After holistic thinking was institutionalized in the 1950s, the concept of ‘system’ and ‘systems thinking’ have been explicitly used. In 1954, general systems theory (GST), the development of a mathematically expressed general theory of system, was supposed to provide a meta-level language and theory in which the problems of many different disciplines could be expressed and solved. GST, however, has not succeeded.
This paper provided an example of the third kind of development: the combinations of the systems ideas and the use of systems ideas.
Hard and soft systems stances
Hard systems stance assumes that the world can be taken to be a set of interacting systems, some of which do not work very well and can be engineered to work better.
Soft systems stance assumes that the world is taken to be very complex, problematical, mysterious. However, our coping with it, the process of inquiry into it, it is assumed, can itself be organized as a learning system.
Principles of SSM
- Perceived a real-world problem situation
- Some ways for the grasp of the problem situation as rich as possible
- Pictures are a better medium than linear prose for expressing complex relationships.
- Relationships explored via models of purposeful activity based on explicit world-views
- The purposeful activity models used in SSM are intellectual devices whose role is to help structure an exploration of the problem situation being addressed.
- Inquiry structured by questioning perceived situation using the models as a source of questions
- ‘Action to improve’ based on finding accommodations (versions of the situation which conflicting interests can live with)
- Inquiry in principle never-ending; best conducted with wide range of interested parties; give the process away to people in the situation
Learning SSM is to learn not what to think, but a way of thinking. The biggest difficulty in understanding SSM is to absorb its shift from assuming ‘systems’ exist in the world (as in everyday language) to assuming that the process of inquiry into the world can be a consciously organized learning system.