System of Systems Methodologies (SOSM)

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While developing the Systems Thinking Definitions there was an awareness of other Systems Sciences and I continued to ask myself how it all fit together. When I came across the Systems Science Context Diagram I was delighted as I had a picture of how many things fit together, or so I thought. The delight was short lived as my next question was along the lines of, now that I have a context for all these different methodologies, models, frameworks etc. how do I know when to use what? Fortunately the depression that set in didn't last long as I ran into Michael C. Jackson's Systems Thinking: Creative Holism for Managers. Jackson provided a framework provided guidance as to which context in which various models and methods might prove beneficial.

Fig. 1 - Jackson's Framework [IM-605]


Systems & Participants Framework

The model in Fig. 1 attempts to present a sense of approaches that are most likely to be appropriate for dealing with a situation based on the nature of the situation along with an awareness of its context. The dimensions of Fig. 3 are described as:

  • Systems characterized as being
    • Simple - consisting of only a few highly structured interactions which are relatively stable and relatively unaffected by interactions of the parts of the system or external influences.
    • Complex - implying a large number of subsystems having loosely structured interactions wherein the purposeful parts result in adaptation over time in response to their turbulent environment.
  • Participants in the system are then characterized as being
    • Unitary - having similar values, beliefs and interests, share common purpose, all involved in decision-making about how to realize their agreed objectives.
    • Pluralist - basic interests are compatible though participants do not share the same values and beliefs, space is required for debate, disagreement and conflict, and participants need involvement in decision-making, accommodations and compromises can be found. Participants can agree, for at least a short time, on productive ways forward and will do so.
    • Coercive - have few common interests, conflicting values and beliefs, compromise is not possible and no agreed objectives and direct action, decisions based on who has the most power and coercion employed to ensure adherence to commands.

Performance Enhancement Dimensions

In concert with these definitions there comes an awareness as to the manner in which one should endeavor to interact with an entity to enhance performance. The following provides the performance enhancement dimensions and the contexts for which they seem to be most appropriate.

  • Improving Goal Seeking and Viability
    • Unitary - Simple & Complex
  • Exploring Purpose
    • Pluralist - Simple & Complex
      • Strategic Assumptions Surfacing & Testing
      • Idealized Design
      • Soft Systems Methodology
  • Ensuring Fairness
  • Promoting Diversity
    • Coercive - Complex
      • Postmodern Systems Thinking

Models, Methods & Disciplines

The following is an attempt to identify the specific models and disciplines within the various categories though I understand there may be more and I may have slotted several of these incorrectly.

So this is sort of a statement of what I'm now endeavoring to understand as the eclipse has passed. Though it's hard to tell whether or not I'm simply in the darkness of a different eclipse. I expect that time will reveal.


The seven principles underpinning Total Systems Integration (TSI) are worth quoting in terms of thinking about enabling systems thinking (ref via Nakamura & Kijima):

  1. Problem situations are too complicated to understand from one perspective, and the issues they throw up are to complicated to tackles with quick fixes;
  2. Problems situations, and the concerns, issues, and problems they embody, should there be investigated from a variety of perspectives;
  3. Once the major issues and problems have been highlighted, a suitable systems methodology or methodologies must be identified to guide intervention;
  4. The relative strengths and weaknesses of different system methodologies should be appreciated, and this knowledge, together with an understanding of the main issues and concerns, should guide the choice of appropriate methodologies;
  5. Different perspectives and system methodologies should be used in a complementary way to highlight and address different aspects of organisations and their issues and problems;
  6. The TSI sets out a systematic cycle of inquiry with interaction back and forth between its three phases;
  7. Facilitators and participants are engaged at all stages of the TSI process.



Questions & Comments to Gene Bellinger

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