Applied System Dynamics with South African Case Studies

Author: Nalini Sooknanan Pillay

Co-authors: Andries Botha & Josephine Kaviti Musango

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Chapter One

Introduction to System Dynamics

The field of system dynamics was founded by Jay Forrester in the late 1950’s.  While it has been in existence for over 60 years, the growth of the field in Africa has been slow but emerging in South Africa. Chapter 1 presents the origins of system dynamics and its development in South Africa. It highlights the key institutions and individuals that have been at the forefront of the system dynamics growth in South Africa, and the establishment of the South Africa System Dynamics Chapter. Further, the contributions to the system dynamics conference by scholars from Africa and South Africa, demonstrates the call for continual growth of the field.

Chapter Two

Systems Thinking

The concept of systems thinking has its origins in the 17th Century. The concept is becoming increasingly relevant in the complex and interconnected world which we are living in. Chapter Two discusses the origins of the systems thinking concept, why and when we need to use it. As a ‘how to’ book, the chapter also presents templates which can be replicated for systems thinking techniques such as the 5-Why technique as well as the 6-hat approach.

Chapter Three

Causal Loop Diagrams and System Archetypes

Causal loop diagrams and systems archetypes are two systems thinking tools commonly utilised by the system dynamics scholars. Chapter 3 specifically discusses the key elements in developing causal loop diagrams and the structure of eight system archetypes. The practical examples in Chapter 3 can help you hone your systems thinking skills.

Chapter Four

Modelling and System Structure

Chapter 4 presents the system dynamics modelling and the understanding of the system structure, which is critical to developing your modelling skills. The chapter discusses optimization and simulation, linear and feedback modelling, software and modelling language to help you understand the concept of system dynamics modelling and its application. Further, the chapter discusses the technical aspects relevant to the modelling process, which include integration methods, steady state, residence time and response time, time lags and key functions. The exercises in Chapter 4 can help you elevate your system dynamics modelling skills.

Chapter Five

Eight Step Modelling Process

Several guidelines on the system dynamics modelling process is found in the literature. While these are rigorous, we have experienced challenges in the use of these existing guidelines in practice, especially where implementation based on the modelling results is critical. In Chapter, we therefore take you through an integrated system dynamics modelling process which is based on the customised process followed by Eskom SOC with specific elements from the Sustainable Development Programme at Stellenbosch University and Dynamic Strategies.

1Project inception
2Concept to Context
3Collaborative brainstorming, ideation & boundary setting
4System analysis
5Model development & design
6Model testing, validation and policy insights
7Final model handover
8Model maintenance & data updates

Chapter Six

System Dynamics Projects for Strategic Planning in a Power Utility

Chapter 6 presents excerpts from completed system dynamics projects. Sections under each of the modelling steps were selected to illustrate the application of the methodology and to provide insight into the type of applications system dynamics has largely been used for, particularly for purposes of strategic planning in the electricity utility space. The purpose is to illustrate how each step of the modelling process was conducted depending on the type of project, using selected sections from the original project reports as examples on completing the step. It is not intended to assist in recreating the model or having the same detail as is included in the reference reports. In order for Eskom to obtain insight into the technological landscape which may impact its future sustainability, various system dynamics projects were undertaken.

Chapter Seven

System Dynamics Projects for Operational Planning in a Power Utility

In order for Eskom to achieve operational excellence, and improve network reliability while ensuring optimised operating regimes, many tools have been developed to support the short-term planning. Chapter 7 presents excerpts from completed system dynamics projects which were used in the operational planning environments. It is not intended to assist in recreating the model or having the same detail as is included in the reference reports; however it provides insight into the applications of the system dynamics methodology in industrial applications.

Chapter Eight

System Dynamics Projects in the Sustainability Environment

Chapter 8 presents the application of system dynamics in sustainability environment and discusses two projects that were undertaken as a decision support tool for policy makers, and to drive specific initiatives of national priority in South Africa. The projects were carried out collaboratively between Stellenbosch University and various external organisations.

Chapter Nine

Reflections of a System Dynamicist

This is the recount of events which transpired and moulded the system dynamics journey of Andries Botha, the 2020 President of the South Africa System Dynamics Chapter, retold from his perspective. This perspective has been captured to illustrate how an individual experienced growth in the field of system dynamics and valuable lessons learnt.


Nalini Sooknanan Pillay graduated with an engineering degree at the University of Witwatersrand (South Africa) in 1994. In 1995 and 1996, she worked as a production engineer at a steelmaking industry, where she dealt with line expansion and optimisation projects. In 1997, she joined Eskom Research where she was involved in generation plant related research, as well as the development of knowledge-management diagnostic programs. From 2003 to 2007, she worked privately, and developed skills enhancement courses for educators and also published several science fantasy books. She re-joined Eskom research in 2008 to project manage generation plant research activities, and set up the Eskom System Dynamics Centre at the end of 2011, while completing her masters in Sustainable Energy Engineering with the University of Cape Town (South Africa). In 2018, she assumed the role of Eskom Corporate Specialist in System Dynamics and has completed her PhD in Industrial Engineering (University of Stellenbosch), with contributions to systems engineering. She also held the post of President and is a founding member of the South African System Dynamics Chapter, and the very first System Dynamics Conference in Africa.  Nalini lectures ad-hoc in Applied System Dynamics at various universities and has authored and co-authored several internationally recognised papers using a system dynamics modelling approach. 

Josephine Kaviti Musango is a Professor and Trilateral Research Chairholder: Mainstreaming Gender for Energy Security in Poor Urban Environment (https://gens.sun., in the School of Public Leadership (SPL) at Stellenbosch University (South Africa). She is an NRF-rated researcher and her on-going research relates to the application of system dynamics modelling in managing change in resource management and policy-related challenges – especially in energy, green economy, and African urban resources issues. Josephine was one of the founding members of the South Africa System Dynamics Chapter where she served as organising secretary and vice-president, and she currently serves as strategy oversight and international collaboration advisor of that chapter. She also serves as a policy council member of the International System Dynamics Society.

Andries Botha is trained as a chemical engineer at the University of Pretoria (South Africa).  Andries has an MBA and PhD from the University of Pretoria and a Masters in the Management of Technology from MIT. He started his career at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, with a focus on water and effluent management. He was introduced to systems thinking and system dynamics in the early 1990’s and found a calling as a system dynamics modeller.  In 1994, he founded Dynamic Strategies (Pty) Ltd, a company focused on solving complex problems using system dynamics.  In 2007 the whole team joined Toyota South Africa.  Andries headed the team that designed, constructed and started up the new Toyota Parts Warehouse in Boksburg.  He is currently heading the construction project for phase 2 of the part warehouse. Andries is a founding member of the South African Chapter of Systems Dynamics Society and the current President.  Andries is also a visiting lecturer at the Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Aeronautical Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand. He is a keen bridge player and avid Meccano collector.