LinkedIn Systems Thinking World Thread: Social Science and Engineering rapprochement needed

What are the synergies between Systems Thinking (ST) and Process Thinking (PT)? Are ST and PT in conflict or they can enhance each other?

Kent Palmer •  I would like to point out that Social Scientists have gone into infinite detail regarding how talk about social systems such as “production control systems” and there are whole disciplines such as psychology, cognitive science, sociology, anthropology which have developed sophisticated theories and methods of inquiry that may be used to approach subjects like this. Just as Systems Engineers do not know much about systems theory, so to they don’t know much about social sciences, and therefore they are reinventing the wheel in many cases, and not doing a very good job of it because it is not their actual realm of expertise.

Social Science has a bad name among engineers, but then we see that Engineers are having to deal with social realities in their production environments and with respect to users who use their systems. And so there is a big disconnect between social science and engineering that needs to be fixed. And one way to start to fix that is for engineers to become familiar with the theories and terminology already developed in social science and systems theory, that could be tools that we can use to understand the social systems of product development or the social systems that use the systems we build.

But even in these theories within social science there is a problem that process theory and systems theory are not recognized as duals. And so as Engineers if we recognize this duality between these, we can aid these disciplines by pointing out some of the problems of their theories that come from discipline stovepiping. When we use multiple social sciences to understand the realities on the ground, in the engineering environment then we can prove out some of those theories and help the social scientists improve their theories.

So generally what I am saying is that social scientists have embraced systems theory long ago, and it is well integrated into their discipline and existing theories. But there is not such an integration of process theory into social science. In this engineering is ahead because of the Process Engineering emphasis of the last ten years or so, and with the development of agile anti-CMMI process models. So Engineering has quite a bit of good experience with processes and process models, that is lacking in social sciences. Thus you can see that there is a natural complementarity between social science and engineering to share experience and theories to produce a better integration of Systems Thinking and Process Thinking. And that is why Rescher’s call for this integration is important. And it is also why Johanna Seibt’s Free Process Theory is important because it breaks the barrier created by Whitehead’s Process and Reality which basically killed all work in this space for quite a few years. Now is the time for us to try to go beyond this blockage and actually engage with social scientists and their theories which already contain sophisticated systems ideas, and to bring our experience with process models and implementations to bear and begin using the new process theories that are being developed to combine with the systems theories that are already well developed to produce a more effective discipline based on the underlying duality of Process Theory and Systems Theory that can be shown phenomenologically, but which in our tradition has been obscured due to structural reasons that have to do with the stovepipes of disciplines and their relations to each other in territorial battles which are storms in teacups but which get in the way actually understanding live social systems such as development and production environments, and also in the way that users interact with complex technological systems.



Posted March 9, 2011 by kentpalmer in Uncategorized

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