8 A System of Systems Methodologies

If one introduces an observer, a speaker, or simply one to whom one attributes a statement, one relativizes ontology …. One always faces the questions of who says a particular thing, and who does something, and from which system perspective the world is seen in a particular way (and no other)

(Luhmann 2013, p. 99)

8.1 Introduction

Systems thinkers claim that “the whole is more than the sum of its parts” and that “everything is interconnected.” To some (Phillips 1976; Bryer 1980), this leaves systems thinking open to the criticism that it is hopelessly idealistic and unworkable. It suggests that you must always start with the whole system because you need to know everything in order to know anything. Further, unless you do know the whole system, you cannot justify taking action because you can never anticipate the results. As Ulrich (1981a) argues, however, such critics are “blaming the messenger for the bad news.” The mature response is to regard understanding and improvement of the “whole system” as a theoretical ideal that forces us to reflect critically on the provisional nature of our existing knowledge and the inevitable lack of comprehensiveness of our actual systems designs. We can work with limited conceptions of the whole as long as we are transparent about what we are doing and make it easy to reflect on the limitations of our knowledge and interventions. What we have to do is find ways of proceeding given that it is ...

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