General Systems Thinking (GST) is the art of understanding the features common to everything that we, as human beings, see around us. GST uses the concept of a system to identify all organized entities that to a human being appear as distinct from other organized entities.
Banathy and Jenlink (2004), explain GST as a system called Systems Inquiry made of three domains: systems theory, systems philosophy and systems methodology. Systems Inquiry is the most comprehensive framework we have found that describes GST. Its most fundamental contribution is the Systems Philosophy, which seeks to render explicit the assumptions we have when we approach a project. In our research domains the usual practice is to express a problem and then research solutions that solve it. The problem and the solutions are expressed from a worldview that remains implicit. This results in many researchers working on the same kind of problems using different vocabulary without being able to consolidate their research or even to see their relationships. Even entire research fields, such as Enterprise Architecture, Requirements Engineering and Business-IT alignment can be seen from a GST point of view as different vocabulary applied to the same problem. Systems Inquiry enables us to explicitly show this point.
Systemic Modeling Paradigm :
The systemic modeling paradigm was proposed by Wegmann in (Wegmann, 2003). It extends Systems Inquiry with the concept of discipline specific theories and with Kühn’s notion of paradigm change.
Systems Philosophy :
- Systems Philosophy is comprised of three interlinked domains: Epistemology, Ontology, and Axiology. Most research in our area is done without an explicit philosophy. When one is supplied, it is often at the ontological level. Very rarely do we see research in our area that clarifies the epistemological and epistemological dimension.
Systems Epistemology :
- Epistemology is concerned with clarifying how we know what we know, or in more practical terms, how do we justify our ontology. Without epistemology, an ontology cannot be challenged.
In SEAM we use a relativist epistemology, which is unusual in our research domains as it is in everyday life. More specifically we say that every system is a viewpoint of some observer. When several observers agree on the same view, we have a common reality (a common ontology). Very often, one observer’s view will be different from another. The differences may be slight or substantial. Even people working in the same company, sometimes in the same team may have different explanation of the work they do. The more we go towards why we do things the more these differences are large. In the SEAM models we try as much as possible to show these different views. The goal-belief model has explicit constructs to show these different views. In a goal-belief model, each community has its own beliefs about itself and its environment. These beliefs specify the community’s “readiness to see” and “readiness to judge” as defined Vickers. The community’s goals specify the Vickers’s “readiness to act.”
Systems Ontology :
- Ontology in the context of Philosophy (not computer science or information systems) is the description of what we see in the world. It is closely linked with our epistemology because what we see shapes what we how we justify it and vice versa.
In SEAM what we see in the world are systems, activities, states and relationships. We have specific modeling items to describe these systems, black-box, white-box, services, pre-conditions, post-conditions, joint actions etc.
- Axiology is the study of our ethical and aesthetical choices, what is good, bad, beautiful, ugly, moral or not. These choices are omnipresent in all models, but are most often left implicit.
In SEAM we research how to render these choices explicit by showing which point of view prevails in a model, the customer, the supplier, or the regulator, and often ethical choice. We add aesthetic choices such as the modeling elements to be used, colors and placement on the canvas.
Systems Methodology :
- Methodology is the most well studied field in our research areas. Most researchers focus on methods that they develop and test. They usually do not ground their methods in a philosophical and theoretical background.
In SEAM we use methods that we either created ourselves (based on existing systems theories), such as the study of regulation in companies and the use of concrete names and organizations in our models; and methods that we imported, such as as-is and to-be analysis, contextual inquiry and Kolb’s experiential learning cycle.
Systems Theory :
- Systems theory is the search for general principles that can be applied to the study of any subject of attention. It provides a generalist view that transcends all specialized disciplines. General principles, however, fail to explain specific cases. A specialist view is therefore necessary too, which is why we need discipline specific theories.
In SEAM we apply systems theory through analogies with living systems (e.g. homeostasis) and through the use a minimal set of principles and modeling elements to model business and IT issues. Specific theories are used to understand concrete business and IT issues.
- Banathy, B. H. and Jenlink, P. M. (2004). Systems inquiry and its application in education., In Jonassen. D.H. (Eds.), Handbook of research on educational communications and technology, (pp. 37-57). Lawrence-Erlbaum. Vickers, Sir G.: Value Systems and Social Process. Tavistock, London (1968)