Representing balancing systems

Being a fan of both Peter Senge (systems thinking) and Joseph Novak (concept mapping) it is natural for me to combine (what I consider) the best of the two.  The original representation of a balancing loop (first picture) can be found in Senge’s Fifth Discipline Fieldbook (p. 120). The concept map (second picture), drawn with Novak’s free Cmap Tools, is mine.

Both pictures represent the same phenomenon, namely that of strongly oscillating number of visitors to a newly opened outpatient clinic of a Connecticut hospital.
In my view the propositional structure of Novak´s often self-explanatory concept maps is much more readily understandable than the admittedly elegant circular diagram of Senge. This is the more so, because Senge’s diagram only represents the situation where patient satisfaction goes down, something that could be avoided by using the more neutral linking phrase “(is a) function of” in the concept map. It is also directly apparent that the oscillating visiting numbers are caused by the two delayed functions. And by the way, the “B” in the middle stands for “balancing loop”or “balancing feedback” as does the seesaw in Senge’s picture.


About Sjon van ’t Hof

Development professional who worked in rural development, tropical agriculture, and irrigation development in Chad, Zambia, Mali, Ghana, Mauritania, Israel, Burkina Faso, Niger, and the Netherlands in capacities ranging from project design and management to information management. Conducted missions to India, China, Kenya, and Bangladesh. Experience in the development and delivery of trainings in irrigation equipment selection, information literacy, Internet searching and database searching. Explores systems thinking in relation to international development, education, and management, with an ever stronger focus on the systems approach of C. West Churchman. Knowledgeable in tropical agriculture, project design and development economics, agricultural mechanization, irrigation, plant pathology, environmental degradation and protection, rural development. Co-authored "Wicked Solutions: a systems approach to complex problems", a book written by Bob Williams and Sjon van 't Hof. It was published in June 2014 and provides a practical way of dealing with wicked problems. Wicked problems are complex, ill-structured, human problem situations. This book will help you design an inquiry and intervention in such messy, wicked situations. It does so by guiding you through the steps and stages of a systemic process that addresses your own wicked problem. For more information, see or
This entry was posted in Concept mapping, General, Systems thinking. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s