The Manager's Guide to Systems Practice - MakingSense of Complex Problems
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This book is an ideal resource on the subject of systems practice for busy managers whose time is scarce. It provides a rapid introduction to straightforward, yet powerful ideas that enable users to address real world problems. Systems theory and practice is predominantly a framework for thinking about the World, in which holistic views are maintained. In this respect it contrasts with some familiar techniques of management science, in which problem situations are broken down into their constituent parts with resultant loss of coherence.


Frank Stowell: Is Emeritus Professor of Systems and Information Systems at the University of Portsmouth. He has extensive management experience both within the university sector, e.g .he was director of campus at De Montfort University, Milton Keynes and within central government as a consultant within a Management Systems Development Group. He has a PhD in Organisational Change and his research interests are in participative methods of problem definition. He is chair of the Systems Practice for Managing Complexity network, ( which is concerned with providing workshops for managers interested in learning about ways of addressing and managing change. He is past President of the UK Academy of Information Systems and the UK Systems Society (, is a board member of the world cybernetics organisation and is presently the chair of the Council of Information Systems Professors. He has supervised a number of research projects including modelling complex decision-making in mental health care. He has published papers and texts in the field and presented papers at a number of international conferences in Europe and the United States. Prior to his academic career he was employed by central government as a member of a small team of management consultants.

Christine Welch currently works as a principal lecturer in the Business School at the University of Portsmouth, where she teaches in Systems-related fields. Her particular focus is on critically-informed approaches to inquiry and contextual analysis, in which area she holds a doctorate. She has published many articles, book chapters and conference papers in the Systems field and other related areas such as systems analysis, knowledge management and organisational learning, and has also supervised doctoral candidates in Systems-related topics. Christine has worked with a number of organizations in relation to Systems capability and organizational development, and has participated in the delivery of several workshops on Systems approaches, through the Systems Practice for Managing Complexity network. She is a member of a community of practice of business improvement professionals from public and private sector organisations which meets in Portsmouth Business School to explore and share approaches to process visualisation and development. She leads the Systems Thinking & Creativity team in the Centre for Enterprise, Research and Innovation in Portsmouth Business School. She is a director and past President of the UK Systems Society, and a member of the American Society for Cybernetics and the Informing Science Institute.


Acknowledgements ix

Preface xiii

PART I: Key Systems Ideas 1

1 Understanding Things: The Manager’s Guide to Systems Practice 1

Introducing some basic (but powerful) ideas 3

2 Models and Modelling 19

3 The Practice 33

PART II: Systems Thinking 71

4 Thinking about Systems 73

5 Influential Ideas 101

PART III: The Contributions of Philosophy and the Social Sciences 129

6 Philosophical and Sociological Influences 131

7 Systems Research 163

PART IV: Case Studies 183

8 Pulling it All Together 185

9 Cases 209

Glossary 231

References 235

Index 247