Systems design

One of the best existing reports on systems design is made by J.P. van Gigch (1978). He defines the method as a series of ongoing, cybernetic and fluid design functions. It begins with a question regarding the purpose for the existence of the system and emphasizes the problems in relation to superordinate systems. The search for an alternative design is generally taken beyond the boundaries of the system in question.

This soft system methodology involves ten steps divided into three distinct phases: policy-making/preplanning, evaluation and action implementation. It is listed here without the extensive comments belonging to each step as presented in van Gigch’s book, Applied General Systems Theory. A summarizing block diagram is also presented in Figure 11.1.

First phase: Policy Making or Preplanning 

Step 1: Problem definition

  1. The recipients or clients whose needs are to be met
  2. The needs to be met
  3. The scope, the extent to which needs will be satisfied
  4. The agents involved. All those influenced by the project, considering their interests
  5. Evaluation of the agent’s world-views according to Step 2
  6. The methods. Short and general descriptions of methods which will be used to solve the problem
  7. The system’s boundaries. These should be defined, together with assumptions or constraints affecting the solution or its implementation
  8. An enumeration of available resources compared to resources needed
  9. A disclaimer to restrict hopes that systems design will provide a solution to everyone’s problems

Step 2: Understanding the world-views of clients and planners

  1. Premises
  2. Assumptions
  3. Values
  4. Cognitive style

Step 3: Goal setting

  1. Needs and wants
  2. Expectations and aspiration levels
  3. Substitutions, tradeoffs and priorities
  4. The morality of systems design (ethical issues)

Step 4: Search for and generation of alternatives

  1. Programme alternatives and agents relationships
  2. Determination of outcomes
  3. Consensus

Second phase: Evaluation

Step 5: Identification of outputs, attributes, criteria, measurement scales and models

  1. Identification of outputs
  2. Identification of attributes and criteria
  3. Determination of measurement scale
  4. Choice of measurement models
  5. Determination of the availability of data

Step 6: Evaluation of alternatives

  1. Use of models
  2. Measurement of the output of soft systems Step 7: Choice of alternative

Third phase: Action Implementation

Step 8: Implementation

  1. Optimizing, suboptimizing, compromising
  2. Legitimizing and consensus
  3. Experts and expertise

Step 9: Control of systems

Step 10: Evaluation of outputs, auditing and reappraisal

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

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