Some of the Systems Methodologies

Systems science has assumed as its primary responsibility the task of handling real world, large-scale, intertwined problems of complex systems. It is applied with the assumption that these problems are of a certain similarity, regardless of the system they have originated from. The systemic view therefore includes a special attention to the threat of technological ‘fixes’ and pervasive side- effects of the far more common mega-technology which is invading society. Also, the emergent properties, possessed by the system but not by its parts, are extensively involved.

In this category of problems — relating to the social, behavioural and organizational fields — the traditional scientific methods have proved to have substantial shortcomings. Moreover, these methods also seem to pose new complications for the problems  to  which they are applied.

These methods thus have to be replaced or be complemented by new ones, capable of handling the soft variables such as values, motivation and sentiments that are an integral part of all social systems. It is not possible any more to solve our most pressing problems with just common sense and a working knowledge of some computerized tools. It is quite necessary with a formal training in handling and  solving complex and crucial problem situations.

As approaches to large-scale problem solving, the methods presented here may be considered as a family of coherent methods when dealing with systems problems. All of them emphasize the interactions and interrelations between the diverse parts of problems. This is in contrast to the fragmented approaches that are so often taken when eliminating symptoms of social and organizational ills. Systems methodologies are generally systematic, in the sense that they are composed of rational and well-ordered steps, taking into account the range of probable alternatives or perspectives. The users can follow a path which may force them to confront difficult but important issues and permits someone else to examine the way in which the method has been applied.

The systematic approach ensures that solutions can be planned, designed, evaluated and implemented. In this context, the operational definition of ‘methodology’ has to be compared with the terms ‘technique’ and ‘philosophy’ according to the following commonly used definitions.

  • Philosophy : a non-specific and broad guideline for action.
  • Technique : a specific programme of action, producing a standard result.
  • Methodology : more precise than a philosophy but lacking the precision of a technique.

A methodology can be used for two purposes: either to bring a system into being (systems design) or to refine an already existing system. If the latter is done without distinguishing between beneficial as opposed to harmful transformations for human beings, it is called systems improvement by van Gigch (1978). He correctly points out that the operation of a crime syndicate can naturally be improved. Systems improvement does not question the function, purpose, structure, or process of interfacing problems. It is often done for the wrong reasons and the solution can be worse than the problems that it was intended to cure.

Different systems methodologies all have some typical steps of cybernetic thinking when used in problem solving. These steps can be presented as follows:

  1. plannify what the system should do
  2. register what the system has done
  3. work ouc the difference between 1 and 2
  4. explain the causes of the difference 1-2
  5. control to minimize the difference

Finally, the best approach is not always to propose a certain solution to a specified problem. It may be better to recommend a new organization or a new learning system, which will be able to learn itself and solve its own problem. Here, a design activity will be necessary to enable the possibility to assess and chose between alternative future states.

Source: Skyttner Lars (2006), General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspectives, Practice, Wspc, 2nd Edition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *