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.



An interdiscipline concerned with the interactions of equipment in larger and larger complex systems. (adapted from R.L. ACKOFF, 1972, p.4).

L.von BERTALANFFY gives the following definition, more explicit: "Scientific planning, design, evaluation and construction of man-machine systems" (1962, p.3).

A more precise definition is given by JENKINS: "The science of designing complex systems in their totality to ensure that the component subsystems making up the system are designed, fitted together, checked and operated in the most efficient way" (as quoted by M.C. JACKSON, 1992, p. 74).

ACKOFF states: "In equipment incorporating automatic controls, the systems approach is almost inescapable." and "The engineer of course, can no more ignore the human operator than the personal psychologist can ignore the machine to be operated ".

J. WARFIELD, quoting A.D. HALL III, describes as follows the "Seven phases of Systems Engineering" (in time):

"1. Program planning… in which those programs to be pursued are defined and selected

2. Project planning… in which the specific projects to be carried out under a program are identified and budgeted

3. System development… in which the projects necessary to develop the system are carried out and production plans are made

4. Production… in which the systems elements and the total system are produced, and plans are completed for its operation

5. Installation… in which the system is installed and programs are carried out for its operation

6. Operation… in which the system is in operation serving its intended use, and plans are made for its eventual replacement or retirement

7. Retirement… in which the system is withdrawn from use, to be replaced by a new system, or is modified significantly" (WARFIELD, 1989, p.169).

The same author also distinguishes "Seven steps of Systems Engineering" in the "Logic dimension":

"1. Problem definition

2. Value system design

3. Systems synthesis

4. Systems analysis

5. Optimization of each alternative

6. Decision making

7. Planning for action to implement the nex1 phase" (p.171)

All these phases and steps are fully described in quoted reference.

It would seem, from recent man-made disasters (Chernobyl, the Aral Sea, etc….) that ACKOFF's "complex system" should be taken in a still larger sense, incorporating planners, financists, ecologists and many more so-called stakeholders (according to each specific situation) into global participative design, which would obviously be quite slower, but also more secure…

In effect Systems Engineering is still frequently concerned only or mainly with the machine part of the man-machine system. Also and particularly both points 7s, about "Retirement or replacement" and "Planning for implementing the next phase" are in most cases forgotten… or even brushed under the carpet.

See: "Interdisciplinarity"; "Multidisciplinarity" and "Transdisciplinarity"

As a result, W. GASPARSKI et al. state: "Initially it was expected that systems engineering treated as normative methodology of design of complex objects would become a paradigm of the rational theory of design. However, those expectations have not been fulfilled. Although systems engineering helped modernize the practical designing process, yet it contributed very little to the new knowledge of design. Its explanatory capacity proved insufficient to form the design paradigm" (1995, p.17).

The crux of the matter seems to be that systems engineering – at least when applied to the design of man-machine systems, its main general use – does not include sufficiently the psychological and social factors in these human activity systems, described by P. CHECKLAND (1972, p.72).


  • 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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