Robert Knisely: We Need More System Dynamics in Government

August 22, 2013 by David Pedigo

“Genius has been defined as the ability to come to correct conclusions on insufficient information.”

-Robert Knisely

In his latest blog entry for Governing, former Clinton administration official Robert Knisely offered some sage advice for policymakers: read up on your System Dynamics!

Robert Knisely: We Need More System Dynamics in Government

Given that System Dynamics (SD) is the modeling approach that underlies our work at Climate Interactive, we were happy to see it gain further endorsement for government use.

Here’s what Kinsely had to say about SD:

SD increasingly is being used in the public sector for policy analysis and design, and the more it catches on in government, the better. America’s public-sector problems are increasingly complex, critical and urgent, and SD can help us find the best ways forward.

The goal of SD is to help us make better decisions—certainly better than those resulting from flipping a coin, guessing or playing “what-if” games. This, of course, is not a new problem. The ancient Greeks started us thinking about thinking. Aristotle identified two types of reasoning: “inductive” and “deductive.” Aristotle certainly was a genius, but neither form of reasoning will help us figure out, for instance, what the effects of the 1,200-page Affordable Care Act will be in, say, 2023.

For that we need a very detailed model of the American economy, our health-care system and our changing demographics. We also need a model that incorporates the many feedback loops involved in the complex environment of health care: The federal law requires most people to participate, mandates coverage for pre-existing conditions and limits administrative costs. And all the while the population will be aging.

This is exactly the kind of dilemma that SD is made for, Kinsely explains. By studying the interactions between various actors rather than the individual actors themselves, SD allows for policymakers to see the big picture and make more informed decisions.

We at Climate Interactive frequently work with clients and partners in the public sector and we’ve seen firsthand the impact SD can make. That’s why we couldn’t agree more with Kinsely’s assertions and we hope even more policymakers take his advice!