International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics

2nd Edition, as published by Charles François 2004 Presented by the Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science Vienna for public access.


The International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics was first edited and published by the system scientist Charles François in 1997. The online version that is provided here was based on the 2nd edition in 2004. It was uploaded and gifted to the center by ASC president Michael Lissack in 2019; the BCSSS purchased the rights for the re-publication of this volume in 200?. In 2018, the original editor expressed his wish to pass on the stewardship over the maintenance and further development of the encyclopedia to the Bertalanffy Center. In the future, the BCSSS seeks to further develop the encyclopedia by open collaboration within the systems sciences. Until the center has found and been able to implement an adequate technical solution for this, the static website is made accessible for the benefit of public scholarship and education.



A methodology to be used "in ill-structured or messy problem contexts where there is no clear view on what constitutes the problem, or what action should be taken to overcome the difficulties being experienced" (R.L. FLOOD and M.C. JACKSON, 1991, p.168).

This methodology was created by P. CHECKLAND (1981), inspired by C.W. CHURCHMAN's work.

J.van GIGCH had previously defined soft-systems as "Systems that may adopt several states due to environmental conditions, yet preserve their original identities in spite of these influences" (1978, p.591). He added: "Usually these systems are found in social sciences domain", i.e. the domain where different stakeholders may have different views on a given situation, of its possible future development, and about what should be done, if anything.

I. TSIVACOU synthetizes as follows the nature of Soft Systems Methodology: "SSM is a whole composed by conceptual models or action plans, i.e. by graphical representations and meanings which fill these representations. Thus SSM is a unity of two things, inseparably connected: models and meanings. The models, as the formalization of a thought process, are cultural products with their proper structure. Meanings are expressed by social agents and constitute the content of the methodology" (1993, p.274).

P. LEDINGTON emphasizes: "First, SSM does not assume that the problem is one of rational choice… SSM assumes that the designation of the problem situation, the definition of the problem, and the possible goals to be achieved are all problematic elements in themselves (1992, p.47)…

"SSM can be seen as an organised approach to helping develop and maintain a good understanding of a situation. Thus a basic process for inquiry (or methodology) emerges:

"First, investigate the situation and gain an intuitive understanding of it.

"Second, grasp some basic names for ideas that are felt relevant to the understanding.

"Third, formalise the ideas into models, using some rules of formalisation.

"Fourth, compare the models with the features of the situation and assess the areas of match and mis-match.

"Fifth, evaluate attitudes toward the situation in terms of problems and courses of action based upon the revised understanding that has emerged from the formal process of inquiry.

"These five steps provide an organised approach to inquiring about the situation. The cycle of inquiry may itself lead to further inquiry-oriented action such as the collection of more detailed data about the situation, the revision of the model (or models) used in the inquiry, or to the modification of action in light of the new understanding" (p.51).

LEDINGTON adds: "The basis of SSM is an exploration of the relationship between ethos and actuality. In the first stage of SSM a basic understanding of the situation and the agenda of problems which actors recognise is assembled. The second stage is an attempt to recognise and formalise systems representations thought potentially to be relevant to the situation. The concept of the human activity system is then employed to give coherence to the formalisation process. Thus relevant systems are identified and conceptual models are created. In the sense discussed above these conceptual models are grounded in the ethos of the community rather than in the actuality of the situation. The conceptual models are then compared with the actuality. In this way SSM provides tools and techniques for exploring the relationship. between ethos and actuality in an organised and open manner" (p.55).

In other words, SSM is very far to be a culturally neutral methodology, not by itself, but rather through the subjacent cultural frame of its clients and users. This frame should not remain shrouded in invisibility.

Interesting comparisons could be made with J. WARFIELD's "Interpretive Structural Modeling" and "Interactive Management".


  • 1) General information
  • 2) Methodology or model
  • 3) Epistemology, ontology and semantics
  • 4) Human sciences
  • 5) Discipline oriented


Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science(2020).

To cite this page, please use the following information:

Bertalanffy Center for the Study of Systems Science (2020). Title of the entry. In Charles François (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Systems and Cybernetics (2). Retrieved from www.systemspedia.org/[full/url]

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