in the previous post, a system is always of something, whether biological, social, or computer based, all can be understood as systems. How do you then understand the basic dynamic interactions of systems?
The most fundamental means of doing so is building models. A model is an illustration of the interrelationship between parts or elements of a system that explains how they are related and can help in understanding why. It can be anything from a 3D computer simulation to a paper napkin drawing. So the idea then is to make models.
Is there then some tool that anyone could use to build and experiment with models to test out some of the general ideas of systems thinking and apply them to specific challenges that is relatively easy to use though capable of doing more complex actions as you learn, is web-based and free? There is a program called Insight Maker or Insightmaker.com, which does all of this.
The segment covers the following concepts in the summary.
• Model. A simplification of reality intended to promote under standing
• Qualitative Models. Static models depicting the relationships between
elements of the model.
• Quantitative Models. Dynamic models allow one to experience the
implications of the relationships of the elements of the model over time.
• Model Development. This tends to be a recursive learning process
migrating toward understanding.
• Comments. While it may feel unnecessary, or even an unnatural act, adding comments which embrace your thoughts during the model development will serve you well in the future.
The nuts and bolts of the segment though are on using Insightmaker.com which has already been introduced and was the means of making the models used so far. You can jump right into Insightmaker.com and play around with it. With some basic instruction, you can start making simple models and test them out. You are not going to break anything or cause any system failures simply by making models with Insight Maker and can develop that sought after much deeper understanding.
Now this may drive away people who crave certainty, but was said by one of the field’s major thinkers. “All models are wrong but some models are useful.” – George Box .
The assigned work for this segment were a Rich Picture model and a Causal Loop Diagram in story format and Stock and Flow diagrams. First created to get the feet wet was Simulation Model Examples (Clone from Your First Simulation Model) using modeling building blocks, stocks, flow and variables to get a better understanding of how they worked.
Stocks represent the ‘stuff’ that can be measured or counted, the inventory of products or census of a population. Stock can also be increased or decreased but not instantaneously, change can be quick but usually occurs over time. Flow is the means of increasing, by flowing in, and decreasing by flowing out from stock. Variables influence the rate at which flow occurs by varying the stock or the flow in some manner. Together, these can be constructed into a graphic mathematical formula that serves as the engine for the model.
My first Stock and Flow diagram ostensibly calculates road wear and tear on community roads due to increased traffic particularly through new development. What it actually considers is the relation between elements within the system.The model is wrong, remember George Box. It only examines a slice of the world, ignoring other aspects. Its knowledge of the world is not accurate and what it does examine is not realistically portrayed with any precision. Hopefully though it could still be useful, or be the basis for something, if only as a practice run to enhance understanding.
In writing about the real world understanding mistakes made by Watson, the IBM computer that defeated the greatest champions of the television quiz show Jeopardy at their own game, to explain the difference between knowledge and understanding. Michael Strevens wrote:
“Watson and you both answer questions by seeing connections between things. But they are different kinds of connections. Watson picks up from things it reads that there is a correlation between a sphere’s rotating and a fixed point on its surface having a constantly changing view of the rest of the world. You grasp why this correlation exists, seeing the connection between the opacity of the Earth, light’s traveling in straight lines, and geometry of the sphere itself. For you the statistics are a byproduct of what really matters, the physical and causal relations between things and people and what they do and say. Grasping those relations is what understanding consists in. Watson lives in a world where there are no such relations: all it sees are statistics. It can predict a lot and so it can know a lot, but what it never grasps is why its predictions come true.”
Systems thinking and modeling can help you to understand why.