systems thinking tools

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Kim (1994) describes four broad categories of systems thinking tools. Theses tools form the syntax of a language to understand and communicate nonlinearities -- due to the complexities and interdependencies. The language of systems thinking is circular vs. linear. Western languages, like English, tend to be linear and reflect linear thinking where x causes y. Systems thinking is a visual language using graphic images to depict the circular and mutually causative relationships more typical of the real world and complex systems.

Systems thinking tools --

  • Brainstorming tools
    • Fishbone or cause and effect diagrams
  • Dynamic thinking tools
    • Behavior over time diagrams - capture dynamic relationships over time with multiple variables on one graph
    • Causal loop diagrams - show the relationship between two or more variables, with two basic loops - reinforcing and balancing.
    • System archetypes - common dynamic relationships that seem to recur in many situations
  • Structural thinking tools - structural thinking tools take the focus off of correlational relationships and focuses on the causal structures that produce the observes behavior, how things actually work.
    • Graphical function diagram - captures the way in which one variable affects another by plotting the relationship between the two over the full range of relevant values.
    • Structure-behavior pair - This type of diagram is also called a 'stock and flow' or an 'accumulator and flow' diagram. The symbols on the charts represent the stock of something or the flow between two stocks. These are the building blocks for computer models.
    • Policy-structure diagram - is a conceptual map of the decision-making process embedded in the organization. It uses the same symbols as the stock and flow diagrams.
  • Computer-based tools - are based on the automation of the other tools, including the graphs, causal loops, and stock and flow diagrams. These models allow for simulations, training tools using simulation, and automated learning labs.