Lab meets Lab


Strategic collaboration on systems thinking and modelling

The Dartington Service Design Lab is entering into a strategic collaboration with the Brown School’s Social System Design Lab at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri.


The aim of the collaboration is to:

  • Advance thinking and practice in relation to understanding the behaviour and dynamics of public systems, such as child welfare and mental health systems, in both the UK and US;

  • Reciprocally boost skills and capacity within each Lab in relation to engagement and facilitation (something the Dartington Lab is particularly strong at) and technical aspects of system dynamics modelling (something the Social System Design Lab is particularly strong at);

  • Share our learning, tools and approaches more widely, through the production of open-source materials and simulation models and scientific papers.


Our collaboration will be practically realised by:

  • An ongoing Skills Lab: this is an exchange in which each Lab meets annually in either Dartington or St Louis to share our learning from system modelling and reform efforts in public systems and to ‘sync’ our tools and approaches;

  • Routine video conferences in which the Social System Design Lab provides technical assistance to the Dartington Lab on system modelling;

  • The co-development of an open source library of ‘generic structures’ or modular elements of system models that be used by us and others as a basis for future model development to support the design of public systems;

  • Collaboration on scientific papers to share our work with the wider scientific community, including co-presentation at major conferences (for example, at EU SRP in Vienna this year).


The history of our connection:

The organisations connected in 2012 when the Dartington Social Research Unit were facilitating a series of gatherings for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on achieving impact at scale. Peter Hovmand, Director of the Social System Design Lab, shared his thinking on the role of systems thinking and complexity, and the connection to Dartington’s work on system reform in the UK was clear. Since then Peter and his team have supported the Dartington Lab in skilling-up on system dynamics modelling, and have supported and co-facilitated our work with looked-after children and mental health systems here in the UK.


About the Social System Design Lab

The Social Systems Design Lab is based in the Brown School of Social work at Washington University, St Louis. The team are international experts in developing simulation models of problems facing complex social systems. They help build the capacity of those who want to learn and apply system dynamics in order to understand and address specific problems within a system or community