The Dark side of the moon - unilluminated dimensions of systems practice

Spear, Roger (2001). The Dark side of the moon - unilluminated dimensions of systems practice. Systemic Practice and Action Research, 14(6) pp. 779–790.



This paper explores some of the unilluminated or less explicit aspects of issues faced by those using systems approaches in real-world problem situations. The paper contends that discourse on systems approaches tends to be dominated by rational logical aspects of methodology, though other aspects of the intervention process, such as political dimensions of legitimacy, have become more important in the last 10–15 years. Unsurprisingly the discourse has been different for different methods. Method has been largely invisible in the hard systems area (or at least relatively little discussed), and although it has been the subject of much debate in the soft systems area, the debate has been nonetheless narrowly defined. It is narrowly defined in its relative neglect of process aspects for conducting a systems study. Since the nature of these processes (for example, the client/consultant relation) changes from hard systems to soft systems to critical systems in a way that makes social process progressively a more important dimension of each approach, this aspect has featured more in discourse on critical systems, but in general it remains a curious area of neglect. There is increasing interest in this area, and some signs that relevant theory and practice from closely related domains is being accessed to strengthen these approaches. This paper attempts to make a contribution by outlining and discussing some areas that could usefully complement existing systems approaches. The paper considers the following areas: (a) client relations, (b) analyst role, (c) language and communication, (d) group processes, (e) culture (and rationalities), (f) information gathering techniques and processes, and (g) change management or implementation. The paper draws on experiences of systems practices in the literature, interviews with systems practitioners, and writings in related areas. The paper ends by discussing some of the implications of these issues for the development of well-rounded systems approaches.

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