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Book : Systems Thinking, Systems Practice (30 Year Retrospective) (1999)

Systems Thinking, Systems Practice (30 Year Retrospective)

Publisher:John Wiley & Sons

Author(s):Checkland, Peter

Published: 1999 • ISBN: 0471986062 • 416 pages • Delivery Format: Hard Copy - Paperback

Available from: Amazon (DE)Amazon (UK)Amazon (US)

Other Versions: 1981


From the publisher:

Systems Thinking, Systems Practice Whether by design, accident or merely synchronicity, Checkland appears to have developed a habit of writing seminal publications near the start of each decade which establish the basis and framework for systems methodology research for that decade. Hamish Rennie, Journal of the Operational Research Society, 1992.

Thirty years ago Peter Checkland set out to test whether the Systems Engineering (SE) approach, highly successful in technical problems, could be used by managers coping with the unfolding complexities of organizational life. The straightforward transfer of SE to the broader situations of management was not possible, but by insisting on a combination of systems thinking strongly linked to real-world practice Checkland and his collaborators developed an alternative approach - Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) - which enables managers of all kinds and at any level to deal with the subtleties and confusions of the situations they face. This work established the now accepted distinction between ‘hard’ systems thinking, in which parts of the world are taken to be ‘systems’ which can be ‘engineered’, and ‘soft’ systems thinking in which the focus is on making sure the process of inquiry into real-world complexity is itself a system for learning.

Systems Thinking, Systems Practice (1981) and Soft Systems Methodology in Action (1990) together with an earlier paper Towards a Systems-based Methodology for Real-World Problem Solving (1972) have long been recognized as classics in the field. Now Peter Checkland has looked back over the three decades of SSM development, brought the account of it up to date, and reflected on the whole evolutionary process which has produced a mature SSM.

SSM: A 30-Year Retrospective, here included with Systems Thinking, Systems Practice closes a chapter on what is undoubtedly the most significant single research programme on the use of systems ideas in problem solving.

Now retired from full-time university work, Peter Checkland continues his research as a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow.

Content / Structure



Chapter 1 - The Subject of Systems

  • The Subject: 'Systems'
  • A Prescription for a Subject
  • Difficulties for the Reader
  • The Argument of this Book

PART 1: SYSTEMS THINKING - The Systems Movement in the Context of Science

Chapter 2 - Science as a Human Activity: Its History and Its Method

  • Greek Science
  • Medieval Science
  • The Scientific Revolution
  • The Method of Science

Chapter 3 - Science and the Systems Movement

  • Problems for Science: Complexity
  • Problems for Science: Social Science
  • Problems for Science: 'Management'
  • Systems Thinking: Enmergence and Hierarchy
  • Systems Thinking: Communication and Control
  • The Shape of the Systems Movement

Chapter 4 - Some Systems Thinking

  • Some Basic Systems Thinking
  • A Hierarchy of Systems Complexity
  • A Systems Taxonomy
  • A Systems Typology
    • Systems Classes
    • Natural Systems
    • Human Activity Systems
    • Designed Systems
    • 'Social Systems'
  • Basic Systems Thinking: Conclusion

PART 2: SYSTEMS PRACTICE - Action Research to Establish the Use of Systems Concepts in Problem-Solving

Chapter 5 - 'Hard' Systems Thinking - The engineers' Contribution

  • Science Compared with Engineering and Technology
  • Systems Engineering
  • Systems Analysis
  • The Nature of Systems Engineering and Systems Analysis
  • The Application of 'Hard' Systems Thinking to 'Soft' Problems
  • The Basis of the Action research on 'Soft' Systems Methodology

Chapter 6 - The Development of 'Soft' Systems Thinking

  • The Research Context and Method: Action Research
  • The Problem of 'Problems' and 'Problem-Solving'
  • Two Project Experiences
  • A Main Outcome of the Research: systems Methodology for Tackling Unstructured Problems
    1. Methodology in General
    2. The Methodology in Outline
    3. Stages 1 and 2: Expression
    4. Stage 3: Root Definitions of Relevant Systems
    5. Stage 4: Making and Testing Conceptual Models
    6. Stage 5: Comparing Conceptual Models with Reality
    7. Stages 6 and 7: Implementing 'Feasible and Desirable' Changes
  • The Methodology Illustrated: Structural Change in a Publishing Company
  • 'Hard' and 'Soft' Systems Thinking Compared

Chapter 7 - The Systems Methodology in Action

  • Five Types of Systems Study
  • Six Systems Studies
    1. Systems Anlayis of Past Events
    2. Structuring a Survey
    3. Clarifying a Theoretical Concept
    4. Tackling Your Own Problems
    5. An Organisational Study
    6. Using the Methodology out of Sequence
  • General Outcomes 1: The IMportance of Weltanschauung
  • General Outcomes 2: 'Primary Task' and 'Issue-based' Root Definitions
  • General Outcomes 3: The Structure of Root Definitions
  • General Outcomes 4: 'Whats' and 'Hows'
  • General Outcomes 5: Gathering and enriching the Initial Impressions
  • General Outcomes 6: Methodological Laws
  • General OUtcomes 7: Problem-content and Problem-solving Systems
  • Conclusions


Chapter 8 - Implications of Systems Practice for Systems Thinking

  • Reflections on the Action Research
  • External Comment on the Action Research
  • Related Work Elsewhere
  • The Nature of Social Reality
  • The Social Reality Implied by Soft Systems Methodology
  • Conclusion

Appendix 1 Building Conceptual Models

Appendix 2 A Workbook for Starting Systems Studies



Name Index

Subject Index

Copyright 1999 by John WIley & Sons Ltd,


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