A Guide to Systems Research: Philosophy, Processes and Practice can be pre-ordered through Amazon.com, ISBN 978-981-10-0263. For more information, see: http://www.springer.com/us/book/9789811002625. Watch this space for more news and updates about the book. Here are abstracts of the book's chapters:
Editors: Mary Edson, Pamela Buckle Henning and Shankar Sankaran
1. Philosophical Foundations of Systems Research – Debora Hammond, Ph.D.
2. Frameworks – John Kineman, Ph.D.
3. Problem Structuring and Research Design – Mary C. Edson, Ph.D. and Louis Klein, Ph.D.
4. Modeling – John Kineman, Ph.D.
5. Taking Action – Shankar Sankaran, Ph.D.
6. Systems Research Reporting – Will Varey, Ph.D.
7. Competencies for Systems Research – Pamela Buckle Henning, Ph.D.
8. Evaluating the Impact of Systems Research – Gary S. Metcalf, Ph.D. and Mary C. Edson, Ph.D.
Chapter 1: Philosophical Foundations of Systems Research
Debora Hammond, PhD
This chapter will provide a brief introduction to the evolution of systems theory and practice in order to articulate a framework for systems research. It begins with a discussion of the meaning and significance of systems research, articulating both a distinction and a relationship between research into the nature of systems and a systemic approach to research. The chapter then outlines a cyclical framework based on relational theory, as initially conceived by Robert Rosen and further elaborated by John Kineman.
In order to provide a historical and theoretical context for the book, the chapter explores the evolution of the systems concept, and provides a brief summary of developments in the broad ranging systems field, beginning with an overview of applied systems approaches, including both systems technology and systems design, and continuing with an exploration into the various theoretical orientations in the systems sciences.
Building on this background, the chapter outlines the ontological, epistemological and ethical considerations that inform research into systems, as well as a systemic approach to research, suggesting a potential, and perhaps critical, role for the proposed conceptual framework in providing greater integration between these two approaches. Finally, it highlights the qualities of inclusivity, collaboration, and holistic thinking inherent in systems research.
Keywords: Systems theory, systems practice, theoretical context, technology, design, ontology, epistemology, ethics, inclusivity, collaboration, holism.
Chapter 2: Frameworks
John J. Kineman, Ph.D.
The concept of ‘systems’ has been around since the earliest philosophical records. To date, however, we do not have a widely accepted definition. Here we make the proposal that a system is a whole unit of nature. We then propose a systems research framework that can yield a whole form of systems analysis. By ‘whole’ is meant a natural unit that is a self-related cycle of causes. The schema we present is based on the work of the mathematical biologist Robert Rosen and it follows, with important modifications, the causal and categorical definitions given by Aristotle. The resulting four-quadrant, four-category framework is then described and related to other meta-system frameworks that exist independently in many disciplines. There are two keys to understanding this framework. One is that since Aristotle we have thought of causality in a dualistic, hierarchical way, with ultimately unknowable causes at the top and inert substance at the bottom. Natural science has focused on the bottom half and humanistic and social sciences have focused on the top. Prior to Greek philosophy, however, in ‘non-dual’ philosophy, these same causes can be described as a self-related cycle, giving a holographic view of reality. By adopting the causal cycle we remove the problem of ‘unnatural’ causes. The entirely natural treatment of the four causes then lends itself to mathematical rigor and thus applications in science, humanism, and other fields. Examples and worksheets are provided to help introduce the reader to this highly systemic way of thinking.
Keywords: Framework, systems analysis, modeling relation, holism, holon, causality, category, hierarchy, duality, holographic view
Chapter 3: Problem Structuring and Research Design in Systemic Inquiry
Mary C. Edson, Ph.D. and Louis Klein, Ph.D.
The central question of Chapter 3 is, “How are inquiries into problems structured and designed to conduct research in a systemic (holistic, comprehensive, complicated, and complex), as well as systematic (logical, rigorous, and disciplined) way?” The focus is on Problem Structuring and Research Design related to the purpose of research and development of an inquiry’s central research question(s). Both are predicated on researchers’ grounding in systems philosophy and theoretical or conceptual frameworks gained through knowledge acquired through review of the literature, experience, experimentation, or pilot study. These foundations prepare systems researchers for analyzing systems and defining problems to design, conduct, report, and evaluate systemic research studies. In addition, these fundamentals guide researchers’ journeys through iterative, nested, and cumulative cycles of learning about subject systems. Researchers will learn about defining systemic research questions and gain understanding about the role and embedment of context, including a system’s environment, its stakeholders, and emergent properties. Researchers will gain appreciation and competencies of systemic research that is also systematic by applying principles of adaptive project management. While Problem Structuring is about doing the right research, Research Design is about doing research right using a systemic lens. For systems researchers from disciplines such as the social, natural, and physical sciences, and fields like engineering, economics, and public policy, this question poses exacting challenges in evaluation of credibility, validity, and ethics of Systems Research including application of findings. It poses a dual standard of rigor in requiring that research meet both systematic and systemic definitions and distinctions.
Keywords: Systemic, systematic, systems analysis, iterative, cycles of learning, context, stakeholders, emergent properties, adaptive project management, credibility, validity, ethics
Chapter 4: Modeling
John J. Kineman, Ph.D.
‘Modeling’ in academic and applied disciplines has many interpretations. Here we focus again on the work of Robert Rosen to examine a mathematical view of whole system analysis and modeling. By ‘judicious’ is meant following certain epistemological criteria that ensure good science and help resolve philosophical differences between realist and pragmatist approaches. While adopting a primarily realist position on modeling (that models describe nature), the modeling framework also represents constructed phenomena (perceptions and agreements about nature). The resolution of these views is found in reifying models themselves in both nature and cognitive processes. Building on the Systems Research Framework presented in Chapter 2, we describe four kinds of model, each associated with one of the quadrants in the cyclical framework, and a fifth level of meta-modeling associated with the identity cycle of a system (the framework itself). We describe the mathematical basis for relating models in the framework using Category Theory adapted for this purpose; and we discuss the technical differences between modeling, simulation, and analogy, giving familiar examples and recommending future development. The reader will gain basic tools to apply whole systems analysis and modeling to complex problems.
Keywords: Realist, pragmatist, cognitive processes, cycles, Category Theory, modeling, simulation, analogy, whole systems analysis
Chapter 5: Taking Action Using Systems Research
Shankar Sankaran, PhD
The aim of this chapter is to guide you to take action to conduct your systems research project. It will start suggesting some ways to establish a research project based on traditional project management principles and compare it with ways in which a systems researcher might set a research project. It will then explain the importance of constructing a methodology for your research project and point out why systems researchers often adopt multi-methodologies to carry out their research. The chapter will then focus on how systems interventions can be developed to contribute to your research methodology with examples of multi-methodology and systemic action research interventions that have been successfully used by prominent systems researchers in different contexts. The chapter will then take you through some steps normally used in conducting a research project, with an emphasis on systems research, covering an overview of research methods, negotiating relationships to get access to research sites, data collection and analysis methods and ways to demonstrate rigor. Since this chapter covers a wide area, bridging systems interventions to ways in which conventional research is carried out, it will focus more on how systems interventions can be set up and implemented but provide a variety of references to help the reader find adequate information to carry out research expected of doctoral studies or research reports. It will also make reference to other chapters in the book to guide the readers to take effective action to complete a research project successfully.
Chapter 6: Systems Research Reporting
Will Varey, PhD.
The competent design, planning, undertaking and analysis of systems research deserves to be reported well to reflect its systemic strengths. The very best systems research will evidence a systemic approach in its structure, content and overall contribution to the field. To enable a systemic approach to systems research reporting a researcher must frame and select from a number of considerations specific to the systems field. This chapter provides clear guidance for systems researchers in a systematic approach to writing up and reporting research in the systems sciences. The distinctive roles, forms, phases, levels and premises of systems research are outlined for easy consideration. A systematic approach to reporting highlights the elements of structure, boundary, relations, timing, and completeness that assist favorable evaluations. The researcher is also directed to the critical choices they must make between systems definitions, paradigms, voicings, and perspectives. The chapter concludes with a consideration of common errors of omission and the unique ethical tensions experienced when undertaking contemporary systems research. This content will benefit early-career systems researchers, research article reviewers, examiners of dissertations, and experienced systems practitioners in making their own contributions to the wider systems discipline.
Keywords: Systems theory, research reporting, Systems Research, boundary definition, ontological frame, research error, systemic, systems ethics
Chapter 7: Competencies Necessary for Systems Research
Pamela Buckle Henning, Ph.D.
Conducting systems research requires knowledge and competence. Knowledge about the properties and behaviours of systems is readily available from academic publishers and the popular press. Understanding the particular competencies necessary to conduct systems research is less often discussed. This chapter outlines key perceptual competencies demanded of Systems Researchers. I begin with the ability to perceive the presence of systemic wholes and parts. Next, I consider the challenging complexity of many systemic phenomena, and competencies involved in perceiving key characteristics of complex systems (order, change, relationships, and information). Scholars are often called to generalize their findings to other settings; the search for similarity among different contexts involves analogical reasoning, an important perceptual competency for skillful systems research. I address challenges of engaging with the uncertainties of systemic inquiries, along with a call for Systems Researchers to be reflexive of the ways they become personally affected by the phenomena they investigate.
Keywords: Systems research competencies, perceptual competencies, complexity, analogical reasoning, uncertainty, reflexivity
Chapter 8: Evaluating the Impact of Systems Research: What is needed, and what is good enough?
Mary C. Edson, Ph.D. and Gary S. Metcalf
A central challenge of Systems Research is expressing implicit understanding of change and making it explicit. The goal of this guide is to answer the question, “What distinguishes Systems Research from other forms of research?” Defining what constitutes good systemic research requires explanation about what is missing from the current practices of research, as driven by the assumptions of science. This requires tracing back assumptions about what we know (ontology), how we learn (epistemology), and how those have shaped our approaches to research thus far. In this guide, concepts of Systems Research - philosophy, frameworks, problem structuring and research design, taking action, reporting results, and competencies - have been presented in systematic ways that instill rigor in systemic inquiry. These concepts correspond to the precision expected of scientific inquiry viewed through systemic lenses. Each chapter, and the portion of the research study it represents, needs to be its own coherent “whole”, while also acting as part of a total of coherent study design. Good systems research puts science in context; its evaluation requires more than traditional scientific approaches and critical thinking. The need for additional systemic evaluation prompts several questions concerning philosophical principles guiding research, the rationale for the chosen framework, the basis for problem analysis and research question development, and the resulting modeling. Research must be evaluated for systemic coherence as demonstrated in reporting of findings, conclusions drawn and recommendations. Have the system and the Systems Researcher been changed by the inquiry? Essentially, what is systemic about the research?
Keywords: Ontology, epistemology, Systems Research, systematic, systemic, rigor, coherence, context, critical thinking, credibility, evaluation, change