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The paper provides an overview of Total Systems Intervention (TSI) and its use to select the appropriate systems methodologies as part of a research project by using the case of public sector organizations. It outlines the three phases of TSI and the major reasons behind the selection of System of systems methodologies and Soft Systems Methodology. Moreover, the paper also describes the concept and use of the SOSM framework, along with in-depth knowledge of metaphors and creativity in the process of problem solving.
Furthermore, the research paper details about why metaphors are considered to be excellent problem-solving aids together with its benefits during problem solving stages. The paper focuses mainly on the TSI methodologies and metaphors proposed by Flood and Jackson in comparison to other metaphors that can be used by users to enhance their creativity thinking to solve the problem of the system in hand.
The paper provides detailed illustrations of the three phases of Total Systems Intervention and how they can be employed as problem-solving techniques and help organizations and managers to deal with the problems and bottlenecks they encounter during the working of the organization.
The research paper eventually concludes by showing how TSI is an excellent facilitator for problem solving and the significance of the SOSM framework. In other words, the paper re-visits SOSM and proposes that use of SOSM as a framework for specifying methodological assumptions is not very easy when the concerned methodologies have relatively different meaning for one of the axis of the framework, namely, "system" complexity.
In essence, it is suggested that the intention of the underlying system may provide a more suitable frame for defining system approaches; such intentions being defined as transformation or interaction.
Total Systems Intervention
Total Systems Intervention is a management science which is concerned with problem solving. TSI functions on the assumption that organizations are too complex to understand by using only one system model. Apart from organizations, their strategies and the problems they confront should be investigated by utilizing a range of system metaphors. Moreover, different system methodologies and metaphors may be used in a complementary manner in order to address various aspects of organizations as well as the difficulties they face. Flood and Jackson mapped systems methodologies onto a two dimensional space. The first one being the vertical direction which deals with the system complexity and the second one is the horizontal dimension that deals with relationships among participants. TSI is basically a meta-methodology that combines a diverse range of system metaphors, a unique framework of systems methodologies, and a variety of systems approaches in order to enable creative problem solving. Within a process of TSI, systems metaphors are extensively used for encouraging creative thinking about organizations and the various issues that confront managers (Frankueuk 2009) (Flood & Romm 1996). These issues are so linked via a framework so that a suitable systems intervention or a set of systems interventions can be easily deployed. Furthermore, Total Systems Interventions can be seen as organizational interventions processes that propose a system of systems methodologies (SOSM) which is purported to facilitate the complementary selection of various system approaches. Additionally, TSI allows for the analysis of every dimension of strategy, the rise of all significant issues and the design of suitable interventions. Simply put, TSI is an efficient approach to problem solving in any organization standing firm with the original holistic purpose of system thinking (Laszlo & Krippner 1998) (Jackson 2000).
TSI is made up of three major phases of work, namely, creativity, choice and implementation.
Creativity: This is the first phase that asks questions in two modes; which metaphor can best describe the current situation and which metaphor can best describe the desired situation. These modes are known as the "is" mode and the "ought" mode respectively. A third approach to the questioning is to take into account which metaphors can help in explaining the difficulties and major areas of concern. Authors like Flood and Jackson have suggested that metaphors view the organization as:
This list is not exhaustive and the participants may use any other metaphor. However, what is most essential is that the description may be related to one of the systems approaches (Jackson 2000).
Furthermore, urging participants to think of metaphors beyond the ones suggested by Flood and Jackson may influence and give rise to more creative thinking about the situation (Laszlo & Krippner 1998) (Frankueuk 2009).
Choice: The choice phase uses the System of systems methodologies for providing a framework to choose between approaches. Moreover, the SOSM topology also offers guidelines to help the participants in making appropriate choice. Furthermore, it sort methodologies depending on the two dimensions, namely, the relative plurality of views of the participants and the relative complexity of the system being studied.
A 'simple' system typically has few elements, a high level of determinacy, a low degree of interaction, and will be highly regulated and highly organized. Moreover, it will be comparatively static and closed to environmental influence. On the other hand, a 'complex' system has a large number of elements (Frankueuk 2009) (Jackson 2000).
Contemporary theories define metaphors as a structuring element of cognitive systems. Metaphors affect the way human beings can perceive the world, organize thoughts and categorize experiences. These devices perform a fundamental role, since they not only assist in reasoning but also improvise innovative thinking. Furthermore, they urge the designer to think unconventionally and influence the application of novel ideas for designing problems. The use of metaphors by architects is clearly illustrated and well presented in literature via numerous examples. However, several empirical verifications have failed to verify the contribution of metaphors to design (Jackson 2000) (Hyatt). Recent studies have shown that metaphors help in detecting and capturing design concepts, as well as define requirements and goals. Moreover, in another research, the aid offered by metaphors in order to develop unconventional solutions was observed to be more productive in the initial stages of the design process, called as conceptual design. Indeed, use of metaphor in the final stages of design process is more complicated and thus requires more expertise (Flood & Romm 1996) (Casakin 2007).
Besides knowledge and expertise, design problems demand creativity. In other words, creative thinking enables one to perceive a specific problem from innovative and unorthodox perspectives. In order to enhance their creativity, designers usually use different kinds of tools, heuristics, and principles, such as metaphors. Notwithstanding its significance, no empirical studies have been carried out especially for studying the contribution of metaphors to design creativity (Jackson 2000) (Hyatt).
Creativity is nothing but a stimulating and captivating aspect of human thinking. Its is termed as the ability to restructure old and orthodox ideas in order to produce singular inventions, and to employ original thinking. Additionally, creative thinking is associated with the capacity of looking critically at reality, exploring unconventional alternatives, and perceiving situations from innovative views. Creativity is a primary element in design problem-solving. One of the major reasons is that design is an ill-structured and complex activity, wherein problems cannot be solved by applying algorithms or operators. Furthermore, in addition to the demand for qualitative knowledge as well as experience, the exploration of unconventional and unfamiliar design solutions needs creative skills. Moreover, creativity allows the designer to exceed traditional knowledge base in order to investigate new concepts and ideas which may result in innovative solutions (Flood & Romm 1996) (Jackson 2000) (Casakin 2007).
Metaphors as Problem-solving aids:
As aforementioned, metaphors are responsible for facilitating the understanding of an unfamiliar situation with respect to a known situation. With the help of metaphors, it is possible to make a direct reference to what is understood so as to clarify the unknown. Essentially, metaphors comprise of an uncommon collocation of the familiar and the unusual. Because they induce the discovery of innovative associations which broaden the human capacity to interpret, metaphors are considered to be the most valuable aids in problem-solving tasks (Casakin 2007).
Interestingly, the relevance of metaphors to problem-solving is associated with three fundamental steps. The first step implies extraction of a variety of unfamiliar ideas and concepts from remote domains, at which the possible relationships with the problem are not always evident. The next step consists of establishing a mapping of high-level relationships among the metaphorical concept and the problem. For this, correspondences are identified by using generalizations and abstractions. In this step, relationships of secondary significance are removed, and only structural correspondences are set up between the metaphorical source and the problem. The last step involves applying and transferring structural correspondence related to the metaphorical source and the problem, which eventually leads to a novel solution (Flood & Romm 1996) (Jackson 2000) (Hyatt).
Metaphors are seen as heuristics which help in organizing design thinking and deal with ill-defined design problems. Furthermore, metaphorical reasoning is viewed as an iterative process wherein designers gradually enhance their knowledge of a design situation. Moreover, metaphor use exclusively aids in structuring design problems that are, by definition, non-routine. Therefore, while solving non-routine problems, it is usually very difficult to predict how the solution will look like. It is usually during the early stages of the design process that the fuzzy metaphors assist reflection regarding the essence of a situation (Casakin 2007). Towards that end, reflection on a design situation was observed to have a strong impact on the analysis, perception, and framing of a problem (Hyatt). Metaphors not only assist in problem reflection, but also help in breaking away from the limitations enforced by initial problem constraints, exploring unfamiliar design options, followed by establishing new associations with the design problem (Jackson 2000). These are, therefore, in themselves crucial and essential reasons for which metaphors are thought to induce design creativity.
In short, every system employs a range of system metaphors such as cultural metaphors, brain organisms, etc, in order to encourage creative thinking about companies and the difficult issues to be confronted by the managers. The metaphors are linked to several system approaches through a framework known as system of systems methodology (SOSM) (Casakin 2007) (Hyatt).
The critical purpose of the SOSM was the creation of a categorization of systems methodologies which would allow for their "informed and complementary" use. On the other hand, Jackson sought therefore to offer, in his SOSM, an alternative framework that would help in a accomplishing the critical task of systems design and at the same time, be suitable to the language, internal development, and the concerns of systems thinking (Jackson 2000).
The formative idea behind the SOSM is that it is possible to create an ideal-type grid of problem contexts which may be used for classifying systems methodologies with respect to their assumptions about problem situations (Casakin 2007). Moreover, a problem context is said to involve the individual or group of individuals who are the "would-be" solvers of the problem, the system(s) which the problem belongs to, and the set of applicable participants. This set comprises of all the participants who are authorized to make decisions that have an impact on the behavior of the system (s) (Beckford 2002) (Molineux & Haslett). Nevertheless, from this definition, it can be reasonably suggested that there are two main aspects of problem context which are said to have a particular impact on the character of the problems belonging to them. These two aspects are nothing but the nature of the system (s) within which the problems reside and the nature of the relationship amongst the participants. As these two aspects change in character, they are the two key variables which are likely to lead to qualitative changes in problem contexts, thereby affecting the problems in it and demanding an essential reorientation of problem-solving approach. Furthermore, a grid of types of problems contexts can be easily drawn by using these two key variables and observing in every case the significant form they take (Frankueuk 2009) (Jackson 2000).
In essence, the nature of the relationship existing between participants can be the other factor that may immensely affect the character of a problem context. Moreover, if the participants involved in a particular problem context genuinely agree with the objectives, have compatible beliefs and values, share common interests, and collectively participate in decision making; this may result into easier handling of the problem context, as against, for instance, if their objectives conflicted. In general, when there is a genuine agreement between the relevant participants, then problem context is said to be unitary (Beckford 2002) (Casakin 2007). When the participants have diverse beliefs and values, as well as differing objectives and interests, but with a literal compromise or accommodation that can be reached upon, then the problem context is said to be pluralist. However, if there are minor common interests among the participants, a fundamental conflict may exist, and the only way of resolving this is by exercising the power and domination of one or more participants over others, then the problem context is said to be coercive (Frankueuk 2009) (Molineux & Haslett). While the SOSM framework might appear to be reductionist in its approach, which is too literal a view. This framework is also said to offer "ideal-type" proposals. Given a satiation, the practitioner should exercise professional judgment at the choice of methodology and identifies that most situations have a significant level of "grey" in their making up, instead of the simple "black and white" often sought by clients and suggested by SOSM. Furthermore, this is one area which required sophisticated knowledge and understanding of the user and may lead to some of the poor uses of the TSI process (Flood & Romm 1996) (Jackson 2000).
With respect to use, TSI includes much of value to its users only if they are ready to deal with the complexity and uncertainly which may be provided by the rigorous application of the technique. For those perceiving all of an organization's problems and trivial and simple, the technique is hardly of any value as they have decided, prior to the start of the exploration, what the problem would be and how it may be resolved (Frankueuk 2009).
Indeed, when the theoretical foundations of TSI seem reasonable sound, there are yet two principle limitations.
The first limitation indicates that the approach is too complex to be used by managers and it may be difficult without the acquisition of suitable background and knowledge. For maximal benefit, it needs expert facilitation. Moreover, this limitation may result in managers avoiding the approach, and prefer something more straightforward and simpler.
Secondly, this limitation exposes the whole model to the potential for misuse of power for which other models have been criticized. Toward that end, the facilitators are powerful and may divert the model to be designed at their own ends (Flood & Romm 1996) (Beckford 2002) (Molineux & Haslett).
Total Systems Intervention consists of three main phases labeled as creativity, choice and implementation.
During the implementation phase, the task of employing a particular systems methodology is performed in order to arrive at and implement specific protocols. The tools offered by TSI are the specific systems methodologies that are utilized according to the logic of TSI. Furthermore, the dominant methodology constructs an approach to change that must tackle the major problems encountered. However, the logic of TSI requires that the consideration must be continued to be given to the duties of other methodologies. For instance, the key problems encountered by an organization that suffers from structural collapse might have been focused on by using the metaphors of brain and organism, but the cultural metaphor may also appear highlighted, even though in an essentially subordinate way during the immediate crisis (Jackson 2000). Moreover, during such circumstances, a cybernetic methodology can be selected to guide and aid the intervention, perhaps moderated by some ideas of soft systems methodology (Laszlo & Krippner 1998) (Frankueuk 2009) (Flood & Romm 1996) (Molineux & Haslett).
Personnel and managers in other organizations may want to redesign their information systems but might be held back due to the conflicting views regarding where the organization should be routing, aggravated by some political combat. Indeed, this situation may be best understood through the culture metaphor, together with the coercive-system and brain metaphors also illuminating. Particularly, in this case, soft systems methodology may guide the intervention, but by utilizing aspects of critical systems heuristics and cybernetics also being employed.
Toward that end, the outcome of the implementation stage is said to be coordinated change that is brought about in those aspects of an organization presently most critical for its effective, efficient, and ethical functioning (Jackson 2000) (Beckford 2002).
Therefore, in brief, the task of the implementation phase is to arrive at as well as implement a specific protocol change proposals. Implementation phase requires tools such as system methodologies used in accordance with the logic of TSI, and the outcome is the highly coordinated and relevant change, thereby improving effectiveness, efficiency, and ethicality of the system's functioning (Laszlo & Krippner 1998) (Flood & Romm 1996).
The classification of Total systems intervention into a creativity phase, that surfaces information of the problem situation in hand; a "choice" phase, that focuses on alternatives techniques of addressing critical issues; and an "implementation" phase, wherein change processes are managed, is considered to be the best technique for solving problems (Beckford 2002) (Molineux & Haslett).
Mythology for System Design:
Any community, inclusive of communities of practitioners, holds experiences and stories to tell within its ranks regarding how its various activities are carried out. Within a community of practice, these are mainly stories about how the practice is conducted, when it fails and when it succeeds. With any stories, these are highly selective and underline particularly unusual or significant aspects of the practice. Furthermore, they do not initiate the practice, but they shape it by aiding each participant to frame and construct their account of their practice. This set of stories is called the mythology of practice and problem-solving technique (Harris & Henderson).
Standard Mythology of System Design:
The following principles are broadly accepted:
Defining clear system requirements
Defining clean choices for end users at every point where they communicate with the system
Defining a clear architecture which can satisfy all the system requirements
Maintaining consistency during the design, for both ease of learning and ease of maintenance
Fundamental to these principles are even more basic assumptions:
The components of the system should interact with respect to a pre-established harmony that is defined at the design phase
The end users should interact with the system in terms of the ontology created by these rules or the language.
The role of a designer is to determine, clarify, and if necessary invent the rules which set up the harmony, and then embed them in the computer system (Harris & Henderson).
The most important point is that these statements are assumptions and they could be different for different systems or system requirements. These assumptions are derived from the following conditions:
Coordination: Organization personnel working together are normally caught in the tension among their specific ways of understanding the world, as well as the explicit shared regularities to be maintained for coordinating their activities. Moreover, people must react to particularities, which are the details of the case or problem in hand, in order to achieve appropriate, creative actions as a reaction to ever the changing world and changing goals. Such responses may generate unbound and unpredictable diversity (Harris & Henderson).
Human in teams rely on shared regularities, which are nothing but norms, assumptions, expectations, conventions, in order to coordinate their activities. In essence, for maintaining group coordination regardless of adverse circumstances, including distance, several participants, external hostility, etc. these shared regularities must be supported via discussions, monitoring, teaching, and enforcement. Simply put, the regularities should be made explicit. Furthermore, these explicit regularities are mostly encountered in the form of a variety of "rules", such as organization regularities, "manners", and rules of thumb. Explicit regularities and particularities are likely to conflict since individuals can often find ways to react to specific circumstances which are not compatible with or predicted by the regularities needed for coordination (Harris & Henderson).
However, there are certain problems seen with the standard mythology.
It is not easy to get perspective on design assumptions that are embedded in the practices and mythology of such a permeate tradition. Moreover, the dynamic balance found in organization features various important characteristics which are not captured by the standard mythology. They are:
Particularities are discovered and accommodated
Practices of equipping particularities into the rules evolve, thereby altering the interpretation of the rules
Practices of application of rules are collected are coded, which often leads to explicit changes in the rules
Modifications in rules are designed and implemented. Every change creates a new round of accommodation as workers align their practices into the new regularities.
These activities occur in the context of common missions or purposes that help to guide the accommodation and change; thereby allowing the individual managers to act appropriately even without explicit regularities. The norms can only be preserved by enforcement, whenever members of an organization do not subscribe to shared purposes (Harris & Henderson). As enforcing obedience to the norms is expensive, those maintaining the integrity of an organization should be sensitive to protest and should make practical compromise for keeping the organization viable. Indeed, the mission of the organization supports further norms which are important in several organizations.
Rules must be applied by keeping the mission and objective in mind
Conflicts must be noticed between the rules and the mission
Lastly, the rules can be changed so that they best serve the mission.
Need for a new myth:
Therefore, the standard story of organization rationality which is typically built in the design practices especially for computer systems is a story that offers a rather damaging and very partial view of how good and rational organizations operate.
Once the limited and incorrect perspectives on technology and work are recognized, which are imposed by the standard myths of both system design and organization, a search for more effective approaches can be started to writer better myths around them.
Most individuals have found it tempting to solve the problems aforementioned by making systems "smart", so that they can detect newer regularities, for instance. Not only are the present 'smart' system technologies insufficient to the task, but the mythologies fundamental to most of these 'smart' technologies simply reinforce the standard mythology which caused the problems (Harris & Henderson). They do nothing to integrate system with the values and missions of the organizations, or to support the reinterpretation, reassessment and reconciliation which are essential in a rapidly changing world.
Typical Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the source of almost all ideas of how to make systems 'smart'. Nonetheless, AI has run into diversified problems that are variations on the ones aforesaid. For instance, classical AI systems need examples to be "translated" into a suitable input format that traditionally maps the participants of the example onto the regularities for which the system is designed to handle (Harris & Henderson).
Researchers have argued that the system methodologies are robust and effective tools that bring together as well as discuss every aspect of knowledge management that is relevant to an organization, along with modeling them dynamically over time. Most of the institutions employed methodologies as problem diagnostic and problem-solving means. Moreover, these are extremely essential tools one may fall on for solving the numerous problems concerning to the institutions. Furthermore, majority of institutions work like machines with very little view to the various changes in the environment. They also operate system of organizational and administration procedures that had been initially discarded off decades ago within the developed world.
Therefore, to conclude, the research paper has provided an in-depth knowledge about Total Systems Intervention and the three phases it contains to facilitate ease of problem solving, namely the "creativity", "choice" and "implementation" phases. The paper has also outlined the concept of the system of systems methodologies (SOSM) and the standard mythology for system design. Furthermore, the research paper has offered a detailed description about what TSI is and how it is used as a problem solving aid. It also explains the uses and types of metaphors and how these metaphors differ from system to system and act as a problem solving assistance.