IAF Methods

Dynamic Systems Exercise

by for . Last edit was about 2 years ago
3 - 6 15 - 100
This could be used as an introduction to a complex workshop where people may not know much about complexity theory.
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To enable participants to understand how a dynamic system acts and to experience how a simple the rules of a dynamic system are.


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    Number of participants: 15 -100

    Time needed: 3 - 6 min

    Ideal conditions: A room with lots of space so that people can move around

    Pre-Work Required: The facilitator might have a number of dynamic systems illustrations to share, if necessary, with the group.

    Level of Difficulty to Facilitate (to be deleted during review): No specific skills required



    We want to spend a little time demonstrating how a dynamic system operates. Dynamic systems are everywhere. First lets all stand up.


    1. We will be doing this in this room. We will use a few simple rules.

    a Choose 2 people to be your reference points but don?t say who they are.

    b. When I say go move so that you are equal distance from each of the two. You don?t need to be in a straight line.

    c. Pay attention to what happens to the group while you are finding your place in relation to your references.

    2. Ok, everyone ready? Go!

    3. There should be a great deal of movement. After a while the movement should settle down. It may not be stable and it could flex back and forth.

    4. Once it settles down you can ask people the following questions.

    a. Can a few of you point to where you started?

    b Someone run through the rules of the exercise.

    c. Please describe what you did.

    d. What was it like to move in the group?

    e. What surprised you?

    f. Lets try a little experiment.
    Select one person and ask them to move 10 or 20 feet from where they are.
    Please, no one move until I say go. When I say go move equal distance from your references.

    g. Watch what happens. Go!

    h. What happened?

    i. What is one learning from this little exercise?

    j. What does this mean for people concerned with change?

    k. What are other circumstances in which similar things happen?


    Move to the next exercise.



    Follow-Up Required: none

    Usual or Expected Outcomes: A discussion about dynamic systems.

    Potential pitfalls: People not following the rules.


    Source: Glenda Eoyang, PhD, Executive Director of Human Systems Dynamics

    History of Development: This was mentioned on the GRP-FACL listserve and written up by the IAF Methods Database Editor.

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