Governance and Foresight: Thoughts from Executive Director, Dr. Mark R. Nelson

The past has been given to us.  The future must be built, as others have built our past. 

– Gladys Hasty Carroll


Dr. Mark R. Nelson, Executive Director

Recently, I enrolled in a leadership program for association executives.  This is a “Master’s Class,” as in, the individuals in the class are all accomplished leaders in the association space. Over the next several months, in addition to readings, two dozen of us will meet regularly to engage around a specific challenge facing our associations and our member communities.  Each meeting is led by a widely recognized facilitator from the national association community.  This month’s theme, appropriately, is governance and the nature of foresight.

Why is this theme relevant for the Society?  Well, the simple answer is that the world is changing.  Governance is the form of work that occurs within associations to enable a future environment where members and the systems in which they participate can thrive. To respond to a changing world in an adaptive way, we must adopt behaviors that help us design and implement future-ready approaches to creating value for members.  Increasingly, it requires us to step away from the past and focus on the future.  The Society is at a pivotal moment in its history, where the extent of our ability to focus on the future over the past may determine our sustainability as an organization built to serve the system dynamics community. 

A true focus on the future, and the role of governance, implies that we must challenge our long-held beliefs and assumptions. We must begin to ask ourselves critical questions and engage openly in the conversations that result, even though they will sometimes be uncomfortable.  Questions we might ask ourselves are things like:

  • Are we mired in orthodoxy—deep-seated, invisible, and mostly unexamined assumptions that we make about how the world works?  
  • Do we have “the world is flat”-types of assumptions that prevent us from moving in new directions?  
  • Do we have long held unconscious biases that lead us to believe there is only one way to do things, that being the way we have always done them? 
  • If the Society were being created today for the first time, what would its function be?  Would its mission change? Would we focus our work differently?
  • How can the Society best help its members become better at System Dynamics, aid the growth of the System Dynamics field, and ultimately increase the visibility and positive impact of System Dynamics on the world at large?

Answering these questions in preparation for a changing future requires a different approach from the past.  My hope is that through this blog we will hear more of our member voices.  How might we improve?  What do our members need most? What unconscious assumptions have we made that need to be challenged?  What is the future we should be building and what scaffolding is required to get us there?

 Please consider taking a moment to reply to a post or submit one of your own.  We must become more inclusive and encourage greater engagement from all our member segments.  This is an opportunity for stewardship within the System Dynamics field, including practicing professionals and academics, and for the Society – to take what the past has given us and build a future that exemplifies what we can accomplish as a focused community with a common interest.

One thought on “Governance and Foresight: Thoughts from Executive Director, Dr. Mark R. Nelson

  1. Hi Mark,
    Thanks for this evocative post. The thought it evokes in me, this late Saturday evening, is that I would be cautious about a tone that seems dismissive of the society’s past history, without being specific, at least with broad brush strokes, about your vision of the future. If you have not done so, you might consider having a chat with Peter Senge and look through the latest edition of The Fifth Discipline. Peter’s views and those of Dana Meadows about envisioning, were, literally, life changing for me. What is your vision of the Society’s future? ; how can you help draw forth and coalesce the visions of members who are passionate about the Society’s future? This can be done a way that opens up options, and embraces wide participation as you clearly wish to do.
    PS. One of the things that has distinguished our Society office from many other organizations with which I have been affiliated. was the level of proactive support it provided to member’s projects. I am thinking in particular of the invaluable support provided, contributing to our highly successful Asia Pacific Conference in Singapore over a planning process spanning nearly two years. That “spirit of family” should retained and affirmed, no matter what. With best wishes, John


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