System Dynamics Specialization

This specialization prepares students to unpack complex social challenges, identify high-impact interventions; and prototype organizational and policy solutions.

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.

Students in the System Dynamics specialization learn to design and facilitate participatory workshops to map systems based on community knowledge and experience; apply qualitative and mathematical modeling tools to identify high-impact interventions; and prototype organizational and policy solutions. System Dynamics courses partner with community based organizations and researchers to provide students with applied, real-world experiences of using system dynamics in community practice.

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.


  • Community Based System Dynamics (3 credits)
  • System Dynamics Modeling for Strategic Design (3 credits)
  • Three of the following are required:
    • System Dynamics Applied Practice I: Designing Responsive Community Based System Dynamics Approaches (1 credit)
    • System Dynamics Applied Practice II: Simulation Model Translation & Adaptation (1 credit)
    • System Dynamics Applied Practice III: Developing Interactive Model Interfaces (1 credit)
    • Introduction to System Dynamics for Advancing Equity* (1 credit)

*Students are welcomed to begin with S81-5504 as a foundation for further system dynamics learning. This course will count as one of the three skill labs required of the specialization.


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. Past practicum projects have included:

  • Building interactive simulation model interfaces on early childhood education system transformation with SKIP, an educational consultant
  • Convening community and provider dialogue through group model building with Fast Track Cities St. Louis
  • Conducting participatory needs assessment for a gender empowerment project with Uganda’s Nancholi Youth Organization



The Brown School’s Social System Design Lab (SSDL) is a leader in advancing the science and practice of system dynamics with communities in pursuit of social justice and health equity. The SSDL convenes community practitioners and researchers around the world who use community based system dynamics in their work to push the boundaries of system dynamics practice. In addition, more than a dozen faculty members throughout the Brown School and Washington University use or support system dynamics in their social work and public health research.

Ellis Ballard

Specialization Chair

Ellis Ballard an assistant professor of practice and the director of the Social System Design Lab. Ballard’s work advances participatory approaches to system dynamics modeling with communities to advance health access and social justice. He maintains an active consulting practice, working with community organizations, foundations, development banks, research teams, and corporations to build capabilities to develop system dynamics models for organizational strategy, research design, and advocacy.

Megan Keenan

Featured Graduate

“The system dynamics specialization equipped me with tools and skills to navigate the complexity of lived experience in the pursuit of systemic change. My experience in the classroom and practicum has led me to work across organisations and communities transforming a diversity of complex social problems–from HIV care in St. Louis to mental health support in the United Kingdom.”

—Megan Keenan, MSW’21, Dartington Service Design Lab