Sytems Thinking

Topics: Systems thinking, Soft systems methodology, Systems theory Pages: 21 (6566 words) Published: June 21, 2013
INCORPORATING SYSTEMS THINKING IN ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE PROJECTS USING ACTION RESEARCH BY PRACTITIONERS CONDUCTING ACADEMIC RESEARCH Dr. Shankar Sankaran Associate Professor, Faculty of Design Architecture and Building, University of Technology Sydney, City Campus, PO Box 123, NSW 2007, Australia Email: Shankar.sankaran@uts.edu.au Dr. Tay Boon Hou Technical Director, Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, IN Technology Pte Ltd 10, Haig Lane, Singapore 438814 Email: intech01@singnet.com.sg Dr. Martin Orr Clinical Director, Information Services, Waitemata District Hospital, Email: Martin.Orr@waitematadhb.govt.nz ABSTRACT This paper explores the use of systems thinking in action research projects. It will describe two ‘real’ action research projects, where soft systems methodology was used by managers who introduced change in their own organizations. It elaborates how applying this methodology supported the application of action research. Both managers who used action research have successfully completed their doctorates in programs conducted by an Australian university. The paper discusses the relationship between soft systems methodology and action research, examines the problems faced in using this methodology in action research and discusses how systems thinking could be effectively applied by management researchers planning to conduct academic research. Keywords: Systems Thinking, Action Research, Soft Systems Methodology, Organizational Change, Management Research.

INTRODUCTION This paper starts with a brief explanation of action research (AR) and soft systems methodology (SSM) and then describes a doctoral program conducted by an Australian university where AR is often used by practitioners conducting academic research. Two AR projects are then described in which SSM was used. Next, a discussion on the use of systems thinking in action research projects is presented. The paper concludes with some suggestions on how to embed systems thinking approaches in action research projects carried out by practitioners who are taking part in research projects in an academic environment.

ACTION RESEARCH Although several varieties and versions of action research (AR) exist (Brooks and Watkins 1994, Raelin 1999, Reason and Bradbury 2001), the action research process described in this section is the one frequently adopted by practitioners conducting academic research in the university where the research projects described in this paper were carried out.

1

Incorporating Systems Thinking in Action Research According to Dick (2001), you pursue both action (change) and research (understanding) while conducting AR. AR incorporates critical reflection on the action to gain better understanding that results in more informed action. AR is also usually participative and qualitative although quantitative methods have been used by some of the researchers when the situation demanded it.

action

critical reflection

Figure 1 General model of action research

Often AR is carried out in a cyclical or spiral fashion. The most common form used by researchers in the programs used the Deakin cycle (Kemmis and McTaggart 1988) of planact-observe and reflect and then the cycle repeats itself. So often we start with a ‘fuzzy’ problem and as you take action, observe and reflect on the situation you converge through iterative cycles to a better understanding of the situation. This leads to better actions. What methods can you use to conduct research? It is often said that in AR data drives the research. As an action researcher you should show some scepticism about what you found in order to disconfirm the findings. The more you try to disconfirm the findings the more rigorous the research will be. Therefore, it is quite common to find a mixture of methods being used in AR that offer different perspectives of the research problem at hand. The use of different methods also serves to triangulate the findings by helping to confirm/disconfirm the...

References: Argyris, C., Putnam, R. and Mclain Smith, D. (1982). Action Science: Concepts, Methods and Skills for Research and Intervention, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco. Brooks, A. and Watkins, K.F. (1994). The Emerging Power of Action Inquiry Technologies, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA. Checkland, P. (1993). Systems Thinking, Systems Practice, John Wiley, Chichester. Checkland, P. (1995), Soft systems methodology and its relevance to the development of information systems, in F.A. Stowell (ed.) Information Systems Provision: The Contribution of Soft Systems Methodology, McGraw Hill, London, pp. 1-15. Checkland, P. (1999). Soft Systems Methodology: A 30-year Retrospective, John Wiley, Chichester. Checkland, P. (2000a). The emergent properties of SSM in use: A symposium by reflective practitioners, Systemic Practice and Action Research, 13 (6):799-823. Checkland, P. (2000b). New maps of knowledge and some animadversions (friendly) on science (reductionist) social science (hermeneutic), research (unmanageable) and universities (unmanaged), Systems Research and Behavioural Science, 17(S1):S59. Checkland, P. (2005). Webs of significance: The work of Geoffrey Vickers, Systems Research and Behavioural Science, 22(4):285-90. Checkland, P. (2006). Reply to Eden and Ackermann: The future of problem structuring methods? The Journal of Operational Research Society, 57(7):769-71. Checkland, P. and Holwell, S. (1998). Information, Systems and Information Systems: Making Sense of the Field, John Wiley, Chichester.
15
Incorporating Systems Thinking in Action Research Checkland P. and Poulter, J. (2006). Learning for Action: A Short Definitive Account of Soft Systems Methodology and its Use for Practitioners, Teachers and Students, John Wiley, Chichester. Checkland, P. and Scholes, J. (1990). Soft Systems Methodology in Action, John Wiley, Chichester. Checkland, P. and Winter, M. (2006). Process and content: Two ways of using SSM, The Journal of the Operational Research Society, 57(12):1435-41. Committee on Quality of Healthcare in America (2001). Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century, National Academy Press, Washington DC. Curtis, G. and Cobham, D. (2002). Business Information Systems: Analysis, Design and Practice, 4th edn., Pearson, Essex. Dick, B. (1993). You Want to Do an Action Research Thesis?, [Online], Available at http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/art/arthesis.html. Dick, B. (2000). Soft Systems Methodology. Session 13 of Areol- Action Research and Evaluation Online, [Online], http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/areol/areolsession13.html. Dick, B. (2001). Action research: action and research, in S. Sankaran, B. Dick, R. Passfield and P. Swepson, (eds.) Effective Change Management Using Action Learning and Action Research , Southern Cross University Press, Lismore, 21-27. Dick, B. and Swepson, P. (1994). Appropriate Validity and its Attainment Within Action Research: An Illustration Using Soft Systems Methodology, [Online], http://www.scu.edu.au/schools/gcm/ar/arp/sofsys2.html. Elrod, P. and Tippet, D. (2002). The death valley of change, Journal of Organisational Change and Management, 15 (3): 273-291. Flood, R.L. (2001). The relationship between ‘systems thinking’ to action research in P.Reason and H. Bradbury (eds.) The Handbook of Action Research, Sage, London, 133-134. Glouberman, S. and Mintzberg, H. (1996). Managing the care of health and the cure of disease. Part 1: Differentiation, Healthcare Management Review, 26 (1):56-59. Greenwood, D. and Levin, M. (2007). Introduction to Action Research: Social Research for Social Change, 2n d edn. Sage, Thousand Oaks. Heeks, R., Mundy, D. and Salazar, A. (1999). Why healthcare information systems succeed or fail ?, Information Systems for Public Sector Management, Working paper series, Paper No. 9, Institute for Development Policy and Management, Manchester, UK. Jackson, M.C. (2003) Systems Thinking: Creative Holism for Managers, John Wiley, Chichester. Kelly, M.A. and Tucci, J.M. (2001). Bridging the quality chasm, BMJ, 323:61-62. Kemmis, S. and McTaggart, R. (1988). The Action Research Planner, 3rd. edn., Deakin University, Geelong, Vic. Mirijamdotter, A. (1998). A Multi-modal Systems Extension to Soft Systems Methodology, PhD Thesis, Department of Informatics and Systemic Science, Lulea University of Technology, Sweden. Orr, M. (2000). Implementation of Health Information Systems, MBA Dissertation, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW. Orr, M. (2006). The Implementation of Electronic Health Knowledge Management Systems, DBA Thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW. Orr, M. and Sankaran, S. (2007). Mutual empathy, ambiguity, and the implementation of electronic knowledge management within the complex health system’, Emergence: Complexity and Organization, 9(1-2):41-52. Raelin, J.A. (1999). Preface: Special Issue, Management Learning, 30(2):115-25. Reason, P. (2006). Choice and quality in action research practice, Journal of Management Inquiry, 15(2):187-203. Reason, P. and Bradbury, H. (2001). Handbook of Action Research, Sage, London.
16
Incorporating Systems Thinking in Action Research Sarah, R., Haslett, T., Molineux, J., Olsen, J., Stephens, J., Tepe, S. and Walker, B. Business action research in practice- A strategic conversation about conducting action research in business organizations, Systemic Practice and Action Research, 15 (6), pp. 535546. Sankaran, S., Hase, S. Dick, B. and Davies, A. (2006). Reflections on Developing an Offshore Action Research/Learning Based PhD Program, Action Learning: Research and Practice, 3(2):1-15. Tay, B.H. (2003). Using Action Research to Develop a Social Technical Diagnostic Expert System for an Industrial Environment, PhD Thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW. West, D. and Stansfield, M.H. Structuring action and reflection in information systems action research studies using Checkland’s FMA model, Systemic Practice and Action Research, 14 (3), 251-281. Wilson, B. (1984). Systems: Concepts, Methodologies and Applications, John Wiley: Chichester.
17
Continue Reading

Please join StudyMode to read the full document

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • Critical Thinking Essay
  • Systems Thinking Essay
  • Critical Thinking Caps Essay
  • Soft Thinking and Intellectual Capital Essay
  • Critical Thinking Case Study Essay
  • Soft Thinking and Intellectual Capital Essay
  • Critical Thinking and Its Relevance in Nursing Practice Essay
  • Essay about Soft Systems Thinking, Intellectual Capital & Social Capital

Become a StudyMode Member

Sign Up - It's Free