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Steering without Circe: attending to reinforcing loops in social systems

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Relating system dynamics to the broad systems movement, the key notion is that reinforcing loops deserve no less attention than balancing loops. Three specific propositions follow. First, since reinforcing loops arise in surprising places, investigations of complex systems must consider their possible existence and potential impact. Second, because the strength of reinforcing loops can be misinferred - we include an example from the field of servomechanisms - computer simulation can be essential. Be it project management, corporate growth or inventory oscillation, simulation helps to assess consequences of reinforcing loops and options for interventions. Third, in social systems the consequences of reinforcing loops are not inevitable. Examples concerning globalization illustrate how difficult it might be to challenge such assumptions. However, system dynamics and ideas from contemporary social theory help to show that even the most complex social systems are, in principle, subject to human influence. In conclusion, by employing these ideas, by attending to reinforcing as well as balancing loops, system dynamics work can improve the understanding of social systems and illuminate our choices when attempting to steer them.

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en

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http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/21081/

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