Navigating towards sustainable development: A system dynamics approach

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Abstract

Traditional fragmented and mechanistic science is unable to cope with issues about sustainability, as these are often related to complex, self-organizing systems. In the paper, sustainable development is seen as an unending process defined neither by fixed goals nor by specific means of achieving them. It is argued that, in order to understand the sources of and the solutions to modern problems, linear and mechanistic thinking must give way to non-linear and organic thinking, more commonly referred to as systems thinking. System Dynamics, which operates in a whole-system fashion, is put forward as a powerful methodology to deal with issues of sustainability. Examples of successful applications are given.

Any system in which humans are involved is characterized by the following essential system properties: Bounded rationality, limited certainty, limited predictability, indeterminate causality, and evolutionary change. We need to resort to an adaptive approach, where we go through a learning process and modify our decision rules and our mental models of the real world as we go along. This will enable us to improve system performance by setting dynamic improvement goals (moving targets) for it.

Finally, it is demonstrated how causal loop diagrams can be used to find the leverage points of a system.

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  • Water Engineering
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)74-92
JournalFutures
Volume38
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes