System Dynamics Specialization | Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis
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System Dynamics Specialization

This specialization prepares students to apply system dynamics to navigate and solve problems facing organizations and communities.

The Brown School is unique in our tradition of engaging communities in St. Louis and around the world in the practice of using system dynamics to pursue community empowerment and mobilization.

System dynamics are a cornerstone of rigorous systems thinking. The System Dynamics specialization allows students to bring their interests (e.g., international development, social entrepreneurship, urban education, violence against women, mental health) and learn to apply system dynamics within their practice area. Students learn methods to work with groups of stakeholders to map systems; identify and assess potential leverage points; and develop strategies for designing and evaluating sustainable programs, business models and policies.

Our graduates are prepared to tackle dynamic social problems with innovative, design-drive, transdisciplinary solutions. Alumni seek high-impact positions in consulting, government, research, evaluation and the use of systems thinking in clinical and community development practice.

Specialization Requirements: 9 Credits

  • Designing Sustainable Social Policies & Programs: A System Dynamics Approach (3 credits)
  • Group Model Building (3 credits)
  • System Dynamics Skills Labs I, II, and III (3 credits)


The System Dynamics specialization requires 120 hours of related activities during the concentration practicum, which can be completed at any concentration practicum site. Students develop practicum projects in consultation with the specialization chair. Activities related to system dynamics could include:

  • Designing and facilitating group model building workshops with students, teachers, and administrations to address issues in K-12 with Ritenour School District.
  • Building and testing system dynamics simulation models of high-leverage, community-based prevention marketing strategies with the University of South Florida Prevention Research Center.
  • Creating rural development village perspective plans using group model building with the Foundation for Ecological Security in India.
  • Evaluating health policy reforms using system dynamics simulation models to improve scale-up, reach, and sustainability in Shanghai, China, at Fudan University’s School of Social Policy and Social Development’s Policy Factory.

Additional Resources

The Brown School’s Social System Design Lab (SSDL) leads research, community engagement and teaching related to system dynamics. The SSDL has expertise developing simulation models of problems facing complex social systems. In addition, more than a dozen faculty members throughout the School use or support system dynamics in their social work and public health research.

Peter Hovmand

Specialization Chair

Peter Hovmand a professor of practice and the director of the Social System Design Lab, is a researcher and practitioner of system dynamics modeling. Hovmand partners with community members and other stakeholders to understand and map the systems that affect them, allowing the group to design systemic solutions. He has led dozens of group model-building workshops domestically and internationally.

Dessa Somerside Shuckerow

Featured Graduate

“The system dynamics classes provided me with tools that prepared me to better understand the behavior of systems, and to therefore have a greater ability to solve complex development problems. Centering my graduate studies around system dynamics provided me with strong analytical skills that I will be able to apply in any position and any field.”

—Dessa Somerside Shuckerow, MSW/MPH ’13, Director of Quality Systems, Project Peanut Butter