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Last time I introduced qualitative approaches to analysis and the first two steps for soft systems analysis. There are six steps in all and this time I will introduce the remaining four steps. Like many of these formal approaches, I find I rarely slavishly follow all six steps but use them as I find opportunities. Being familiar with this method has changed the way I approach problems on the ground.
The point is things rarely operate according to theory, whether the theory is from science, social sciences or theology. In reality, we’re on the ground and have to make decisions in situations which sometimes are not as they should be in theory.
Practitioners of all types know theory, whilst helpful, rarely resolves the problems they face in real life. Being stuck is a common experience and I’ll return to this in more detail next time.
System Definition (Step 3)
To arrive at a system definition you need six pieces of information. For each of these six, you will be able to list many options. To arrive at the definition you choose one from each of the six lists and put them together.
There is a mnemonic: CATWOE
Client – imagine you are a consultant and list your possible clients.
Actors – these are sometimes known as stakeholders, everyone who has an interest in the system you’re analysing.
I find the distinction between clients and actors very helpful. So, you might be a consultant acting for the managers of a community cafe or of their landlords, a local church. These 2 organisations have different interests and so if you define two systems the same in all respects apart from these two clients, you may end up with very different results. So, by changing the client you can put yourself in the shoes of those who might be making decisions. You could in principle have the same list for clients and actors and indeed there may be advantages in thinking about customers as clients, for example. The interests of customers would be very different to the interests of those who manage the enterprise.
Transformations – these are the tasks and issues identified at step 2 but you may need to express them as a transformation – what do you want to change? From what ... to what?
Worldview – these are the prevailing assumptions made by the actors and clients. The problem may be around differences in the way people perceive the world. You will need to identify the ones that shape the current situation and of course some may be in conflict.
Operations – these are the steps that need to be taken to bring about change. See step 4.
Environment – the trends, events and demands of the political, legal, economic, social, demographic, technological, ethical, competitive, natural environments provide the context for the situation and specific problem arena. We need to understand these.
Operations (Step 4)
These are the steps you need to work through to bring about change. Clearly any step you take may change the nature of the following operational steps. But it is important to have some sense of the path you need to take to arrive at the transformation you have chosen. For the first step, you may need to make a detailed list. For example, if you need to find out more information, list all the things you need to know.
Ideal and Real (Step 5)
Choose the most significant of the things you need to do or find out. Now, list what you would wish for in an ideal world. Alongside this list, write in the real situation. This again challenges you to step outside the theoretical model and consider the reality of the situation you are in. But it is possible you will begin to see some things where changes can readily be made.
Action Steps (Step 6)
Identify what steps you need to take to move from the real towards the ideal. Steps 5 and 6 together are sometimes known as a needs analysis.