soft systems methodology
Peter Checkland’s soft systems methodology (SSM) (for
example, see Checkland and Scholes 1990) is an approach to deal with a
‘mess’ (Russell Ackoff) or ‘wicked problem’ (Horst Rittel) or, more specifically
to domain of ECOSENSUS, ‘natural resource dilemmas’ (Neils Roling), or
any other similar expressions of complex issues. In SSM the complexity
is addressed through appreciating multiple perspectives and viewpoints
from different stakeholders associated with the issue.
The key techniques of SSM can be summarised in association with three
- (Re)exploring a situation of interest (for example, a complex
situation associated with natural resource dilemmas) through
diagramming, for example, developing a rich picture, in order to reveal
the key issues to be addressed.
- (ii) Developing a conceptual model of the situation through
identifying ‘systems of interest’ from situations of interest
represented in the rich picture, associating active verbs with the
model. At minimum defining a system of interest in terms of a system to
do P by Q for reasons of R.
Where P represents the purpose of transformation, Q represents the
means for undertaking the purpose, and R represents the undelying
rationale for undertaking the transformation.
- (iii) Enacting the model, and using the previous two stages as a
source for iteration, developing and enacting new systems of interest to
address and improve upon the original situation.
For a further description of key SSM techniques associated with the
first two stages, see 'SSM in more detail'. These notes are drawn from
The Open University Masters course entitled
Environmental Decision Making: A Systems Approach.
- Checkland, P. B. and J. Scholes (1990). Soft Systems
Methodology in Action. Chichester, John Wiley.