On Developing a Systems Thinking Model—Julia Chen

George E. P. Box once said that “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” As we try to make sense of the world, we attempt to rationalize the patterns we see and how they are connected. However, generalizing these connections often narrows our views and eventually solidifies the basic facts we begin to organize our thinking around.

Being tasked with creating a systems thinking model about wood processing and forest health in Wyoming, my initial approach was to start drawing out pathways that I thought were most related to the topic. However, with each distinct chain of events, I realized that confounding variables can be weaved into even just a simple cause and effect. Though this is one way to tackle a large system, we have begun to use another perspective of nodes and lines.

We first identified some quantifiable factors that play into the wood processing and forest health system in Wyoming. These elements have been classified into three major themes: ecological, economic and social. Focusing on the economic side, some nodes we have distinguished include the number of mills, timber exports out of Wyoming, and types of forest products produced. Then we determine the effect that these factors have on each other. Taking the nodes number of mills and timber exports amount, the connection between them is of positive feedback that as one increases the other one does too. As we continue to build out these nodes and associations, the goal is to pinpoint essential components of the system. Our findings will be used by The Nature Conservancy- Wyoming to advocate for improvements that could bolster forest restoration and wood processing in Wyoming. 

As with any model, we evolve them as we learn more about the topic. Though we are still in the first draft of an entire system, there will be more iterations to capture the nuances of different interpretations of the system. I am very excited to see where this project takes us and its future impacts.

(Photo Credit – Julia Chen)