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Text

Naughton, J. (1998) ‘Arts: Internet: It's free and it works. No wonder Bill Gates hates it’, Observer, 8 November 1998, © Guardian News and Media Ltd 2005;

Wilkins, E. (1994) ‘Rescued from £1 a day for girl's upkeep’, The Times, 31 January 1994. Copyright © Times Newspapers Ltd 1994;

‘Agency demands 1p from father’, The Time
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6.2 Modes of managing systemically

Now I want to describe some of the possibilities I see as being available in the repertoire of an aware systems practitioner able to connect with the history of systems thinking and with the new theories of complexity.

David Robertson, in a presentation to the Society for Research into Higher Education in late 1998 entitled ‘What employers really, really want’ reported that: ‘research on employers in a number of English-speaking countries (an elite survey with senior corporate peo
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Critical systems thinking

Critical systems thinking (CST) is regarded as a systems approach to research and intervention in complex situations. The approach developed from the concerns held initially by C. Wes Churchman and his student Werner Ulrich. Later, Mike Jackson and Bob Flood, who were then professors at the University of Hull in the UK (e.g. Jackson, 1991, 2000; Flood and Jackson, 1991) developed their interpretations of the earlier work. Jackson and Flood were concerned that existing systems methods, includi
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5.8 Developing a soft systems method

One of the more widely used systems methods is known by its originators as ‘soft systems methodology’ or SSM. The driving force behind its development and increasing application in the domain of information systems development has been Peter Checkland at the University of Lancaster in the UK (e.g. see Checkland and Holwell, 1997). SSM, or adaptations of it, has been used in many other domains as well. The experiences that have given rise to the development of what in this course I
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5.4 Methodology, method, technique, and tools

As you engage with systems thinking and practice you will become aware how different authors refer to systems methodologies, methods, techniques, and tools, as well as systems approaches. Having just spent some time explaining what I mean by a systems approach, I now want to distinguish between methodology, method, technique and tool.

Several authors and practitioners have emphasised the significance of the term methodologies rather than methods in relation to Systems. A method i
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3.3 Appreciating your basis for understanding

In my experience, the explanation that Fell and Russell suggest (i.e. that we each construct our own version of reality and therefore cannot be an objective observer; which in turn means we have to take responsibility for our observations and explanations) is challenging for many people. When I attend workshops where these ideas are expressed for the first time, people often become angry. You may be able to identify with them. If so, please try to use your discomfort productively for your own
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9.8 Diagramming a complex situation

Diagrams are never an end in themselves. They have a purpose. They exist in relation to a situation and can be used to cast light upon aspects of that situation or to explain it to someone.

So, the next step is to look at the diagrams you have drawn and to ask yourself what you have learned about the situation. This answer may be in terms of a deeper appreciation of the situation. It may also be in terms of pointers towards possible interventions and some idea of the likely effects of s
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9.4 Influence diagrams

I want to return to the definition of a system I used earlier: an assembly of components interconnected as if they had a purpose. In the last section, I used purpose as a way of structuring the complexity of the case study. In this section, and the sections that follow, I want to turn to the idea of interconnectedness as another way of structuring the complexity. In the case of influence diagrams, I search for interconnection in the form of influence to hold together a structure
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7.3 Getting out of traps

Remember to date your rich picture and not to throw away any previous versions. Old versions of rich pictures provide you with a record of your developing understanding.

The next activity is an invitation to improve your rich picture by digging yourself out of any of the traps you may have fallen into. In this activity, I suggest a certain ruthlessness in reviewing your efforts so far. You should not, however, see this as an evaluation of your performance in the task. My experience is t
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7.2.5 Trap 5: the final version trap

Ironically, the biggest mistake you can make, having got this far, is to assume your picture is finished. New realisations will crop up. Add these to your picture as you appreciate more and more of the complexity.

So, the check for avoiding this trap is to ask:

  • Have I had any new insights about the complex situation since I last added something to this picture?

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7.2.1 Trap 1: representing the problem and not the situation

This trap is one of the most fundamental mistakes you can make in systems thinking. There are lots of metaphorical phrases in English that can entice you into the trap. We can talk about ‘the nub of the problem’, ‘the key issue’, ‘the basic problem’, ‘the real difficulty’ and so on.

Like all traps, once it has sprung, it can be very difficult to get out. The trap seriously limits one's ability to think about the situation in its full complexity. This is precisely because
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2.5 Review

The title of this unit could have been Juggling with complexity: searching for system. This title seemed to capture something essential about the unit. Juggling is a rich metaphor and will be used explicitly in Part 3. But it also carries the idea of a skill that needs to be practised and that might seem incredibly awkward to begin with. You may find this idea helpful as you review your work in Part 1. Juggling is also a skill that, once practised, becomes second nature. This too may b
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2.2 The nature of systems thinking and systems practice

There are no simple definitions for either systems thinking or systems practice. It's difficult to find definitions that capture all the perspectives that the ideas carry for people who think of themselves as systems thinkers and systems practitioners. Most systems practitioners seem to experience the same kind of difficulty in explaining what they do or what it means to be systemic in their thinking. Through experience I've developed some criteria by which I characterise systems thinking, bu
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3.1 What are you hoping to learn?

Anticipations and preconceptions are an important determinant of how people learn, so before you read on, I would like to you to record some of what you are experiencing now as you begin the course.

It's important to get these impressions noted down now, because new ideas and new impressions will quickly overlay the experience. What you are experiencing now will be re-interpreted as new understandings emerge. You are also likely to form some judgements about your expectations. So before
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2 Part 1 Starting the unit

Welcome to T306_2 Managing complexity: a systems approach – introduction. As I write, I experience a sense of excitement. For me, as for you, this is the beginning of the unit. These are the first few sentences I'm writing and so, although I have a good idea of how the unit is going to turn out, the details are by no means clear. Nevertheless, the excitement and anticipation I, and maybe you, are experiencing now is an important ingredient in what will become our experiences of the u
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Acknowledgements

The content acknowledged below is Proprietary (see terms and conditions) and is used under licence.

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources for permission to reproduce material within this unit:

Figures

Figures 1 and 64 © DIY Picture Library.

Figure 2 Courtesy of Dyson (UK) Ltd.

Figures 4 and 70 ©John Frost Historical Newspapers.

Figures 4, 5(l), 18, 35, 45, 75 Richard Hearne/ Open University.
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18.2.1 Relative advantage

In order to succeed, an innovation has to be perceived as offering advantages relative to existing comparable products or services. For example, it has more chance of selling if it is cheaper to make and buy, does the job better or does something previously not possible, offers more features, is easier to use, or is reliable and safe. Relative advantage is sometimes called competitive advantage.

A good example is how the steady reduction in size and increase in efficiency of the electri
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17.4 Standards and their role in innovation

Standards were originally related to units of measurement. The first ‘standard’ was the Egyptian royal cubit, which was made of black granite and was said to be equivalent to the length of the Pharoah's forearm and hand. This was also subdivided into finger, palm and hand widths – one ‘small cubit’ was equivalent to six palms. But because the human forearm was the master reference this meant that the cubit varied in different parts of the world. Over thousands of years agreement ove
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17.2 Getting finance and organisational backing

Like talk, ideas are cheap. Even generating a prototype of an invention can be cheap compared with the resources needed to produce and market an innovation. The independent inventor or designer is likely to have to rely on family and friends for financial backing, particularly in the early stages. Seed capital is sometimes available in the form of innovation grants from government bodies, such as the Department for Trade and Industry in the UK, which offers development funding to individuals
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