Thinking about violence among youth in urban areas means thinking about a systemic, dynamic set of issues. The factors driving violence are complicated and interconnected, and the theories that people use to explain violence vary widely—and in some cases are even mutually exclusive. From our perspective, this is a classic systems problem because it:
- Involves studying behavior over time
- Is influenced by multiple individual and institutional players with diverse interests
- Has high degrees of interdependencies, and
- Is difficult to come to a common understanding about what is happening, why it’s happening, and what one might do about it.
Why System Dynamics?
Studying why violence happens among youth using system dynamics provides a framework and approach that has potential to shed light on the youth violence issue set. This approach provides a common language to get people on the same page around what is happening and why it’s happening and is integrative in the sense that it enables multiple perspectives to be incorporated into a “map” of the system. It’s also testable—through the use of a computer, it’s possible to simulate the dynamics of the youth violence system, and to explore approaches that might improve things over time.
Computer Simulation and Flight Simulators
In a world filled with unintended consequences, people are notoriously bad at using their intuition to study the dynamics of even simple systems. Computer simulation amplifies the mind’s power by tracing through the dynamics of system performance. In the commercial world, for example, flight simulators are used to help people become better aircraft pilots. With the Youth Violence Systems Project, a computer simulation of the youth violence system can be used as a vehicle to test different initiatives for improving performance. It can also identify “weak spots” in the current understanding of how the youth violence system works, as well as identify and reduce the unintended consequences of proposed actions.
About the Model Building Team and Designer
The Model Building Team is led by Steve Peterson. Steve has more than 25 years of experience in the application of systems thinking and system dynamics in a variety of contexts, including business, education, and government. He has extensive experience in the design and development of system dynamics-based simulation models, and has played a lead role in the development of models addressing a broad array of topics – including human resource dynamics, chronic disease, and energy. Steve was instrumental to the design of the STELLA and iThink software (produced by isee systems, inc.), used by the Project in the system dynamics modeling of youth violence in Boston. Steve currently works as an independent consultant, and is a lecturer at the Dartmouth College Thayer School of Engineering.