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: Dr. Tay Boon Hou Technical Director, Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, IN Technology Pte Ltd 10, Haig Lane, Singapore 438814 Email: Dr. Martin Orr Clinical Director, Information Services, Waitemata District Hospital, Email: 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.


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.


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...

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