Ulrich, Werner and Reynolds, Martin
(2010). Critical systems heuristics.
In: Reynolds, Martin and Holwell, Sue eds.
Systems Approaches to Managing Change: A Practical Guide.
London: Springer, pp. 243–292.
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Critical systems heuristics (CSH) is a framework for reflective professional practice organised around the central tool of boundary critique. This paper, written jointly by the original developer, Werner Ulrich, and Martin Reynolds, an experienced practitioner of CSH, offers a systematic introduction to the idea and use of boundary critique. Its core concepts are explained in detail and their use is illustrated by means of two case studies from the domain of environmental planning and management. A particular focus is on working constructively with tensions between opposing perspectives as they arise in many situations of professional intervention. These include tensions such as ‘situation’ versus ‘system’, ‘is’ versus ‘ought’ judgements, concerns of ‘those involved’ versus ‘those affected but not involved’, stakeholders’ ‘stakes’ versus ‘stakeholding issues’, and others. Accordingly, boundary critique is presented as a participatory process of unfolding and questioning boundary judgements rather than as an expert-driven process of boundary setting. The paper concludes with a discussion of some essential skills and considerations regarding the practice of boundary critique.
Parts of the account of the NRUA-Botswana study in Section 6.2 of the present paper are reproduced from an earlier publication by one of the authors (Reynolds 2007); we are grateful to the publishers of Edge Press, Point Reyes, CA, for granting us permission to reproduce this material. We do not need the systems concept at all if we are not interested in handling systems boundaries critically.
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