Daphne A. John, PhD

Associate Professor and Chair
Deptartment of Sociology
Oberlin College

I use Nova to build a dynamic systems model of participation in an informal economy, dependent on availability of public assistance/unemployment compensation and shifting norms of acceptance/rejection of illicit economic practices (e.g. theft, barter, unlicensed business transactions, etc.). I found NOVA to be a more user friendly program, both for designing the model, but also applying the model in the classroom, than other software I have tried, specifically Vensim.

I use this model in my Introductory Sociology course to teach about the complexities of the formal economy (those who are part of the labor market-both unemployed and employed persons) and the informal or “shadow” economy which often supplements the formal economy. In class, students read Sudhir Venkatesh”s book, Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Poor (Harvard University Press, 2006), an ethnographic account of an informal economy in an impoverished neighborhood in Chicago. After reading the book, students use the logic set forth in the text with the quantified model of such a system to assess the effects of shifting conditions on the participation rates in such an economy. Nova provides a dynamic template for their investigations. The model itself is streamlined and easy to follow and the sliding “dashboards” allow them to then focus on the output data as they easily manipulate the values of the input parameters. I think it allows students to have an introduction to the concepts of computational modeling in the social sciences as a way of applying theory and quantitative logic. I plan on continuing to use Nova in this way in future sections of this course.