Systems Methodologies and Intervention

The Issue of Researcher Responsibility
  • Norma R. A. Romm


The argument advanced in this chapter draws on elements of critical modernist as well as postmodernist views on the impact of “knowledge” in the social world and develops an ethic of responsibility that focuses on the notion of self-critical choice-making. The argument is that all too often proponents of (theoretical) approaches do not problematize as an issue of concern their predisposition to think-and-act along a certain route—which excludes other routes. Their research activities1 are legitimated to themselves and/or others in terms of a theory-practice cycle which is caught up in its own circle—unable or unwilling to embrace alternatives (see also the discussions by Flood and Romm, and by Gregory in this volume, of pragmatist, isolationist, and imperialist positions). Claims currently made often suggest that impartiality of judgment can be sought through a process of testing the implications of a theoretical approach as applied in practice. This chapter attempts to show that the view that theory is applied in practice and may be tested in that practice, can amount to an unreflected/unreflexive endorsement of a theoretical position. It is proposed that responsible action requires, first, admitting that there are choices to be made, and second, being able to defend choices in the light of a serious consideration of what other approaches may offer. It implies adopting a stance through having taken into account a range of (different) theoretical and moral concerns about the possible impact of one’s involvement.


System Methodology Soft System Methodology Operational Research Society System Practice Apply System Analysis 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Babüroglu, O. (1992). Tracking the development of the Emery-Trist systems paradigm (ESTP). Systems Practice, 5, 263–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Beer, S. (1981). Brain of the firm. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  3. Beer, S. (1985). Diagnosing the system for organisations. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  4. Beer, S. (1989). The viable system model: Its provenance, development, methodology and pathology. In R. Espejo & R. Harnden (Eds.), The viable system model: Interpretations and applications of Stafford Beer’s VSM. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  5. Beer, S. (1992). World in torment: A time whose idea must come. Presidential Address, Triennial Conference of the World Organisation of Systems and Cybernetics. New Delhi, India.Google Scholar
  6. Brand, A. (1990). The force of reason. London: Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  7. Checkland, P. B. (1981). Systems thinking, systems practice. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  8. Checkland, P. B. (1992). Systems and scholarship: The need to do better. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 43, 1023–1030.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Checkland, P. B., & Scholes, J. (1990). Soft systems methodology in action. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  10. Cohen, C. (1994). Two perspectives in a voluntary organisation. M.Ed, thesis, University of Leeds.Google Scholar
  11. Dudley, P. (1994). Neon god: Systems thinking and signification. Working Paper 4, Centre for Systems Studies, University of Hull.Google Scholar
  12. Flood, R. L. (1993). Beyond TQM. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  13. Flood, R. L. (1995a). Total systems intervention (TSI): A reconstitution. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 46, 174–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Flood, R. L. (1995b). Solving problem solving. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  15. Flood, R. L., & Jackson, M. C. (1991). Creative problem solving: Total systems intervention. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  16. Flood, R. L., & Romm, N. R. A. (1995). Enhancing the process of methodology choice in total systems intervention (TSI) and improving chances of tackling coercion. Systems Practice, 8, 377–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Flood, R. L., & Romm, N. R. A. (1996). Diversity management: Triple loop learning. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  18. Foucault, M. (1984). The Foucault reader, P. Rabinow (Ed.). Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  19. Fuenmayor, R. (1991). Truth and openness: An epistemology for interpretive systemology. Systems Practice, 4, 473–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fuenmayor, R., Bonucci, M., & Lopez-Garay, H. (1991). An interpretive-systemic study of the University of Los Andes. Systems Practice, 4, 507–525.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gergen, K. J. (1992). Organization theory in the postmodern era. In M. Reed & M. Hughes (Eds.), Rethinking organisation. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  22. Gergen, K. J. (1994). The limits of pure critique. In H. W. Simons & M. Billig (Eds.), After postmodernism: Reconstructing ideology critique. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  23. Gouldner, A. W. (1976). The dialectic of ideology and technology. New York: Seabury Press.Google Scholar
  24. Gouldner, A. W. (1980). The two Marxisms: Contradictions and anomalies in the development of theory. London: Macmillan & Co.Google Scholar
  25. Gustavsen, B. (1992). Dialogue and development. Assen: Van Gorcum.Google Scholar
  26. Habermas, J. (1982). A reply to my critics. In J. B. Thompson & D. Held (Eds.), Habermas: Critical debates. London: Macmillan & Co.Google Scholar
  27. Hassard, J. (1993). Sociology and organisation theory. London: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Ivanov, K. (1991). Critical systems thinking and information technology. Journal of Applied Systems Analysis, 18, 39–55.Google Scholar
  29. Jackson, M. C. (1982). The nature of “soft” systems thinking: The work of Churchman, Ackoff and Checkland. Journal of Applied Systems Analysis, 9, 17–29.Google Scholar
  30. Jackson, M. C. (1989). Evaluating the managerial significance of the VSM. In R. Espejo & R. Harnden (Eds.), The viable system model: Interpretations and applications of Stafford Beef’s VSM. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  31. Jackson, M. C. (1992). The soul of viable system. Systems Practice, 5, 561–564.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ladd, J. (1989). Computers and moral responsibility: A framework for an ethical analysis. In C. Gould (Ed.), The information web. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  33. López-Garay, H. (1991). An interpretive-systemic study of the regional planning corporation of Los Andes in Venezuela. Systems Practice, 4, 491–505.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Lyotard, J.-F. (1984). The postmodern condition. Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  35. McKay, V. I., & Romm, N. R. A. (1992). People’s education in theoretical perspective. Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman.Google Scholar
  36. Mingers, J. (1984). Subjectivism and soft systems methodology: A critique. Journal of Applied Systems Analysis, 11, 85–103.Google Scholar
  37. Romm, N. R. A. (1990). Gouldner’s reflexive methodological approach. In C. J. Alant (Ed.), Sociology and society: A humanist profile. Johannesburg: Southern Book Publishers.Google Scholar
  38. Romm, N. R. A. (1991). The methodologies of positivism and Marxism: A sociological debate. London: Macmillan & Co.Google Scholar
  39. Romm, N. R. A. (1994a). A symbolic theoretical view of the theory-practice relationship. In C. S. de Beer & P. J. A. Roux (Eds.), Theory, practice and the professions. Department of Information Science, University of South Africa.Google Scholar
  40. Romm, N. R. A. (1994b). Continuing tensions between soft systems methodology and critical systems heuristics. Working paper 5, Centre for Systems Studies, University of Hull.Google Scholar
  41. Romm, N. R. A. (1994c). Symbolic theory. In N. R. A. Romm & M. Sarakinsky (Eds.), Social theory. Johannesburg: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  42. Romm, N. R. A. (1995a). Knowing as intervention: Reflections on the application of systems ideas. Systems Practice, 8, 137–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Romm, N. R. A. (1995b). Some anomalies in Ulrich’s critical inquiry and problem-solving approach. In K. Ellis, A. Gregory, B. Mears-Young, & G. Ragsdell (Eds.), Critical issues in systems theory and practice. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  44. Romm, N. R. A. (1996). Inquiry and intervention in systems planning: Probing, methodological rationalities. World Futures (in press).Google Scholar
  45. Spaul, M. (1993). Critical systems thinking, post-modernism and the philosophy of Richard Rorty. In F. A. Stowell, D. West, & J. G. Howell (Eds.), Systems science: Addressing global issues. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  46. Taket, A. (1994). Undercover agency?-Ethics, responsibility and the practice of OR. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 45, 123–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Ulrich, W. (1983). Critical heuristics of social planning: A new approach to practical philosophy. Bern: Haupt.Google Scholar
  48. Ulrich, W. (1991). Critical heuristics of social systems design. In R. L. Flood & M. C. Jackson (Eds.), Critical systems thinking: Directed readings. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  49. Ulrich, W. (1994). Can we secure future-responsive management through systems thinking and design? Interfaces, 24, 26–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Weber, M. (1973). The ideal type. In K. Thompson & J. Tunstall (Eds.), Sociological perspectives. Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  51. White, L., & Taket, A. (1994). The death of the expert. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 45, 733–748.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norma R. A. Romm
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Systems StudiesUniversity of HullHullEngland

Personalised recommendations