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 total systems approach to planning, designing, problem resolving and evaluation" (M.C. JACKSON, 1993, p.1004).

According to R.L. FLOOD and M.C. JACKSON, TSI consists of three phases creativity, choice and implementation. Seven principles are embedded in TSI:

"- organisations are too complicated to understand using one management "model" and their problems too complex to tackle with the "quick fix";

- organisations, their strategies and the difficulties they face should be investigated using a range of systems metaphors;

- systems metaphors, which seem appropriate for highlighting organisational strategies and problems, can be linked to appropriate systems methodologies to guide intervention;

- different systems metaphors and methodologies can be used in a complementary way to address different aspects of organisations and the difficulties they confront;

- it is possible to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of different systems methodologies and to relate each to organisational and business concerns;

- TSI sets out a systemic cycle of inquiry with iteration back and forth between the three phases;

- facilitators, clients and others are engaged at all stages of the TSI process" (1991b, p.50).

The authors give the following examples of systems metaphors to be used, "some of which concentrate on organisational structure, (while) others highlight human and political aspects of an organisation":

"- The organisation as a "machine" (Closed system view)

- The organisation as an "organism" (Open system view)

- The organisation as a "brain" (learning system view)

- The organisation as a "culture" (emphasis on norms and values)

- The organisation as a "team" (unitary political system)

- The organisation as a "coalition" (pluralist political system)

- The organisation as a "prison" (coercitive political system)"

They add: "The main aspects of organisations highlighted, and those neglected, by each metaphor will be disclosed in order to enhance discusssion and debate. The outcome (what is expected to emerge) from the creativity phase is a "dominant" metaphor which highlights the main interests and concerns and can become the basis for a choice of an appropriate intervention methodology… If all the metaphors reveal serious problems then the organisation is obviously in a crisis state" (p.51).

M.C. JACKSON explains the methodology as follows:

"During its creativity phase, TSI uses all the systems perspectives or metaphors introduced (above) (mechanical, organismic, brain, cultural, political) to encourage creative thinking about organisations and their problems. Some metaphors concentrate on revealing problems with organisational structure, while others highlight human and political aspects of an organisation. What is expected to emerge from the creativity phase is an enhanced appreciation of the key issues facing the organisation at the time of the analysis…

"The task during the choice phase is to choose an appropriate systems-based intervention methodology (or set of methodologies) to tackle the key issues facing the organisation as revealed by the examination conducted in the creativity phase. What is required, clearly, is a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the various methodologies available and knowledge of what issues each is most useful in tackling… The most probable outcome of the choice phase is that there will be a dominant methodology chosen, to be tempered in use by the imperatives highlighted by dependent methodologies. Choice of a systems approach (or approaches) in this way ensures that it addresses the main concerns of the particular organisation and should yield highly relevant and co-ordinated intervention.

"The intervention then progresses to the implementation phase. The specific methodology, or methodologies, chosen are used according to the special logic prescribed by TSI, in which the positions of 'dominant' and 'dependent' methodologies can shift as the intervention proceeds. The outcome of the implementation stage is coordinated change brought about in those aspects of the organisation currently most vital for its effective and efficient functioning.

"It is important to stress that TSI is a systemic and iterative approach. It asks, during each phase, that continual reference be made back and forth, to the likely conclusions of other phases" (Ibid).

FLOOD and JACKSON themselves offer a critical evaluation of TSI, as a theory, as a methodology and as an ideology (?!), as well as of its practical utility (1991b, p.241-5).

TSI offers obvious similarities with J. WARFIELD's Generic Design and with I.I. MITROFF and H.A. LlNSTONE's Unbounded System Thinking.


  • 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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