Critical Systems Criteria for Evaluating Interventions

  • Gerald Midgley


Whether or not any particular intervention can be described as critical or systemic is a matter of judgement. An intervener may claim to be acting critically or systemically, but this claim may be subject to argumentation by others. There can therefore be no absolute definition of what it means to undertake a critical systems intervention. Although this may be the case, it is nevertheless still possible to propose criteria for judging whether an intervention is critical or systemic, around which argumentation can take place. This paper suggests that an actual or proposed intervention may be judged as critical and systemic (or not) on the basis of the view of improvement it takes, the critique that it embodies, and the appropriateness of the methods that it uses. These criteria are derived from the three interdependent themes that form an agenda for Critical Systems Thinking: improvement, critical awareness and methodological pluralism. The three themes have been labelled as such by Midgley (1995a), adapting the different ideas and terminologies of Jackson (1991a), Schecter (1991) and Flood and Jackson (1991a).


Critical System Critical Awareness System Methodology System Practice Tribal People 
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. Churchman, C.W., 1970, Operations research as a profession, Management Science, 17:B37–B53.Google Scholar
  2. Churchman, C.W., 1979, The Systems Approach and its Enemies, Basic Books: New York.Google Scholar
  3. Flood, R.L., 1989, Six scenarios for the future of systems ‘problem solving’, Systems Practice, 2:75–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Flood, R.L., 1990, Liberating Systems Theory, Plenum: New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Flood, R.L., 1995, Solving Problem Solving, Wiley: Chichester.Google Scholar
  6. Flood, R.L. and Jackson, M.C., 1991a, Critical Systems Thinking: Directed Readings, Wiley, Chichester.Google Scholar
  7. Flood, R.L. and Jackson, M.C., 1991b, Creative Problem Solving: Total Systems Intervention, Wiley, Chichester.Google Scholar
  8. Flood, R.L. and Romm, N.R.A., 1996, Diversity Management: Triple Loop Learning, Wiley: Chichester.Google Scholar
  9. Foucault, M., 1980, Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977 (C. Gordon: ed.), Harvester, Brighton.Google Scholar
  10. Foucault, M., 1984, What is enlightenment?, in: The Foucault Reader (P. Rabinow, ed.), pp. 32–50, Penguin, London.Google Scholar
  11. Gregory, W.J., 1992, Critical Systems Thinking and Pluralism: A New Constellation, Ph.D. Thesis, City University, London.Google Scholar
  12. Jackson, M.C., 1987a, Present positions and future prospects in management science, Omega, 15:455–466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Jackson, M.C., 1987b, New directions in management science, in: New Directions in Management Science (M.C. Jackson and P. Keys, eds.), Gower, Aldershot.Google Scholar
  14. Jackson, M.C., 1990, Beyond a system of systems methodologies, Journal of the Operational Research Society, 41:657–668.Google Scholar
  15. Jackson, M.C., 1991a, The origins and nature of Critical Systems Thinking, Systems Practice, 4:131–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Jackson, M.C., 1991b, Systems Methodology for the Management Sciences, Plenum, New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jackson, M.C and Keys, P., 1984, Towards a system of systems methodologies, Journal of the Operational Research Society, 35:473–486.Google Scholar
  18. Midgley, G., 1990, Creative methodology design, Systemist, 12:108–113.Google Scholar
  19. Midgley, G., 1992a, The sacred and profane in Critical Systems Thinking, Systems Practice, 5:5–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Midgley, G., 1992b, Pluralism and the legitimation of systems science, Systems Practice, 5:147–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Midgley, G., 1992c, Power and languages of co-operation: A critical systems perspective, in: Sistemica’ 92: Ira Conferencia Internacional de Trabajo del Instituto Andino de Sistemas (IAS), held in Lima, Peru, on 23–28 August 1992.Google Scholar
  22. Midgley, G., 1995a, What is this thing called Critical Systems Thinking? In: Critical Issues in Systems Theory and Practice (K. Ellis, A. Gregory, B. Mears-Young, and G. Ragsdell, eds.), Plenum, New York.Google Scholar
  23. Midgley, G., 1995b, Mixing Methods: Developing Systemic Intervention, Centre for Systems Studies Research Memorandum number 9, Centre for Systems Studies, Hull.Google Scholar
  24. Oliga, J.C., 1988, Methodological foundations of systems methodologies, Systems Practice, 1:87–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Rorty, R., 1989, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Schecter, D., 1991, Critical Systems Thinking in the 1980s: A connective summary, in: Critical Systems Thinking: Directed Readings (R.L. Flood and M.C. Jackson, eds.), Wiley, Chichester.Google Scholar
  27. Ulrich, W., 1983, Critical Heuristics of Social Planning: A New Approach to Practical Philosophy, Haupt: Berne.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gerald Midgley
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Systems Studies, Department of Management Systems and SciencesUniversity of HullHullUK

Personalised recommendations