Systems approaches compared

Having studied 5 systems approaches over the past one-and-a-half month or so, the question of their field of application popped up. The 5 approaches were (the links refer to earlier posts): SODA (Strategic Options Development and Analysis), VSM (Viable Systems Model), SSM (Soft Systems Methodology), SD (System Dynamics, worked case), and CSH (Critical System Heuristics). I don’t think I need to waste too many words on it. Here is what I propose (correct me if I am wrong).  There are three action-oriented approaches: SSM, VSM, and SODA. SSM is the broadest of the 3 approaches. Both SODA and VSM could be very well used for designing models of improvement. SODA is more for designing a concrete implementation strategy within an organizational framework, whereas VSM is more suited for designing an organizational set-up. SD can play a role in any of them, especially in the beginning. And so can CSH, but rather at the end as a post-hoc methodology. In a week or so I intend to look at additional systems concepts in Williams, B., & Hummelbrunner, R. (2010). Systems Concepts in Action: A Practitioner’s Toolkit, e.g. social network analysis, the CDE model, and cynefin.


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 or
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