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Managing complexity: A systems approach – introduction
Managing complexity: A systems approach – introduction

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5.8 Developing a soft systems method

One of the more widely used systems methods is known by its originators as ‘soft systems methodology’ or SSM. The driving force behind its development and increasing application in the domain of information systems development has been Peter Checkland at the University of Lancaster in the UK (e.g. see Checkland and Holwell, 1997). SSM, or adaptations of it, has been used in many other domains as well. The experiences that have given rise to the development of what in this course I will refer to as SS-method are described in an easy-to-read article in Appendix D.

You should now complete Activity 49, which involves you reading through the article in Appendix D on the development of SS-method (described as SSM in the article). This should take about 1 hour at most.

Activity 49

Appreciating the experiences that gave rise to the development of SS-method.

Spend up to an hour working through the article on SSM and completing this activity. As you read, try to make a note of the systems concepts Checkland refers to in his address. Jot down any points you find yourself disagreeing with or that accord with your own experience. Record these in your Learning Journal.

Click on the link below to read Appendix D.

View document: Appendix D156.2KB PDF document
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

I want you to read carefully Checkland's description of SSM as an action research process. Based on your reading of Checkland and your own experience write a paragraph or two in your Learning Journal about what action research means to you.

A publication by CCTA (1993), the UK government centre for information systems states ‘SSM provides an approach to solving management problems which requires skill and judgement’. They recommend readers of the book attain a level of competence in SSM before attempting to apply it. They suggest three levels of competence may be expected to be gained through appropriate training and practice:

  • Appreciative beginner

  • Initial practitioner

  • Practitioner

If you choose to study course T306, you will have the opportunity to develop all three competencies in the SS-method if you so choose. The course team's aspiration is that all students are at least initial practitioners by the time they successfully complete this course. If you do a successful project based on SS-method, you will have attained the competence to be a practitioner. Remember, however, methodology arises in the doing, so it is only through doing SS-method in a particular way that you can transform your practice of it into methodology.

In the doing, it will be important for you to appreciate and develop your understanding of action research, because an aware systems practitioner is also a systemic action researcher.