Soft System Methodology in Construction

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  • Topic: Systems thinking, Soft systems methodology, Systems theory
  • Pages : 11 (2924 words )
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  • Published : December 14, 2010
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Introduction: This document investigates Soft Systems Methodology, which is a way of dealing with problem situations in which there is a high social, political and human activity component. SSM varies from other methodologies as it does not deal with the HARD problems that are more technically oriented but instead it deals with SOFT problems as will be discussed in detail later on in this report.  SOFT SYSTEM METHODOLOGY: 

Soft System Methodology is the brainwave of Professor Peter Checkland. The methodology was devised as a result of “consultancy work” (Platt, 1995). Hutchings (2006) explains this development as an approach which can be accessed in the situation where Hard System Methodologies are fruitless. He writes,  “When confronted with complex real world problems which cannot be defined solely in the scientific terms, Checkland was forced to abandon the classic system engineering thinking which could not describe fully the situation he faces. This led to a fundamental reappraisal of the classics “hard” approach and the subsequent development of the Soft Methodology”.                                                                              Hence, SSM is classified as “a generic methodology” (Wilson, 1992) which should be adapted to any given situation. It deals with “fuzzy” problem situations – situations where people are viewed not as passive objects, but as active subjects, where objectives are unclear or where multiple objectives may exist (Rosenhead, 1989). This is explained as human activity system (HAS) - a collection of activities, in which people are purposefully engaged, and the relationships between the activities (Platt, 1995). Hence SSM is a qualitative technique that can be used for applying System Thinking to non-systematic situations. It follows its progression in seven stages as laid down by Checkland in seven stage model “which is considered by most people to be the SSM” (Platt, 1995). The seven stages are incorporated into two parts: the real world and systems thinking, as illustrated in Figure 1. The diagram is divided into two halves. The upper half (Stages 1, 2, 5, 6, 7) are activities that take place in the ‘real world’ “that is they are based on the knowledge and experience of the participant of how things are to them” (Beckford 1998) and therefore should involve people in the problem situation. The bottom half (Stages 3,4,4a,4b) are ‘systems thinking’ activities which are carried out in the language of systems and may or may not involve people in the problem situation, depending on the circumstances of study (Johnson, 1999).  In Stage 1, the problem situation may arise with number of people feeling uncomfortable. Thus “problem owners” (stakeholder of the problem) explore the situation more likely to say, “unstructured the situation” with a view to make improvements (Reason, 2001). This problem situation is expressed in Stage 2, attempting to avoid the structuring of the situation that would close down the original thinking. In this stage SSM uses diagrams or models as a means of talking about a reality, rather than models of reality (Bennetts et al., 2000: 192)Hence the situation is perceived through rich pictures. Rich pictures are the problem solvers own “interpretive snapshot” of the “mess” (Warning, 1996) not a system diagram. They are the visual illustrations of people, issues, relationships; in that they capture all the rich, multidimensional issues that are part of a system. Rich pictures depict institutions, actors, linkages, and issues that matter to stakeholders (Ramirez, 2002).  In Stage 3 requires a complete shift of thinking to the consideration of “hypothetical or notional system” (Warning, 1996). Stage 3 develops a root definition of relevant system. It is concise description of a human activity system which states what the system is. A root definition is expressed as a transformation process that takes some entity as input and produces a new form of the entity as output...
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