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Mastering systems thinking in practice
Mastering systems thinking in practice

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4 Sir Geoffrey Vickers (1894–1982)

Sir Geoffrey Vickers was seen to be a man ahead of his time. Born in 1884, he won the Victoria Cross [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] for outstanding bravery during the First World War. He studied Classics at Oxford in 1923, and later became a lawyer where he became involved in international affairs. He had a varied life as a lawyer, a soldier, an economic intelligence officer and legal advisor. In the later years of his life he became a prolific writer and speaker on the subject of social systems analysis and the complex patterns of social organisation. Vickers is regarded as a systems practitioner rather than an academic. He introduced many of the basic systems thinking terms, and derived the concept of appreciative systems to describe human activity. He recognised that appreciation of systems requires the participation of not only the observer, but also that of the subject. Draft material and correspondence relating to his published works, articles and speeches is held at The Open University as the Geoffrey Vickers Collection.

Activity 4 System approaches – Sir Geoffrey Vickers

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes for this activity.
  1. Refer back to Figure 1 and, using the free response box below, make notes on how Ray Ison has located Sir Geoffrey Vickers in the various systems traditions.
  2. Now listen to this 10-minute interview filmed in 1978 where Sir Geoffrey Vickers explains how he approaches systems thinking. Make notes on key points and systems concepts that he talks about that have already been covered in this course and any that might appear new.
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Vickers interest is in social systems and tends to see these as being ontologies rather than epistemologies. Equally he puts great store on what he calls appreciative systems, a description of the ongoing process of sense-making over time using a combination of concepts and values that equates more to an epistemology.