By Martin Schaffernicht, 2019 President of the System Dynamics Society
A conference is “a formal meeting of people with a shared interest, typically one that takes place over several days” and “an event, sometimes lasting a few days, at which there is a group of talks on a particular subject”. The word developed from the Latin conferre, which means ‘bring together’. Another important word for our community is “system”, developed from the Greek sustēma, from sun– ‘with’ + histanai ‘set up’ – what was stated as “cause to stand together” in the well-known book “The Fifth Discipline”.
The system dynamics conference usually brings together around 400 people from a wide range of application fields – some academic (of theoretic interest) and some about concrete problems. It is the opportunity to see new methodological developments, personally meet experts in this-or-that application field and to gather feedback from them and other attendees for improving one’s work. Over the years, special activities like the “modeling assistance workshop”, the “PhD Colloquium” and lately the “Summer school” have extended and reinforced the learning opportunities beyond the standard conference presentations.
A conference would not be a conference if there was not the ambition of authors to contribute new insights into current problems, new problems in theory and in practice and new methods and techniques. After all, isn’t this precisely what makes a conference worthwhile? Allowing attendees to discover a new way to conceptualize an existing problem, a formerly unrecognized problem, a new way to solve a problem or a new solution and formerly unidentified insights – this is what honors authors and presenters, and this is what attracts attendees! And the will to produce such novelties is expected to show in submitted pieces of work, at any stage of development.
There is a well-known aphorism saying that “All models are wrong, but some are useful,” which has been used by John Sterman in his 2002 article “All models are wrong: reflections on becoming a systems scientist.” Another aphorism, attributed to the physicist Wolfgang Pauli states “That is not only not right; it is not even wrong.” This is the case when a model cannot be falsified in science – because we cannot empirically prove that something is correct, but we can find out that it is wrong. A hell of a problem in a world where you are expected to be right: who would hire a consultant that is wrong, which journal would publish an article about a model that is wrong, right?
A conference always thrives on work “in progress”, where we all know that the conceptualizations, the formulations and the insights are still in the making, and when we have “got the right to be wrong: our mistakes will make us strong” (for those who remember the song by Joss Stone).
So: if you have evidence that there is a new or unsolved dynamic problem, if you are developing a model that you can show to adequately portrait essential aspects of the problem, if you have gained some preliminary insights you can propose on grounds of your model – share your work with a community of interested and sincere system dynamicists at the Albuquerque conference!