The Social System Design Lab started as a response to Jay Forrester’s call to develop “universities of social system design”. Based at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, the SSDL has a mission to advance the science of practice of system dynamics in human services and communities.  

Through early work with Save the Children in Mongolia, with Mt. Carmel West End Baptist Church in St. Louis, and with the Foundation for Ecological Security in India, the Lab was inspired by early insights that:

  1. Building system dynamics models with community input was feasible through structured group model building workshops
  2. The inclusion of community voice, values, and insight in the modeling process was not just feasible but a moral obligation; if system dynamics modeling is to be used to inform policy change or program design, those most affected by those policies and programs must be an integral part of the modeling process.
  3. In order to realize the potential for community-based system dynamics modeling, we need to invest in modeling methods and capacity building to build capabilities in communities to understanding the creation of SD models, their use, their limitations, and their implications.

Governed by these foundational principles, the SSDL has been an experiment in organizational design, exploring whether it was feasible to create an academically-based system dynamics lab that could both develop high-quality modeling work and create impact on real-life social problems. 

Since its founding the SSDL has continued to stretch the boundaries of system dynamics modeling and group model building.  The Lab sees its  teaching, community engagement, and research as inextricably linked, providing insight to propel the generation of new questions, providing platforms to test out new ideas, and creating human capabilities to be the modelers and community leaders necessary to advance and expand this work, both in St. Louis and around the world.

Read Peter S. Hovmand’s account of the origins of the SSDL in First Eight Years: A Case Study of Starting a Social System Design Lab