Critical learning incidents in system dynamics modelling engagements

James P. Thompson, Susan Howick, Valerie Belton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)
75 Downloads (Pure)


This paper reports in-depth behavioural operational research to explore how individual clients learned to resolve dynamically complex problems in system dynamics model-based engagements. Consultant-client dyads were interviewed in ten system dynamics consulting engagements to identify individual clients' Critical Learning Incidents—defined as the moment of surprise caused after one's mental model produces unexpected failure and a change in one’s mental model produces the desired result. The cases are reprised from interviews and include assessments of the nature of the engagement problem, the form of system dynamics model, and the methods employed by consultants during each phase of the engagement. Reported Critical Learning Incidents are noted by engagement phase and consulting method, and constructivist learning theory is used to describe a pattern of learning. Outcomes of the research include describing the role of different methods applied in engagement phases (for example, the role of concept models to commence problem identification and to introduce iconography and jargon to the engagement participants), how model form associates with timings of Critical Learning Incidents, and the role of social mediation and negotiation in the learning process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)945-958
Number of pages14
JournalEuropean Journal of Operational Research
Issue number3
Early online date2 Oct 2015
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2016


  • system dynamics
  • practice of OR
  • critical learning incidents
  • behavioural OR
  • constructivism


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