Sunday, 17 June 2012

Churchman's views on the whole thing!

I'm attending a "summer school" (wow, I feel like an American! If only it was a summer camp!) which is being run by Werner Ulrich (the creator of Critical System Heuristics as a methodology) and he's given us some pre-reading to do. I thought I'd just as well share my notes here as anywhere else.

The first reading is by C.W Churchill (the architect of soft systems methodology, as opposed to hard systems. It is an extract from The systems approach and its enemies published by Basic Books in New York in 1979.

The piece is titled The systems approach; against the environmental fallacy

Now, my first reaction is that it is distracting when somebody has already highlighted a piece of writing before I get to it - and individual words and phrases have been highlighted in a whole range of colours that don't seem to have a key! Anyway, as I do not know if this has been done by Churchman himself, or a helpful editor after the event, I will try to move past this.

Churchman states that "direct head-on attempts to solve systems problems don't work". he offers no reference or examples to this - this statement is a given. Take it, or leave it!

He then goes on to divide the way we could approach complex problems with systems design. Either we recognise a "clear and urgent need to do something" or we "think through the consequences". I'm not entirely sure that Churchman intended this to be an either/or choice. To me both are important. It is how you move from urgent need for action to action that is critical.

The environmental fallacy that is the subject of the article is explained as:

First establish that X is bad for us; then propose to force people not to do X.

Or, X is growing/declining in a way that is dangerous, harmful or potentially disastrous... Imperative generated... "prevent X from growing/declining".

This is fallacious because it ignores the environment within which X exists.

Churchman then goes on to advocate systems thinking as a way out of this fallacious thinking.

The one thing I loved about this piece of writing was the way he articulates my frustration with systems thinking. How the hell do you answer the question "what is it?" Well, as Churchman says... "No two systems advocates or practitioners describe it in the same way... which may lead you to the conclusion that a systems does not exist.... but that would be like saying art does not exists because no two artists describe it in the same way".

 He goes on to point out that "in the systems approach, all methods of inquiry, all designs of inquiring systems are options of the inquirer. There is no priori set of standards that dictate the preferable ones".

No comments:

Post a Comment