Session: System Dynamics in Social Work: Entry Points for Integration into Research and Practice (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

All live presentations are in Eastern time zone.

108 System Dynamics in Social Work: Entry Points for Integration into Research and Practice

Wednesday, January 20, 2021: 6:30 PM-7:30 PM
Cluster: Research Design and Measurement
Kelsey Werner, Boston College, Ellis Ballard, Washington University in Saint Louis, Jill Kuhlberg, Washington University in Saint Louis, Erin Stringfellow, Washington University in St. Louis and Cal Halvorsen, Boston College
The challenges that social workers seek to address are characterized by feedback loops that can create cascading unintended consequences of policy actions or create resistance to policy change. Time delays between intervention and impact, non-linear relationships between effort and outcomes, and stakeholders who operate with different, sometimes competing, goals all interact to create complex problems within complex systems, which social work researchers and practitioners must work to understand to address society’s most pressing problems. Responding to this complexity of social systems, it is no surprise that one of the grand challenges of social work is the integration of systems thinking approaches into social work research and practice methods to help the field move beyond reductionist linear theories of impact. System dynamics modeling, which offers tools to explicitly represent and formalize social work's unique person-in-environment perspective, has become more visible in social work research and other applied sciences. However, the proliferation of application areas has not cohered into a clear vision for the contribution of system dynamics approaches to social work research, or infrastructure for supporting development of capabilities to realize the potential of these approaches. This roundtable session seeks to inform a framework for integration of system dynamics approaches into social work research through the presentation of case studies. The panel will begin with a brief introduction to system dynamics and the main arguments that motivate taking a system dynamics approach to a particular research question of interest to social work scholars. The introduction will also highlight studies and scholars who have integrated system dynamics in a wide range of projects and contexts. Four panel participants will then each speak to their unique use of system dynamics, focusing on examples from their experience that emphasize the breadth of variation in possible utility of the method and in different topical applications. The first presenter will discuss using SD in formative work to form research collaborations and inform research designs, drawing on examples from several research projects in health and mental health. A second presenter will review work using system dynamics for theory building in varied applications including productive aging. The third presenter will explore using system dynamics to achieve interim objectives in a larger research framework or in mixed methods research in international social work. A fourth presenter will discuss examples of system dynamics qualitative and simulation modeling as a primary research and evaluation method to generate insight into addiction recovery processes to inform state and federal programs and policies. The goal of this roundtable is to stimulate interest in system dynamics for social work research and broaden researchers’ thinking around how the approach can be used. The roundtable session will close with an interactive discussion about opportunities and challenges for building system dynamics capabilities for social work research, including integrating into social work curriculum. Special emphasis will be made to raise awareness of professional networks and training opportunities for interested participants.
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