Scriptapedia/Variable Elicitation

Variable Elicitation

This script is used to facilitate consensus-based group discussion about the model problem and boundaries early in the modeling process.


Best practices

Primary nature of group task



Preparation time: 0 minutes

Time required during session: 20 minutes

Follow-up time: 0 minutes


  1. Markers
  2. Stacks of plain paper
  3. Chalk/whiteboard markers




Prioritized list of variables


  • Facilitator with moderate expertise in SD and small group facilitation
  • Wall builder with moderate expertise in SD
  • Runner (optional) to transfer variables from facilitator to wall builder


  1. The facilitator gives each participant sheets of blank paper and markers.
  2. The facilitator writes a task-focusing question such as, “What are the key variables affecting the process and outcomes of the [project name] project?” on the whiteboard or flipchart.
  3. The facilitator asks participants to write as many problem-related variables as they can on the sheets of paper. Each variable should be listed on its own sheet of paper. Participants are given a few minutes to work individually on their lists.
  4. Once the participants have finished the individual exercise, the facilitator has the participants share their variables one at a time in a round-robin fashion similar to the process used in the "Hopes and Fears" script. When a variable name is open to several interpretations, the facilitator asks for a brief description or definition of the variable, including the units in which the variable can be measured.
  5. The facilitator (or runner) hands each variable to the wall builder, who tapes them on the wall in thematic clusters.
  6. Once all of the variables have been shared, the wall builder reflects back the themes that emerged from wall-building and asks participants for feedback. The wall builder may ask questions such as "Does this resonate with you? Are there other themes you notice, or any variables you think should be moved?"
  7. Optionally, the facilitator asks the participants to prioritize the variables by simple voting mechanisms. Individuals can vote for as many variables as they want. The number of votes for each variable is also written down on the board.
  8. The facilitator makes a summary of the variables on the board, while the recorder captures the products of the process either photographically or in a word processor.
  9. The facilitator suggests which variables can be considered stocks as they are mentioned. If the participants agree, the facilitator can add the words “level of” to these variables.

Evaluation Criteria:

  • Identification of key variables and stocks
Example 1


Andersen and Richardson


Originally described in Luna-Reyes et al. (2006).




Luna-Reyes, L. F., Martinez-Moyano, I. J., Pardo, T. A., Cresswell, A. M., Andersen, D. F., & Richardson, G. P. (2006). Anatomy of a group model-building intervention: Building dynamic theory from case study research. System Dynamics Review, 22(4), 291-320.


A variation of this script is the Nominal Group Technique. Based on group size, decide whether to break participants into subgroups. In smaller groups (N<10), allow individuals to work and present independently. In larger groups (N >10), divide participants into subgroups of roughly 10. Ask the subgroups to sit together.