Systems thinking, complexity and the philosophy of science
Volume: 10, Issue 4
It is usually assumed in debates about systems thinking, complexity and the philosophy of science that science is primarily about observation. However, the starting point for this paper is intervention, defined as purposeful action by an agent to create change. While some authors suggest that intervention and observation are opposites, it is argued here that observation (as undertaken in science) should be viewed as just one type of intervention. We should therefore welcome scientific techniques of observation into a pluralistic set of intervention methods, alongside methods for exploring values, reflecting on subjective understandings, planning future activities, etc. However, there is a need to explicitly counter a possible pernicious interpretation of this argument: intervention could (erroneously) be viewed as flawlessly pre-planned change based on accurate predictions of the consequences of action. This is the mechanistic worldview that systems thinking and complexity science seek to challenge. Therefore, having redefined scientific observation as intervention, the paper revisits insights from systems thinking and complexity to propose a methodology of systemic intervention. Some brief reflections are then provided on the wider social implications of this methodology.
Systems Thinking for Community Involvement in Policy Analysis
Volume: 9, Issue 1-2
This paper is the text of a presentation to the 1st International Workshop on Complexity and Policy Analysis delivered by Gerald Midgley and transcribed and edited by Kurt Richardson. It charts the development of systems thinking since the 1960s, identifying a number of different systems paradigms. These are then compared with paradigms in complexity research, and significant parallels are identified. It is argued that there are several interacting research communities (including those writing about complexity, systems thinking and cybernetics) that have the potential to learn from one another. A research program on systemic intervention is then presented, focusing on the need to think critically about boundaries and values as a means of dealing with the inevitable lack of comprehensiveness in systemic interventions. A rationale for methodological pluralism is also given. All through the paper, the theoretical and methodological ideas are illustrated with practical examples.
Four domains of complexity
Volume: 18, Issue 2