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.


  • Designing Sustainable Social Policies & Programs: A System Dynamics Approach (3 credits)
  • Community Based System Dynamics (3 credits)
  • Introduction to System Dynamics for Advancing Equity (1 credit)
  • System Dynamics Skill Labs II and III (2 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. Past practicum projects have included:

  • Building interactive simulation model interfaces on early childhood education system transformation with SKIP, an educational consultant
  • Making rural development village perspective plans using group model building at India’s Foundation for Ecological Security
  • 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 use of system dynamics in social services and in communities.  For more than 10 years, the SSDL has collaborated with social service agencies, community organizations, school systems, local and national government agencies, foundations, and research partners to advance participatory system dynamics methods and apply system dynamics modeling to promote social justice and equity. In addition, more than a dozen faculty members throughout the Brown School 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. Prior to working in system design, Ballard focused on disability rights advocacy in U.S. foreign affairs, collaborating with organizations in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.


Featured Graduate

“The system dynamics specialization prepared me with practical skills to better conceptualize a wide range of complex social problems, from health policy to violence to trauma. Through hands-on experience with community-based modeling and working with interdisciplinary researchers, the specialization has helped me to leverage my dual roles as a social work and professional researcher into my current research on organizational decision making and urban housing.”