Fundamentals of Dynamic Social Systems
Level of Study
Semester of Instruction
Objectives and Content
This is an introduction to the System Dynamics method, dynamic system structure and behaviour, misperceptions of dynamic systems, policy design and implementation. Students learn to recognize typical problem behaviours of dynamic systems, exemplified by global warming, overgrazing, unemployment, epidemics, price fluctuations etc. They learn how to represent hypotheses of social systems, and to simulate and understand how system structures produce problem behaviours. They learn about hypothesis testing where both structure and behaviour are compared to observations. They also learn why dynamic systems are easily misperceived and how problems can be caused by well intended but malfunctioning policies. Furthermore, the course gives training in applying the scientific method to socio-economic problems and it provides a common language for interdisciplinary research.
Express knowledge and understanding
Students gain knowledge about the System Dynamics method and its relation to standard science, operations research, and public and private management. They also get to know the basics of dynamics systems (a stock with in- and out-flows, local feedback from stock to own flows, nonlinearities, and major loops with delays) and the use of causal loop diagrams, stock and flow diagrams, table functions, and equations to represent and illustrate cause-and-effect relationships. And they obtain knowledge about different ways to analyze and understand development over time (graphical integration, phase diagrams, simulation) as well as about misperceptions and simplified heuristics that people posses and use to manage complex dynamic systems.
Apply knowledge and understanding
Students receive training in applying knowledge with six mandatory assignments during the course. Students try out their intuitive knowledge and acquired knowledge in computer based simulations. They also learn to apply analogies to understand several important social challenges, where the most familiar situation serves as an analogy for the less transparent problems.
Students learn to make judgements about both structure (relationships between variables) and behaviour of systems. They learn to understand the benefits of simple analogies and their shortcomings.
Students are encouraged to and do participate actively in class. The last question in each of the six assignments is particularly directed at being able to practise and communicate the System Dynamics method. In fact, the stock and flow diagram could be seen as a tool for effective communication at an intermediate level between imprecise narratives and complex equations.
Develop learning skills
After finishing the course, students typically have a new and different view on how dynamic social systems work. This encourages them to ask new questions such as: what are the important stocks and feedback loops, is behaviour created endogenously or is it caused by external influences, do data represent causal relationships or correlations only representative for a limited time interval, will the system counteract proposed policies etc. Once these questions are asked, they motivate learning.
Required Previous Knowledge
Access to the Course
The course is open to students enrolled in the Erasmus Mundus master program and to graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Bergen.
Teaching Methods and Extent of Organized Teaching
The course is comprised of lectures, assignments, and teaching assistant guidance on simulation software and assignments. Course meetings include 36 lecture hours and 18 hours of lab assistance over a 4-week period (three lectures and one lab per week) from mid-August until mid-September. The exam is in the fifth week, just after the course.
Compulsory Assignments and Attendance
4 written assignments
Forms of Assessment
4-hour written exam (100% of grade)
An ECTS grade is provided to the student at the end of the course according to the A-F scale.
GEO-SD202 - 10 ECTS
GEO-SD302 will be evaluated at least every third year.