Where is the systems part in SSM?

The LUMAS model

After having had a look at the previous post, which dealt with soft systems methodology (SSM), one might wonder: where is the systems part in SSM? Luckily, its developer, Peter Checkland, does not tire of explaining its fundamentals. The first thing he does is distinguishing hard from soft systems. In hard systems, the world is perceived as a hierarchy of systems and subsystems that is capable of being engineered to produce solutions. In soft systems, the world is perceived as hopelessly entangled, complex, and chaotic, which makes it totally unsuited for purposeful engineering. Instead of problems to be solved, there are problematical situations that can – at best – be improved by purposeful activity models. For this to happen, the problematical situation must be explored by way of a learning process to define desirable and feasible actions to improve. Hence, in soft systems thinking, the process of inquiry is systemic, not the world. Ingeniously, Checkland captured this in the so-called LUMAS model, where LUMAS stands for Learning for a User by a Methodology-informed Approach. In LUMAS, the learner uses the (soft systems) methodology to explore the problematical situation and produce an approach that will improve the situation. Since the problem cannot be solved, it is really a Sisyphus task, with a new cycle of learning and improving looming every time a situation has been (somewhat) improved.


About Sjon van ’t Hof

Development professional who worked in rural development, tropical agriculture, and irrigation development in Chad, Zambia, Mali, Ghana, Mauritania, Israel, Burkina Faso, Niger, and the Netherlands in capacities ranging from project design and management to information management. Conducted missions to India, China, Kenya, and Bangladesh. Experience in the development and delivery of trainings in irrigation equipment selection, information literacy, Internet searching and database searching. Explores systems thinking in relation to international development, education, and management, with an ever stronger focus on the systems approach of C. West Churchman. Knowledgeable in tropical agriculture, project design and development economics, agricultural mechanization, irrigation, plant pathology, environmental degradation and protection, rural development. Co-authored "Wicked Solutions: a systems approach to complex problems", a book written by Bob Williams and Sjon van 't Hof. It was published in June 2014 and provides a practical way of dealing with wicked problems. Wicked problems are complex, ill-structured, human problem situations. This book will help you design an inquiry and intervention in such messy, wicked situations. It does so by guiding you through the steps and stages of a systemic process that addresses your own wicked problem. For more information, see https://csl4d.wordpress.com/ or http://www.bobwilliams.co.nz/Systems_Resources.html
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