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Thinking about systems thinking

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Towards a critical realist stance in my systems practice

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Thinking about systems thinking

  1. 1. Thinking About Systems Thinking Dr Mike Yearworth Reader in Systems, Faculty of Engineering 28 th June 2010
  2. 2. <ul><li>Kuhn vs Popper – 31 st July 1965 </li></ul><ul><li>Both Kuhn and Popper embody pluralist and universal attitudes to scientific enquiry… </li></ul><ul><li>“ For Kuhn, a science is always dominated by one paradigm that its members pursue religiously until it runs up against the limits of its puzzle-solving capabilities. Pluralism then emerges in the form of increasingly specialised domains of inquiry, each dominated by its own paradigm…for Popper pluralism is, at least ideally, intrinsic to the day-to-day conduct of scientific inquiry, as scientists are encouraged to proliferate alternative hypotheses that then face stiff cross-examination by standards that command universal assent …. </li></ul><ul><li>… on the broadest philosophical canvas… Kuhn and Popper represent two radically different ways of specifying the ends of inquiry: What drives our understanding of reality? Where is the truth to be found? Kuhn would have us look to the dominant paradigms, the beliefs and actions of those who have come to be certified as knowers. It is ultimately a backward looking standard, one based on entitlement through survival . For his part, Popper proposed a more forward-looking perspective based on what enables us to think that our knowledge and actions are always subject to improvement. </li></ul>28th June 2010
  3. 3. <ul><li>Kuhn vs Popper – 31 st July 1965 </li></ul><ul><li>However, in the absence of standards that command universal assent… </li></ul><ul><li>“… As science has acquired more secular power, it has tended towards the self-perpetuation of existing regimes, as dominant research programmes are pursued by default, a situation that the sociologist Robert Merton has dignified as the ‘ principle of cumulative advantage ’… all scientists working in the same paradigm are equal, but some are more equal than others. These are the ‘peers’ whose opinion always seems to matter in the ‘peer review process’ used to fund and evaluate scientific research…the acculturation of novices into a scientific paradigm, since thereafter the novice’s mind is set to plough the deep but narrow furrow laid down by her senior colleagues as normal science” </li></ul>28th June 2010
  4. 4. <ul><li>Historical development… </li></ul>28th June 2010
  5. 5. <ul><li>Checkland – 1972 to 1999 </li></ul><ul><li>“ Failure ” of Systems Engineering </li></ul><ul><li>Action Research </li></ul><ul><li>Weltanschauung </li></ul><ul><li>The process of enquiry as systemic; learning systems </li></ul><ul><li>“ Engineers (and Technologists) are impatient with theorizing…little inclined to analyze the way … ” </li></ul><ul><li>Hierarchy/Emergence and Communication/Control – and ‘ducked’ the reductionism/holism argument </li></ul><ul><li>Full-blown interpretivist stance </li></ul>28th June 2010
  6. 6. <ul><li>Nature of Social Science </li></ul>28th June 2010 Nominalism Anti-Positivism Voluntarism Ideographic Realism Positivism Deterministic Nomothetic strands of theory Objectivism Subjectivism Ontology Epistemology Human Nature Methodology
  7. 7. <ul><li>Nature of Social Order </li></ul>28th June 2010 Stability Integration Functional Coordination Consensus Change Conflict Disintegration Coercion strands of theory Sociology of Regulation Sociology of Radical Change Dynamism Order Operating Logic Social Positioning
  8. 8. <ul><li>Burrell & Morgan – 1979 </li></ul>28th June 2010
  9. 9. <ul><li>Mike Jackson – 1984… </li></ul>28th June 2010 <ul><li>I think “Systems approaches…” provides us with the theory textbook we need… </li></ul>
  10. 10. <ul><li>Mike Jackson – 1984… </li></ul>28th June 2010 <ul><li>…and “Systems thinking…” is a useful handbook for practice </li></ul>
  11. 11. <ul><li>Re-Interpretation of the B&M framework… </li></ul><ul><li>Jackson and Keys (1984) re-interpreted B&M by </li></ul><ul><ul><li>re-stating the dimension of social order in B&M, quite usefully, as a dimension of the values/interests of the participants in the system by degree of alignment – from unity, through plural, to conflict. We could also think of this as degree of alignment of stakeholder needs </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>introduced a new dimension which classifies (or defines) complexity as a function of the degree of intentionality, or self-purpose, in the system </li></ul></ul>28th June 2010
  12. 12. <ul><li>Thus Jackson’s System of Systems Methodologies (SOSM)…. </li></ul>Increasing Divergence of Values Interests  Unitary Pluralist Coercive/Conflictual  Increasing Complexity Simple Complex Hard Systems Thinking System Dynamics Org Cybernetics Complexity Theory Soft Systems Approaches Emancipatory Systems Thinking Postmodern Systems Thinking 28th June 2010 Functionalist Interpretivist RS RH
  13. 13. <ul><li>Jackson’s classifications of systems thinking into four major Fs; or Paradigms </li></ul><ul><li>Functionalist </li></ul><ul><ul><li>systems seem to have a hard, easily identifiable existence independent of us as observers. Understand status quo leading to prediction and control </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Interpretive </li></ul><ul><ul><li>system seems ‘softer’ and elude easy identification. Understand such systems by trying understand points of view and intentions of people who create them. Intentionality makes a profound difference, difficult to model, so acquire detailed information by getting involved, “getting inside it” but ultimately objectives are similar to the functionalist </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Radical Structuralism </li></ul><ul><ul><li>systems still seem to hard and and external to us as observers, however we can model and we don’t believe that we need to pay much heed to intentionality, however we are interested in conflict and power structures with a view to emancipation from existing structures. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Radical Humanism </li></ul><ul><ul><li>systems are seen as the creative constructs of human beings, to understand them we need to understand their intentions. The way to learn about them is to involve ourselves in their activities and to understand what social arrangements constrain development </li></ul></ul>28th June 2010
  14. 14. <ul><li>Critical Systems Practice </li></ul><ul><li>Functionalist approaches </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Hard (methodologies: OR, SA, SE; methods: UML, DEs, ABMs, probability, queuing theory…), SD (m&m), org. cybernetics (VSM m&m), complexity theory (method: DEs; methodology:???) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Interpretive approaches </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Methodologies/Methods: Strategic Assumption Surfacing and Testing (SAST), Interactive Planning (IP), SSM, PERIMETA, Group Model Building (SD) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Radical Structuralism  Emancipatory approaches </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Methodologies/Methods: Critical Systems Heuristics (CSH), Team Syntegrity </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Radical Humanism  Postmodern approaches </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Methodologies: surely not??? But see Participatory Appraisal of Needs and the development of Action (PANDA) – pragmatic pluralism </li></ul></ul>28th June 2010
  15. 15. <ul><li>A last word from Kuhn – 1962 </li></ul><ul><li>Are we experiencing the emergence of a new paradigm? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>At a philosophical level, no </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Within engineering, perhaps a very guared yes (e.g. a transformation: civil engineering  engineering for civil society) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The answer will of course be decided in the normal Kuhnian way! </li></ul>28th June 2010
  16. 16. <ul><li>The motion before us… </li></ul><ul><li>“ It is believed that terminology employed within the discipline loosely referred to as ‘systems thinking’ is often ambiguous and inconsistent…” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Sometimes! And it depends on what you read. If (say) you believe that system dynamics is system thinking (Forrester/Senge/Sterman at MIT) then this is not true. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>“… and that this is hindering development of systems thinking as a respected academic discipline…” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Ambiguity/inconsistency when it does appear is a symptom with more than one root cause. I suggest i) lack of coherent body of knowledge and core journals which allows weak/poor review, ii) existing discipline silos independently discovering/claiming systems thinking, and iii)… </li></ul></ul>28th June 2010
  17. 17. <ul><li>The motion before us… </li></ul><ul><li>“… It is felt that this problem stems from a fundamental problem with the philosophical basis of the discipline. ” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Not that there is a fundamental problem with the philosophical basis but that there exists disparate paradigms which can all underpin the methodologies that system thinking employs. Personally I am aligned with Jackson in using the B&M framework and taking a critical approach to methodology selection as a way of practising, but accept that I may be biased towards a realist ontology. Perhaps critical realism could provide a basis? </li></ul></ul>28th June 2010
  18. 18. <ul><li>But… </li></ul><ul><li>“ I want to briefly broach the topic of emergence. This is a 1M category of non-identity but is (a) specifically ontological while (b) falling within the generic Hagelianesque class of stratificational dialectics. In emergence, generally, new beings (entities, structures, totalities, concepts,) are generated out of pre-existing material from which they could have been neither induced nor deduced. There is a quantum leap, or nodal line, of (one feels like saying) the materialized imagination – or even, with Hegel, reason – akin to that occurring in the σ or τ transforms of the rudimentary epistemological dialectic of C1.9. This is matter as creative, as autopoietic….” </li></ul>28th June 2010
  19. 19. <ul><li>Opportunities (lots!) </li></ul><ul><li>Executive Summary </li></ul><ul><ul><li>[3/5] There is a need to improve the standing, recognition and reputation of Systems Engineering in academia </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Key Axes of Development </li></ul><ul><ul><li>[1/3] Improve the Academic profile of Systems Engineering and Systems Thinking by setting out an agreed, intellectually rigorous foundation for the discipline </li></ul></ul>28th June 2010
  20. 20. <ul><li>References – Books </li></ul><ul><li>BURRELL, G. & MORGAN, G. (1979) Sociological paradigms and organisational analysis : elements of the sociology of corporate life , Ashgate, 1992. </li></ul><ul><li>CHECKLAND, P. (1999) Soft systems methodology : a 30-year retrospective ; and, Systems thinking, systems practice, Chichester, John Wiley. </li></ul><ul><li>FULLER, S. (2003) Kuhn vs Popper : the struggle for the soul of science, Thriplow, Icon. </li></ul><ul><li>JACKSON, M. C. (2003) Systems thinking : creative holism for managers, Chichester, John Wiley. </li></ul><ul><li>JACKSON, M. C. (2000) A Systems Approach to Management, New York, Kluwer. </li></ul><ul><li>KUHN, T. S. (1962) The structure of scientific revolutions, Chicago ; London, University of Chicago Press. </li></ul><ul><li>RAMAGE, M., SHIPP, K. (2009) Systems Thinkers, London, Springer. </li></ul>28th June 2010
  21. 21. <ul><li>References – Journal Papers </li></ul><ul><li>MINGERS, J. (2000) The contribution of critical realism as an underpinning philosophy for OR/MS and systems. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 51(11), pp . 1256-1270. </li></ul><ul><li>JACKSON, M. C. & KEYS, P. (1984) Towards a System of Systems Methodologies. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 35(6), pp . 473-486. </li></ul><ul><li>JACKSON, M. C. (2001) Critical systems thinking and practice. European Journal of Operational Research, 128(2), pp . 233-244. </li></ul><ul><li>CHECKLAND, P. M., JENKINS, G.M. (1974) Learning by doing: systems education at Lancaster University. Journal of Systems Engineering, 4(1), pp . 40-51. </li></ul><ul><li>BROWN, S. F. (2009) Naivety in Systems Engineering Research: are we putting the methodological cart before the philosophical horse? . 7th Annual Conference on Systems Engineering Research (CSER 2009). Loughborough, UK. </li></ul><ul><li>ULRICH, W (2005). A brief introduction to critical systems heuristics (CSH). ECOSENSUS project website, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK, 14 October 2005 </li></ul><ul><li>LANE, D. C. (1999) Social theory and system dynamics practice. European Journal of Operational Research, 113(3), pp . 501-527. </li></ul>28th June 2010
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Towards a critical realist stance in my systems practice


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