Climate change occurs in the context of an interconnected world. The present state of the climate has been shaped by history, culture, policy, power, biology, geochemistry, and economics, which have all influenced each other. Exponential growth, tipping points, leverage points, side effects, and synergies all influence the effectiveness of any response to climate we might consider implementing.
We can’t change this complexity, and we wouldn’t want to—it’s part of what makes our lives and our planet beautiful and interesting. Although we can’t change complexity, we can work with it. That’s what systems thinking, and its more formal complement system dynamics, are all about.
System dynamics is a powerful, formalized set of tools for systems analysis invented in the 1950s at MIT by Professor Jay Forrester. It builds on several different strains of systems sciences.
System dynamics is a perspective that looks for interdependencies, hypothesizes about how the structure or interconnectedness of a system drives its behavior, and explores how root causes drive a system’s behavior.
System dynamics is also a mathematical modeling and diagramming method.The System Dynamics process consists of creating system maps and then rigorous mathematical computer simulations. More technically, the simulations are high-order non-linear differential equation models, emphasizing feedback and stock-flow effects. Our most well known tools, C-ROADS and En-ROADS are system dynamics simulations.
WE USE SYSTEM DYNAMICS TOOLS IN 4 WAYS:
We make them available online in a form that is fast and easy to use.
We collaborate with a growing community of users and trainers from around the world. Volunteers help translate our tools into multiple languages and design engagements that fit local needs and contexts.
We design interactive sessions and role-playing games to accelerate and deepen learning and understanding.
We conduct our own analysis on key questions, sharing the results within the scientific and policy community.
SYSTEMS THINKING & SYSTEM DYNAMICS RESOURCES
The En-ROADS Simulator
Explore a climate solutions simulator that models policies for energy, transportation, land use, and new technologies to limit climate change.
The C-ROADS Simulator
Use a simulator that models national and regional greenhouse gas reductions for China, US, EU, India, and others to meet Paris Agreement targets.
Research, Literature, & Insights
Explore some of our published work, policy trackers, and other collaborative research projects which employ a systems thinking lens.
SYSTEMS THINKING IS A WAY TO. . .
ANTICIPATE SIDE EFFECTS
Systems thinking asks ‘what else’ might happen if our intervention succeeds? Who will pay? Who will benefit? What might be harmed?
From computer simulations that test policy scenarios to role-playing games, systems thinking tools are designed for life-long learning.
For questions like, “How fast can clean technologies grow to scale?” systems thinking helps identify the reinforcing feedback that drives such processes.
What’s the world you really want to see, not the one you think you have to settle for? Vision is the distant goal that informs your actions during moments of opportunity in the midst of complexity and rapid change.
Leverage points are places where small changes create big results. From shared belief systems to key policy options, systems thinking helps you focus where the most impact can be found.
Working together across perspectives isn’t always easy. Systems thinking provides tools for building shared understanding and effective cross-sectoral collaboration.