The Systems Paradigm Paradigm A presentation for the 3rd System Science European Congress, Rome, October 1-3, 1996

Maurice Yolles Liverpool Business School, Liverpool John Moores University, UK.

Abstract: In the search for a new way of looking at systems methodologies, and consequently providing a way of seeing the whole of systems as part of the same thing, Jackson developed his system of system methodologies, and Flood his Total Systems Intervention methodology. An alternative way of seeing holistically is cybernetically, and from the perspective of the paradigm. Introduction Jackson (1992) has considered the development of a system of systems methodologies that is capable of holistically exploring different systems methodologies. Flood (1995) produced an alternative form for the system of system methodologies. Both operate through a typology of methodologies that implicitly restrict their development or interpretation, and both approaches use five “cornerstone” metaphors that represent an inquirer’s view of an organisation involved in a situation. We propose an alternative cybernetic approach to this that is based on the paradigm. Paradigms involve a (i) cognitive organisation under which we can represent the conceptual models associated with a methodology, and (ii) an enablement for the establishment of behavioural organisation to which action can be related. When we speak of group behaviour, it is immaterial whether we are referring to methodological inquiry through say Organisational Development, or the behaviour of an organisation like an enterprise. Both have a paradigm, both are built upon a set of cognitive concepts, and both have an organised behaviour. While the characteristics of Flood’s metaphors might be useful as an initial guide to help define the paradigm, our approach is in principle more stakeholder centred. Flood has created a methodology that incorporates the system of systems methodologies, called Total Systems Intervention. This is intended to provide a structure for inquiry into the selection of methodologies. Its behavioural organisation consists of the three phases Creativity, Choice, and Implementation which is claimed to be generic in that all methodologies are claimed to have this phasing. A generic form of inquiry not dissimilar to that of Flood’s is defined in our approach, involving the nodes of analysis, synthesis, and choice linked in a cyclic structure (this is implicitly connected to the methodology Conflict Modelling Cycle (Yolles, 1995, 1996b). This cycle, however, represents the nodes linked by the processes conceptualisation, constraint, and action. The use of this enables cybernetic principles to be used to inquire into the behavioural organisation of methodologies in order to compare them technically. Linked with this is a structuralist way of exploring different methodologies that examines them at a metasystemic level. Weltanschauung and the Paradigm Human being need to assign themselves to groups that enable their identities to be reinforced by providing an objective rather than only a subjective reality. Group membership offers an 1

identity to an individual, but this is not the same as the individual’s independent identity. “The two realities correspond to each other, but are not coextensive. There is always more objective reality ‘available’ than is actually internalised in any individual consciousness, simply because the contents of socialisation are determined by the social distribution of knowledge. No individual internalises the totality of what is objectivated as reality in his society, not even if society and its world are relatively simple ones” (Berger and Luckman, 1966, p163). The idea that individual and group normative world views are not coextensive leads us to differentiate between the concepts of weltanschauung and paradigm (Yolles, 1996, 1996a). Weltanschauung Human activity can be viewed in a number of different ways. The way in which it is seen by someone is from a viewpoint that is determined by their beliefs, background, interest, and environment. It generates a perspective, a mental picture of the relationships and relative importance of things which is itself a mental model of an activity or situation. Since different people may have different viewpoints, they will also have different perspectives, and consequently different mental models. These mental models may be more or less common to a group of people. In this case they have shared perspectives. At the turn of the century Scheler (1947) was concerned with this concept of relativity in respect of knowledge and knowledge acquisition. Within each individual, there is an organisation of knowledge, or order. This order is influenced by the sociocultural environment, and appears to the individual as the natural way of looking at the world. Scheler called this the "relative-natural world view" (relativnatÜrlische weltanschauung) of a society. Mannheim (1964), at about the same time, had interests that lay with the concept of ideology. He used Scheler's ideas, which become referred to as weltanschauung, or "world-view". Weltanschauungen are relative to the institutions one is attached to in a given society, and they change as the institutional realities change. The acquisition of knowledge is important for those people who try to explain what they see about problems that they wish to solve. The process of developing a view of the problem is called modelling it. A model, we note, is a representation of an idea or concept. A person who is in the process of modelling what he or she conceive as a reality will have a weltanschauung which will eventually determine how that model is built and operated. The term was later used by Checkland (Checkland and Scholes (1990), Checkland and Davis (1986)) as one of the cornerstones of his own systems methodology directed at solving problem situations that involve human activity. The use of the word by Checkland can be defined as "The perspective of a situation that has been assumed...i.e. how it is regarded from a particular (explicit) viewpoint; sometimes described as the assumptions made about the system." (Patching, 1990, p282). Paradigm Weltanschauung is normally seen as the world view of an individual. Different from this is the world view of a group of individals that have some common norms. Individuals become members of the group when they assign themselves to it. The development of group norms can be referred to as primary socialisation (Berger and Luckmann, 1964, p152). It is a dialectic process, so that group norms are established through an interactive process from 2

which all of its members learn. In this way new norms can develop and old ones wither. Individuals identify with a group, and take on its members’ roles, attitudes, and generalised perspective. Identity is thus objectively defined through the group. However, there is always a distinction between the individual and the group. The nature of the paradigm is that it provides a framework of thought and conceptualisation that enables organised action to occur, problem situations to be addressed, and constrains the way in which they can be described. The paradigm, according to Kuhn (1970), involves four dimensions of common thought: common symbolic generalisations; shared commitment to belief in particular models or views; shared values; shared commitments of exemplars, that is concrete problem solutions. However, it can be argued Yolles (1996) that it can equivalently be expressed in terms of: a base of propositions; culture, including cognitive organisation and behaviour; language; exemplars. The paradigm is a group phenomenon, and as such we must recognise that it operates with a culture of its own. The concept of culture (Williams et al, 1993, p14) involves not only values and beliefs, but also attitudes, and behaviours which are predicated on belief. The definition of a paradigm might usefully be extended from Kuhn to involve culture. To see why, consider the nature of the components of culture. Beliefs determine paradigms as they do weltanschauung. They represent predispositions to action, and may be conscious or unconscious. A belief may be (Rokeach, 1968, p113): existential and thus related to events in a situation; it may be evaluative and thus related to subjective personal attributes (like taste); or it may be prescriptive relating, for example, to human conduct. Beliefs are conceived to have three components: (1) cognitive, representing knowledge with degrees of certainy; more generally(1) cognition is “of the mind, the faculty of knowing, perceiving or conceiving”, (2) affective, since a belief can arouse an affect centred around an object (which may be other individuals or groups, or a belief), (3) behavioural, since the consequence of a belief is action. Beliefs are a determinant for values, attitudes, and behaviour. Values (Rokeach, 1968, p124) are abstract ideas representing a person’s beliefs about ideal modes of conduct and ideal terminal goals. Attitude (ibid, p112) is an enduring organisation of beliefs around an object or situation predisposing one to respond in some preferential manner. Action (or behaviour) can also be referred to as social action (Mitchell, 1968, p2). It is social when the actor behaves in such a manner that his action does or is intended to influence the actions of one or more other persons. We may say that it is normative when it defines a set of constraints on behaviour, identifying what is acceptable and what is not. In summary then, attitudes and the associated beliefs thus represents an impulse for behaviour. When we speak of the paradigm we refer to normative behaviour. However, we may also talk of organised behaviour or action, a term that we shall not see as part of the paradigm, but which is dependent upon it. It is cognitive organisation operating together with the basic set of assumptions, logic, and normative behaviour that enables organised activity to occur. If it is possible to categorise classes of organisation, then classification is determined from the paradigm that constitutes these elements. Paradigms offer a framework that determine how the organisation should operate, and what it considers to be important for its decision making and its activities. It may be that more than one paradigm exists in an organisation, and the result may be contradictory and potentially conflictual. For example, in 3

some of the privatised industries within the UK it may be perceived that two paradigms exist: the mass stakeholder paradigm representative of values that are typical of the public domain, and the new dominant paradigm of the market and the ideology of competition held by many of those who hold positions of power. The language it uses to describe the operations of such organisations defines its orientation, and will normally reflect the dominant paradigm. In situations of inquiry, it can be seen that different paradigms govern the way in which people build and apply models, that is the behavioural organisation of inquiry. Different approaches thus occur because different paradigms operate within different groups. Paradigms offer a framework of thought about how a situation may be addressed, and a language through which to describe what they see. Since the paradigm is a cultural phenomenon involving cognitive organisation and normative behaviour, it will also have a language associated with it that enables the ideas of the group to be expressed. There is a body of theory that expounds the relativity between culture and language. For instance, in the study of natural languages within sociocultural environments, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (Giglioli, 1972) explains that there is a relativistic relationship between language structure and culture. It in particular relates to the communication of ideas between members of the group. This line of thought is also supported, for instance, by Habermas (1979), and by Maturana (1988) and the ideas contained within the subject of autopoiesis or self-producing systems (Mingers, 1995, p79). Here, language is considered to be an activity embedded in the ongoing flow of actions, rather than a purely descriptive thing. It therefore has the attributes of activities that occur within a sociocultural environment, to which it responds. Language operates as an enabling mechanism for the paradigmatic group. Since communications is central to the ability of the group to work, language may be seen as a way of enabling a class of paradigmatic explanations to be generated. The framework of thought that develops within the group is cultural and will therefore be reflected in the language used to transmit those ideas. The propositional base of the paradigm that lies at its foundation will determine the language of the group, just as the language itself develops this base in a mutual development. This determines what can legitimately be described and the terms defined in order to enable those descriptions to be made. The ideas of the paradigm explored above are illustrated in figure 1.


Paradigm Language communicates ideas and reinforces

Exemplars (concrete problem solutions)

stimulates supports

Propositional base


Culture attitude Cognitive organisation values normative behaviour

belief in views

Figure 1: Concept of a Paradigm

The Paradigm Cycle The relationship between the group’s paradigm and an individual’s weltanschauung is shown in figure 2, and is referred to as a paradigm cycle. The connection bettween the real world and the paradigm occurs through paradigmatic affect. By this we mean the application of cognitive organisation, behavioural norms and propositions that affects the real world manifestly through the process of behavioural organisation. It is thus seen as an intervention in the real world. In the case that our interest is inquiry, then paradigmatic affect can be called paradigmatic inquiry, which occurs through an organisation of behaviour that results in the actions that are seen as the manifestations of methodology. Paradigmatic affect can be seen as essentially a control loop linking and reinforcing an interpretation of a real world situation. As such, we can view this relationship cybernetically. Thus we can see a reflection of the real world as a system, examine aspects of control, make cognitive decisions from a metasystem, and undertake other explorations of methodology that are cybernetically related, like the examination of viability, the nature of the creation of its requisite variety, the way stability is maintained, the nature of its behaviour and what this means beyond the threashold of it control in the region of chaos that we refer to as semistability. The holistic work of such authors as Schwarz (1994) can also be addressed in this way.


Paradigm (methodology, modelling approach)



paradigmatic affect

organisation of intervention Weltanschauung (assumptions, perspectives, basis for human purpose)

Real world interpretation

Figure 2: Relationship between paradigm and weltanschauung as a paradigm cycle

The System and Metasystem The traditional structuralist argument is that in any situation we can find deep and surface sturucture. Chomsky argued, for instance, that in the case of language, semantics occurs at the deep level while syntacs is a surface phenomenon. This approach is useful in modern day cybernetics. For example, Mingers (1995) explains that it can be one way of examining the ideas of autopoesis. However, within a systems domain the traditional idea may require some adjustment, enabling us to express both the deep and surface levels in terms of the system. Our construction is that (a) behaviour occurs at the surface level of the the system, (b) the deep level is defined by the paradigm and weltanschauung. This suggests, for example, that organisations with a plaurality of paradigms will have a deep level that is plauralistic. Now, the deep level can better be expressed in terms of the metasystem as defined by Beer (1979). The relationship between the system and the metasystem therefore becomes one of the distinction between the deep and surface levels of a system. Applying the terminology of Rokeach to this, cognitive organisation becomes part of the deep systemic level, the surface level is a behavioural manifestation within the system, and the transformation between the two is an affective organisational process (figure 3). When we talk of paradigmatic inquiry, then the affective organisational processes is represented through methodology.
Surface( real world manifestation)

Transformation (ideology, norms, Methodology values) Deep(beliefs, meaning, metapurpose)

Figure 3: One way of distinguishing between deep and surface levels for which there are a continuity of different ways of manifesting deep phenomena


The Generic Metamodel In examining methodology it is not sufficient to explore the relationship between the system and metasystem. We must also find a way of exploring methodological behavioural organisation. We have done this through the generic metamodel shown in figure 4.






Figure 4: The Generic Metamodel

The nodes identified are consistent with systems thinking as expounded in a variety of sources. It is possible to compare the nodes (analysis, synthesis, choice) and the process linkages (conceptualisation, constraint, action) of this to different systems methodologies, and we can thus produce a cybernetic view of the behavioural organisation of the methodologies. It enables diagrams like that of figures 6, 8, and 10 to be created. Comparing Methodologies In the true hoistic spirit it is possible to establish some comparitive evaluations of methodologies. All methodologies can be divided into cognitive organisation and behavioural organisation components using the above construction. The three approaches Viable Systems Model Methodology (VSM), Soft Systems Methodology (SSM), and Total Systems Intervention (TSI) are below considered in terms of their metasystem and their behavioural organisational control processes. In the influence diagrams shown there will be methodological (group normative) purpose, and purpose for individual inquiry. The symbols m1, m2...represent methodological submetapurposes purposes, while i1, i2...represent individual inquiry purposes. These may be fixed or variable.


Viable Systems Model Methodology

methodological intervention policy i1 integration i3 future i4 metasystem inquiry reality coordination i2 operations system S1

methodology viability dynamic stability m1

adaptability m2

monitoring evaluation

Figure 5: Influence Diagram for the Metasystem and the System of VSM
The metasystem entails the planar aspect of the inquiring methodology. The overall methodological metapurpose is for system viability. Each of the metasubsystems i1-i4 represent inquiry metapurposes that affect the operations system model S1. Through monitoring the system and feeding the evaluations back to the metasystem, the metapurposes can take affect. Reality is represented as an implicit (shaded) factor to differentiate it from the system model.


metasystem diagnosis

conceptualisation system diagnosis metasystem diagnosis control viable system specify viable whole specify viable parts determine system in focus identify purposes action prune


metasystem definition & communications control

Figure 6: Control diagram for a VSM methodology.
Note that the symbol of the eye represents analysis, followed by synthesis and choice. The steps of VSM methodology are identified within the cycle


Soft Systems Methodology
Real-world problem situation issues and tasks Relevant systems model S1 cultural integrity

Methodology improvement social conformity

feasible methodological intervention

political consistency

metasystem Inquiry “variable”

Figure 7: Influence Diagram for the Metasystem and the System for SSM
The overall methodological metapurpose is improvement. The submetapurposes m1-m3 represent metapurposes that affect the relevant system model S1. The inquiry metapurpose i1 is variable, in that it will depend upon the weltanschauung of the inquirer. The system is seen as only a representation of reality.


control social and cultural control form

comparison S7

conceptualisation models S6 changes S8 control form relevant system S5 tasks, issues S4 problem situation S3 action S9


social & cultural control

S3 redo step S3 if control shows instability

Figure 8: A View of SSM through the Phase Controlled Generic Metamodel excluding pre and post evaluation phases


Total Systems Intervention
methodological intervention organisational metaphors i1 inquiry ‘variable’ reality system S1

i2 methodologies


framework to choose and m3 apply methodologies

Disemprisoning m2 Debating

Designing m1

methodological evaluation

note 1: methodologies relate to the system system of of systems methodologies note 2: disemprisoning is seen as a sociopolitical process, and debating as a sociocultural process.

Figure 9: Influence Diagram for the Metasystem and the System of TSI
Reality is represented as an implicit (shaded) factor to differentiate it from the system model.


conceptualisation Debate Principles of intervention Disemprisoning Relevant systems Generate Build up pictures of situation change Real world analysis proposals Sociocultural analysis Issues of study Group mind techniques action




Figure 10: An expression of the control aspects of TSI

Conclusion We have said that organisations can be seen in terms of the paradigm(s) and weltanschauungen that derive from the beliefs of the people who make it up. There will in general be a plaurality of these that occur at the metasystemic or deep level of a system, while behaviour is a manifestation that occurs in the system. The relationship between the metasystem and the system is one of paradigmatic affect that occurs through organisation.


In a situation of inquiry, that metasystem selected by an inquirer must match the paradigm(s) of an organisation being inquired into, so that the inquirer employs appropriate methodological explorations of the situation. This necessarily requires dialogue between the inquirers and the stakeholders. The paradigm can be integrated into a structuralist approach that links directly with cybernetic concepts like that of the metasystem. In addition the cybernetic ideas of control can be applied to the behavioural organisational aspects of a methodology. Other cybernetic ideas not yet addressed are now reachable in the holistic inquiry into systems methodologies. This paper thus forms the basis of a new complementary paradigm that may be referred to as a systems paradigm paradigm.

References Beer, S., 1975, Platform for Change. Wiley. Berger, P., Luckman, T., 1966. The Social Construction of Reality. Penguin. Checkland, P.B., Davies, L., 1986, The Use of the Term Weltanschauung in Soft Systems Methodology. J. Applied Systems Analysis, vol.13. Checkland, P.B. Scholes, J., 1990, Soft Systems Methodology in Action. John Wiley & Son, Chichester. Harry, M., 1994, Information Systems in Business. Pitman Publishing, London. Habermas, J., 1979, Communication and the Evolution of Society. Heinamann, London. Kuhn, S.T., 1970, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.University of Chicago Press, Chicago. Giglioli, P.P., 1972, Language and Social Context. Penguin Books. Mannheim, K., 1964, Wissenssoziologie. Nenwied/Rhein, Luchterhand. Maturana, H., 1988, Reality: the search for objectivity or the Quest for a compelling argument. Irish J. Psych. 9:25-82. Mingers, J., 1995, Self Producing Systems. Academic Press, Mew York. Mitchel, G.D., 1968, A Dictionary of Sociology. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London. Patching, D., 1990, Practical Soft Systems Analysis. Pitman. Rokeach, M., 1968. Beliefs, Attitudes, and Values:a theory of organisational change. JoseyBass Inc., San Francisco. Scheler, M., 1947, Die Stellung des Menschen im Kosmos. Munich: Nymphenburger Verlagshandlung. Schwarz, E., 1994, A Transdisciplinary Model for the Emergence, Self-Organisation and Evolution of Viable Systems, Information, Systems Archotechture and Technology conference, Szklarska Poreba, Poland, Sept. Williams, A., Dobson, P., Walters, M., 1993, Changing Culture: New organisational appropaches. Institute of Personnel Management, London. Yolles, M.I., 1995, The Generic Metamodel, and the Conflict Modelling Cycle. J. Computer Information Technology. Yolles, M.I., 1996, Critical Systems Thinking, Paradigms, and the Modelling Space. J. System Practice, 9(5). Yolles, M.I., 1996a, forthcoming book possibly entitled: A Systems Paradigm Paradigm: an exploration of systems and methodologies inquiring into organisational situations Yolles, M.I., 1996b, Modelling the Consequences of the Soviet Fall, Systemist.


Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful