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Systems explained by Peter Checkland

Updated Wednesday, 23 March 2022
Peter Checkland recalls how a shortage of management education led him to develop his theories.

Systems Thinking has been described as multi-disciplinary and is associated with a well established academic and practitioner community. It arose out of necessity. As society has become increasingly connected and the interactions between peoples have increased, traditional ways of operating have no longer sufficed. Through no clearly discernible reasons, projects overran budgets, communications systems between people broke down, and it became increasingly obvious that the human factor was playing a large role in these problems. Many of the early systems thinking methodologies did not model people as part of the equation - they were what is now described as systematic rather than systemic.

One of the first people to recognise this was Peter Checkland, who subsequently became known as the creator of "soft systems methodology", a once radical approach to management problem solving which is now used and taught world-wide. Checkland, originally from Birmingham, studied chemistry at Oxford in the 1950's and worked as a technologist and then a manager for ICI fibres. But when he made the move from research to management he found that little existed in the way of training and preparation for his new role.

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