Funded! This project was successfully funded on March 28, 2013.


An interactive book on Systems Thinking, Modeling and Simulation. Mastering the hidden connections that matter.

The Project at a Glance

The project will develop an extensive and accessible book on Systems Thinking and Modeling. With topics ranging from introductory and conceptual ideas all the way to highly technical modeling details, it will be suitable for beginners as well as advanced readers, especially those who want to develop their skills further.

An especially exciting part of the project is the revolutionary technology we developed to enable the eBook version to be a "living" book. Models and exercises discussed in the book will be embedded directly in the eBook allowing you to experiment with the models on the exact same page where you read about them. 

Between us, we (Gene and Scott) have many years of modeling experience and we want to share what we have learned with you. But we also strongly believe that the more people who are involved in the development process for the book (especially those with different and contrasting perspectives), the better the resulting book will be.

If you invest in this project, you will be part of the team! Depending on your level of investment, you will have the opportunity to join the forum where we discuss ideas for the book, you can read and comment on drafts, and you will be listed in the acknowledgments of the book itself. 

The 10,000 Foot View - Why Systems Thinking Matters

We spend a good portion of our waking hours trying to figure out how to deal with situations because they are not the way we believe they should be. We think things could and should be better. Who says we don't like change? We spend most of our careers attempting to bring about change. Though how often do our pursuits actually turn out the way we want them to? More often than not, don't our well-intentioned actions actually end up making things worse? It is often said that the majority of today's problems are simply the result of yesterday's solutions. From a personal or work context you can probably painfully relate to more connections in the following diagram than you'd like to be the case.

Typical Implications of Our Actions
Typical Implications of Our Actions

The implications of our actions are for the most part less effective than expected because we act with an insufficient understanding of the situation we seek to change. Pogo's quote rings true over and over, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

If we are to stop being the victims of our own actions then we need to develop a significantly deeper understanding of situations and a capacity to act far more intelligently. The intent should be as depicted in the figure below.

Effective Intervention Based on Understanding
Effective Intervention Based on Understanding

Effective approaches to situations are developed based on understanding relationships and realizing that if we don't plan to minimize unintended consequences we will most certainly be the victim of them.

Theoretically, what has been said above is easy enough to grasp the first time around. Still why is it, with a significant number of books published on problem solving and more consultants than anyone would ever want to encounter, that we continue to shoot ourselves in the foot on an ongoing basis being the poster children for Pogo's, "we’ve met the enemy and it is us?"

The best answer to the preceding question we've ever run across was posed by Jay W. Forrester two decades ago.

"I believe that confining student learning to systems thinking and to discussion about systems will convey very little understanding of the nature and behavior of the systems within which we live.

To appreciate the nature of systems, students must have extensive personal experience in working with systems. This means creating system dynamics models on a computer, simulating their behavior, exploring how the models respond to changes in structure and policies, and comparing model behavior to the real systems being represented."

To date the environment necessary to support doing what Forrester suggests has simply not been nearly as readily available as it needed to be, nor has the interactive learning environment necessary to promote this been available. 

Well now it is, and we intend to leverage it through our project.

The Objective

We will employ innovative technology now emerging to deliver a top-class interactive book which will, through the use of a wide range of cross discipline models, establish a far better and enduring basis for mastering systems and feedback.

This mastery will be developed first though individual interaction with models and then reinforced by individuals constructing their own models. The overall objective is to enable readers to learn how to better understand situations to produce solutions to problems so they stay solved and don't create a myriad of new problems in the process.

In addition to a conceptual and qualitative understanding, the book will provide precise instruction in quantitative model construction and evaluation. The book will contain, optional, highly theoretical analyses along with "brass-tacks" applied instruction and tutorials in building and developing models.

The Book

Scott Fortmann-Roe, creator of Insight Maker, and Gene Bellinger, creator of SystemsWiki, are writing this book to demystify Systems Thinking and Modeling, making them easily understandable and demonstrate the depth it can add to understanding, and successfully interacting with, the world we live in.

This book will be available in a number of different forms including:

  • Paperback and Hardcover Books
  • Ebooks for Kindle or other Readers
  • Digital copies for the computer

The book will be presented in a form optimized for each of these targeted platforms, one of which, the iPad, as depicted in the video above and in the following image.

Reading the book on an iPad
Reading the book on an iPad

In this version of the book, after reading about a model one can run the model, and change the parameters to better understand and pinpoint the implications of the relationships in the model. All this performed right in the book itself!

Understanding relationships by running the model
Understanding relationships by running the model

The models in this digital version are thoroughly interactive meaning that you can use one as a basis for building a new model, or you could actually create a new model from scratch. Note that in the attached pictures and movies, the interface is a prototype. The prototype is fully working, but we plan on developing a new digital modeling interface just for the book that is highly optimized for the touch experience.

Models can be modified directly in the book
Models can be modified directly in the book

The goal is to allow the reader to develop, through hands on experience what Forrester knew was essential, a profound understanding of the world around us. We are making this vision of hands-on interactivity truly real in the revolutionary digital version.

Currently targeted platforms are iPad, Kindle, ePub, HTML and a physical book. Of course, we won't be able to embed interactive versions of models in the physical version of the book! However, the physical version will contain all the same content as the digital version, just repackaged slightly and optimized for a paper-based reading experience.

We're still developing the outline though want to ensure the book has a broad applicability. To the greatest extent possible we will use cross discipline models in an endeavor to convey the broad applicability we believe should be associated with Systems Thinking via modeling and simulation.

Some of the topics we're currently planning on including are listed below. As an investor in the book, you will have direct impact on what actually ends up included, so this list may change as a result of our dialogue with you the investors.

  • Model Building Examples
  • Modeling Methodologies and Approaches
  • Modeling “formulas” and “recipes”
  • Tutorials
  • Case Studies
  • Theoretical or Analytical Discussions
  • Interviews with Modelers and Systems Thinkers
  • Software Guides
  • Multiple Domains (Business, Ecology, Policy, etc...)
  • Quizzes and Exercises

One Last Thought...

Ludwig von Bertalanffy first proposed, in 1937, that the same basic structures operated across all disciplines, and if one learned how these structures operated one could transfer much of their learning from one discipline to another. When moving from one discipline to another, one would simply have to learn the structures that were operating, and the labels on the elements of the structures. On first reading this may seem most profound, or maybe even preposterous. However, if you think about it, maybe there is some truth to it after all...

With that last thought lingering in our minds, please help us make this book a reality! We won't be able to do it without you!

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

There are a few thing we still have to sort out in terms of transforming the original content into a form optimized for each targeted platform. We are developing novel technology as part of the basis of this project. Based our tests performed to date, however, our planned approaches seem highly viable and with little accompanying risk.

The time frame to complete the writing is probably a greater risk considering the number of models to be identified, developed and documented. Though as stated in the project description those supporting this project will receive access to the content as it is developed.


  • We'll of course have the pure HTML version which will definitely work on Android. We'll also do our best to get a standard eBook version with interactivity on Android. Though without research and testing, it's risky to promise for certain.

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  • No! The intent is, in those contexts which will accommodate the Javascript, the eBook will be completely self contained with a copy of Insight Maker embedded. This will allow one to run the models, modify them and even create new ones with no connection to the internet. Of course we do expect there to be links to additional material and an internet connection will be necessary to follow the links.

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  • This is a comment from Scott...

    I don't want to muddy the waters with Richard, but just to clarify the ownership of Insight Maker:

    1) i personally have full rights and ownership to the simulation code that is ultimately used in Insight Maker. This is the code I do development on.

    2) I release a copy of this software under an open source license that people can use for whatever they want. This copy is what is currently available on GitHub

    3) This open source copy of the software is used in Insight Maker which is run by Give Team.

    The key point of this setup is that the code for Insight Maker is open source and anyone can use it. But my copy of the code isn't bound by the open source license and I can release copies of it under other licenses in the future if I need to (e.g. if I had a consulting arrangement I could provide the client with a copy of Insight Maker that they didn't need to publish changes to, which the open-source license requires).

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  • Copyright for the completed work will be shared between Scott Fortmann-Row and Gene Bellinger.

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  • The intent is to develop one set of content source and target it to iBook, Kindle, ePub, HTML and a Physical book. What one will be able to do in the individual environments depends on the capabilities of the environment in which the eBook is accessed. The models in the physical book will be described in sufficient detail such that one can implement them in another simulation environment as long as it supports the requisite functions.

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  • Scott has decided that the best way to develop the content is in Markdown, which is essentially a simplistic text editor and the content synchronization is being done with GitHub. This is all pretty new to me as I would much rather have done it with a multi-user web based development environment. So what the editor level means is direct access to the Markdown source on GitHub though essentially no involvement in the decision making at the Publisher level. Or at least that's how I think I understand it. We're in very new territory here.

    Here are some links....

    * Markdown Editor:

    * Markdown Syntax:

    * GitHub:

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  • A question that's really not so easy to answer. There exists a modeling and simulation environment called Insight Maker This was developed by Scott Fortmann-Roe and is open source

    The content of this project will be developed scripted in Markdown and then retargeted to iPad, Kindle, ePub, HTML and a hardcopy book form. For all the electronic version a modified verison of Insight Maker will be embedded in the document itself. This means the content will be interactive even without a network connection. Except for the hard copy book form that is.
    So the modified version of Insight Maker would be appropriate for creating interactive content related to environment science or economics if the content is presented as simulation models. I fully expect that there will be a couple of models in the current project which are om the environmental science and economics.

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Funding period

- (30 days)