It is an honor to be invited by the System Dynamics Society to serve as Executive Editor of System Dynamics Review. As I assume this challenging responsibility, I would like to thank VP publications Päl Davidsen for his encouragement and support and my predecessor Rogelio Oliva. I thank Rogelio for his hard and focused work to improve significantly the peer review and editorial standards and procedures of SDR. I am also grateful to Rogelio and the managing editors for being very helpful and supportive in a difficult transition process (during which the Wiley team for SDR also changed coincidentally). Finally, I thank the old and new Wiley teams for their support during the transition.
SDR has many strengths, some of which I would like to underline in this note. As I already mentioned above, the peer review and editorial processes are now very clear, well defined and prompt. So we now say the following to potential authors: “submit your best papers and we promise to provide very prompt, specific and constructive reviewer suggestions/comments and editor decision”. I believe this is the best a journal can promise to authors. Another major strength of SDR comes from its history: the Review is a mature academic journal with 32 years of experience and diverse articles published by 585 different authors in 100+ issues. Finally, perhaps the most important strength of SDR is its very aims and scope, namely the study of dynamic problems produced by endogenous structures (feedback interactions) within systems. This “dynamic systems” perspective is becoming more and more critical and appreciated in the new millennium, in which a variety of important problems increasingly dictate the necessity of the “system dynamics” approach. Thus, faced with a myriad of contemporary dynamic-systemic problems, many different fields start adopting and developing various systems-theoretic concepts, approaches and methods. In addition to more classical modeling/analysis methods like differential/difference equations, feedback control theory, cybernetics, compartmental modeling, simulation, soft systems and systems thinking, there are now new and emerging systemic fields such as agent-based modeling, complexity science, machine learning and social networks. These methods relate to numerous application areas, including healthcare and medicine, economy, engineering, business strategy, social-political issues, psychology, education, national security, sustainable development, ecology, and climate science.
As part of the larger discipline of “systems sciences”, the field of system dynamics was founded almost 60 years ago. What makes the system dynamics method so unique is the clarity and beauty of its definition of endogenous dynamics (systemic, feedback dynamics) and related principles, and its long history and experience in modeling/analysis of systemic-dynamic problems. The principles of system dynamics are deep, ubiquitous and relevant. They deal with stock–flow interactions (accumulation, integration), feedback loops, and nonlinear and/or time-delayed relationships. System dynamics modelers and the System Dynamics Society must cherish this philosophical strength and historical foundations. On the other hand, this philosophical strength also presents some challenges for the system dynamics field and SDR, which I discuss below and offer my perspective.
The system dynamics method is typically executed by causal-loop diagramming, stock–flow (S-F) modeling and simulation. Causal loop diagrams (CLDs) and S-F models are superb tools to apply the principles of system dynamics. But this does not mean they are the only tools that can implement those principles. Often times there is a tendency to equate CLDs and S-F modeling with the principles of system dynamics, which is obviously wrong. An even more serious error is to equate the system dynamics method with some S-F simulation software (Stella, Vensim, Powersim, etc.) The principles of system dynamics are conceptual and philosophical, whereas CLDs, S-F models and software are tools. One may prefer to tackle a typical system dynamics problem with other tools such as differential/difference equations, compartmental models, control-theoretic tools, dynamic networks, agent-based models or discrete-event simulation. There is also a wide and growing set of software tools other than those S-F modelers are familiar with, and in some studies one may not use simulation software at all. All such research and application papers are more than welcome by SDR, as long as they are scientifically rigorous and deal with important dynamic problems with an endogenous perspective. I see this issue as an important challenge, because I have the impression that SDR is quite far from its true potential in terms of diversity and number of papers published. I do not know of many journals that are as clear as SDR in focusing on systems-theoretic research on dynamic problems. Simultaneously, as I mentioned above, there is a proliferation of systemic research methods and tools. This picture indicates that we should have significantly more papers and in greater diversity submitted to and published in SDR. To attain this “natural” equilibrium, SDR should be properly perceived as a platform where all good research and applications about interesting systemic-dynamic problems are published, not just those restricted to traditional S-F modeling. Publication of systemic papers using diverse tools also implies mutually beneficial interactions between various tools used to study dynamical systems and S-F modeling. In this process, I believe that “orthodox” system dynamics will also be enriched and more appreciated in other circles. My concern is that there is currently a narrow, almost parochial perception of SDR, due to the confusion of philosophy and principles of system dynamics with tools and software. My suggestion is simple: system dynamics belongs to the larger field of “sciences of dynamic systems” and SDR is a natural platform to publish good systemic-dynamic research and applications, regardless of what tools or software they use. We, the members of the System Dynamics Society, must be aware of this, and we should also reach out to other systemic fields and societies. Thus consider this my general “call for papers” extended not only to members of System Dynamics Society but also to all systemic-dynamic researchers out there.
So the main challenge SDR faces is the fact that submission rates are not at satisfactory levels—in quantity or in quality. I am convinced that this is not “natural”, nor is it acceptable. We, the entire editorial team, are committed to improving the situation and moving SDR toward to its “natural” equilibrium that I describe above. We have already increased our primary workforce for paper recruitment—Associate Editors—by 50 percent. We are working with Wiley to contact other societies and fields and broadening our base of reviewers to handle alternative tools and methods. I will continue to make necessary changes in author guidelines and other places in the journal website so as to prevent misperceptions about the journal. We had very healthy communications with members of the System Dynamics Society this summer at the international system dynamics conference, and will continue to do so. We talked about the critical features of good papers in different categories. We also clarified a potential source of confusion: it is not true that SDR publishes only methodology papers; we do welcome application papers. On the other hand, it is true that application papers are hard to write and publish, because they often involve large models. To be publishable, application papers should be more than just telling about cases, or passive descriptions of large models: they should concentrate on distilling insights, lessons for other consultants and application modelers, or generalizable system dynamics insights for all systems modelers/analysts.
The system dynamics field, S-F modeling and SDR have impeccable foundations and strengths. Still, the journal has not yet realized its potential. I tried to summarize the main strengths and weaknesses above. It is now time to recognize our strengths and weaknesses and cope with the challenges we are facing. I know that this is not an easy job and there will be significant delays before we can see sustained improvements. But I am convinced that we will together create a much stronger, richer SDR in a few years, with the help and contributions from the members of the System Dynamics Society and all dynamical systems scientists out there.