What are Problem Structuring Methods?

What are Problem Structuring Methods?


Problem structuring methods provide a methodological complement to theories of policy design. Arguably, structuring a problem is a prerequisite of designing solutions for that problem.4 In this context, problem structuring methods are metamethods. They are “about” and “come before” processes of policy design and other forms of problem solving.

Source: Strategic Development: Methods and Models

Key Terms

  • PSM
  • Soft OR
  • Hard OR
  • Unstructured Problems
  • Systems
  • System Sciences
  • SODA Strategic Options Development and Analysis
  • SSM Soft Systems Methodology
  • SCA Strategic Choice Approach
  • Robustness Analysis
  • Drama Theory
  • Interactive Planning
  • Scenario Planning
  • Critical Systems Heuristics
  • SWOT
  • Strategic Assumption Surfacing and Testing
  • Viable Systems Model VSM
  • System Dynamics
  • Decision Conferencing
  • Multi-methodology
  • John Mingers
  • Jonathan Rosenhead
  • John Morecroft
  • MC Jackson
  • Operational Research
  • Problem Structuring Methods PSM
  • Stafford Beer
  • Robert Dyson
  • Jay Forrester
  • Russell Ackoff
  • Robert Flood
  • Peter Checkland
  • Group Model Building
  • Behaviour Operational Research
  • Community Operations Research
  • Ill-structured versus Well-structured Problems
  • Wicked Versus Tame Problems
  • Ill-Defined versus Well-Defined Problems
  • Nigel Howard
  • Metagames
  • Hypergames

Problem Structuring Methods

Source: Past, present and future of problem structuring methods

The problematic situations for which PSMs aim to provide analytic assistance are characterized by

  • Multiple actors,
  • Differing perspectives, 
  • Partially conflicting interests,  
  • Significant intangibles,
  • Perplexing uncertainties.

The relative salience of these factors will differ between situations (and different methods are selective in the emphasis given to them). However, in all cases there is a meta-characteristic, that of complexity, arising out of the need to comprehend a tangle of issues without being able to start from a presumed consensual formulation. For an introduction to PSMs, see Rosenhead and Mingers, 2001

Source: Problem structuring methods in action

Strategic options development and analysis (SODA) is a general problem identification method that uses cognitive mapping as a modelling device for eliciting and recording individuals’ views of a problem situation. The merged individual cognitive maps (or a joint map developed within a workshop session) provide the framework for group discussions, and a facilitator guides participants towards commitment to a portfolio of actions.

Soft systems methodology (SSM) is a general method for system redesign. Participants build ideal-type conceptual models (CMs), one for each relevant world view. They compare them with perceptions of the existing system in order to generate debate about what changes are culturally feasible and systemically desirable. 

Strategic choice approach (SCA) is a planning approach centered on managing uncertainty in strategic situations. Facilitators assist participants to model the interconnectedness of decision areas. Interactive comparison of alternative decision schemes helps them to bring key uncertainties to the surface. On this basis the group identifies priority areas for partial commitment, and designs explorations and contingency plans.

Robustness analysis is an approach that focuses on maintaining useful flexibility under uncertainty. In an interactive process, participants and analysts assess both the compatibility of alternative initial commitments with possible future configurations of the system being planned for, and the performance of each configuration in feasible future environments. This enables them to compare the flexibility maintained by alternative initial commitments. 

Drama theory draws on two earlier approaches, meta games and hyper games. It is an interactive method of analysing co-operation and conflict among multiple actors. A model is built from perceptions of the options available to the various actors, and how they are rated. Drama theory looks for the “dilemmas” presented to the actors within this model of the situation. Each dilemma is a change point, tending to cause an actor to feel specific emotions and to produce rational arguments by which the model itself is redefined. When and only when such successive redefinitions have eliminated all dilemmas is the actors’ joint problem fully resolved. Analysts commonly work with one of the parties, helping it to be more effective in the rational-emotional process of dramatic resolution. (Descriptions based substantially on Rosenhead, 1996.)

Given the ill-defined location of the PSM/non- PSM boundary, there are a number of other methods with some currency that have at least certain family resemblances. These include critical systems heuristics (CSH) (Ulrich, 2000), interactive planning (Ackoff, 1981), and strategic assumption surfacing and testing (Mason and Mitroff, 1981). Other related methods which feature in this special issue are SWOT (Weihrich, 1998), scenario planning (Schoemaker, 1998), and the socio-technical systems approach (Trist and Murray, 1993). Those which are particularly close to the spirit of PSMs in at least some of their modes of use, and therefore thought to merit inclusion in Rosenhead and Mingers (2001), are the following:

Viable systems model (VSM) is a generic model of a viable organization based on cybernetic principles. It specifies five notional systems that should exist within an organization in some form––operations, co-ordination, control, intelligence, and policy, together with the appropriate control and communicational relationships. Although it was developed with a prescriptive intent, it can also be used as part of a debate about problems of organizational design and redesign (Harnden, 1990). 

System dynamics(SD) is a way of modelling peoples’ perceptions of real-world systems based especially on causal relationships and feedback. It was developed as a traditional simulation tool but can be used, especially in combination with influence diagrams (causal–loop diagrams), as a way of facilitating group discussion (Lane, 2000; Vennix, 1996).

Decision conferencing is a variant of the more widely known “decision analysis”. Like the latter, it builds models to support choice between decision alternatives in cases where the consequences may be multidimensional; and where there may be uncertainty about future events which affect those consequences. What distinguishes decision conferencing is that it operates in workshop mode, with one or more facilitators eliciting from the group of participants both the structure of the model, and the probabilities and utilities to be included in it. The aim is cast, not as the identification of an objectively best solution, but as the achievement of shared understanding, the development of a sense of common purpose, and the generation of a commitment to action (Phillips, 1989; Watson and Buede, 1987).

There are a number of texts which present a different selection of “softer” methods than do Rosenhead and Mingers. These include Flood and Jackson (1991), who concentrate on systems-based methods, Dyson and O’Brien (1998) who consider a range of hard and soft approaches in the area of strategy formulation; and Sorensen and Vidal (1999) who make a wide range of methods accessible to a Scandinavian readership. There is clearly an extensive repertoire of methods available. In fact it is common to combine together a number of PSMs, or PSMs together with more traditional methods, in a single intervention––a practice known as multimethodology (Mingers and Gill, 1997). So the range of methodological choice is wider even than a simple listing of methods might suggest.

Source: Are project managers ready for the 21th challenges? A review of problem structuring methods for decision support

Benefits of Problem Structuring Methods

Source: Are project managers ready for the 21th challenges? A review of problem structuring methods for decision support

My Related Posts

Systems and Organizational Cybernetics

Micro Motives, Macro Behavior: Agent Based Modeling in Economics

Production and Distribution Planning : Strategic, Global, and Integrated

Drama Theory: Choices, Conflicts and Dilemmas

Drama Theory: Acting Strategically

Quantitative Models for Closed Loop Supply Chain and Reverse Logistics

Hierarchical Planning: Integration of Strategy, Planning, Scheduling, and Execution

Stock Flow Consistent Input Output Models (SFCIO)

Stock Flow Consistent Models for Ecological Economics

Gantt Chart Simulation for Stock Flow Consistent Production Schedules

Shell Oil’s Scenarios: Strategic Foresight and Scenario Planning for the Future

Water | Food | Energy | Nexus: Mega Trends and Scenarios for the Future

Global Trends, Scenarios, and Futures: For Foresight and Strategic Management

HP’s Megatrends

Global Flow of Funds: Statistical Data Matrix across National Boundaries

Credit Chains and Production Networks

Supply Chain Finance (SCF) / Financial Supply Chain Management (F-SCM)

Financial Social Accounting Matrix

Morris Copeland and Flow of Funds accounts

Systems Biology: Biological Networks, Network Motifs, Switches and Oscillators

Oscillations and Amplifications in Demand-Supply Network Chains

Portfolio Planning Models for Corporate Strategic Planning

Cyber-Semiotics: Why Information is not enough

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber

Key Sources of Research

Understanding behaviour in problem structuring methods interventions with activity theory.

White, L., Burger, K., & Yearworth, M. (2016).

European Journal of Operational Research, 249(3), 983-1004. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ejor.2015.07.044


“Is Value Focused Thinking a Problem Structuring Method or Soft OR or what?”

Keisler, Jeffrey,


Management Science and Information Systems Faculty Publication Series. Paper 42.


Rational Analysis for a Problematic World Revisited: Problem Structuring Methods for Complexity, Uncertainty and Conflict

John Mingers, Jonathan Rosenhead

2001 Book Second ed.

The characteristics of problem structuring methods: A literature review


Problem structuring methods in action

John Mingers a,*, Jonathan Rosenhead b

a Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK 

b London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK

European Journal of Operational Research 152 (2004) 530–554

Click to access Problem%20structuring%20methods%20in%20action.pdf


Click to access Problem%20structuring%20methods%20in%20action.pdf

Introduction to the Special Issue: Teaching Soft O.R., Problem Structuring Methods, and Multimethodology.

John Mingers, Jonathan Rosenhead, (2011)

INFORMS Transactions on Education 12(1):1-3. http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/ited.1110.0073

Click to access Mingers-Rosenberg-PSM-SoftOR.pdf


Problem Structuring Methods, 1950s-1989: An Atlas of the Journal Literature

Georgiou, Ion and Heck, Joaquim,

(June 26, 2017).

Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3077648 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3077648


“An Investigation on the Effectiveness of a Problem Structuring Method in a GroupDecision-Making Process”

Thaviphoke, Ying.

(2020). Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Dissertation, Engineering Management, Old Dominion University,

DOI: 10.25777/cx7x-z403

What’s the Problem? An Introduction to Problem Structuring Methods

Jonathan Rosenhead

Published Online:1 Dec 1996



William N. Dunn
Graduate School of Public and International Affairs University of Pittsburgh

Past, present and future of problem structuring methods

J Rosenhead

London School of Economics, London, UK

Journal of the Operational Research Society (2006), 1–7

Framing and Reframing as a Creative Problem Structuring Aid

Victoria J Mabin, and John Davies Management Group Victoria University of Wellington PO Box 600 Wellington
email: vicky.mabin@vuw.ac.nz

Tel +4-495 5140
email: john.davies@vuw.ac.nz Tel + 4-471 5382
Fax + 4-471 2200

Reassessing the scope of OR practice: the influences of problem structuring methods and the analytics movement

Ranyard, J.C., Fildes, R. and Hun, T-I (2014).

(LUMS Working Paper 2014:8).

Lancaster University: The Department of Management Science.

Reasoning maps for decision aid: an integrated approach for problem-structuring and multi-criteria evaluation

G Montibeller1∗, V Belton2, F Ackermann2 and L Ensslin3

1London School of Economics, London, UK; 2University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK; and 3Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), Floriano ́polis, Brazil

Journal of the Operational Research Society (2008) 59, 575–589

Special issue on problem structuring research and practice

Fran Ackermann • L. Alberto Franco • Etie ̈nne Rouwette • Leroy White

EURO J Decis Process (2014) 2:165–172 DOI 10.1007/s40070-014-0037-6

Soft OR Comes of Age – But Not Everywhere!

Mingers, John (2011)

ISSN 0305-0483. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.omega.2011.01.005

Omega, 39 (6). pp. 729-741

An Investigation on the Effectiveness of a Problem Structuring Method in a Group Decision-Making Process

Ying Thaviphoke
Old Dominion University, ythav001@odu.edu


OR competences: the demands of problem structuring methods

Richard John Ormerod

EURO J Decis Process (2014) 2:313–340

DOI 10.1007/s40070-013-0021-6

Hard OR, Soft OR, Problem Structuring Methods, Critical Systems Thinking: A Primer

Hans G. Daellenbach

Department of Management University of Canterbury Christchurch, NZ


Are project managers ready for the 21th challenges? A review of problem structuring methods for decision support

José Ramón San Cristóbal Mateo

Emma Diaz Ruiz de Navamuel

María Antonia González Villa


Towards a new framework for evaluating systemic problem structuring methods

Gerald Midgley  Robert Y. Cavana  John Brocklesby , Jeff L. Foote  David R.R. Wood , Annabel Ahuriri-Driscoll 

European Journal of Operational Research 229 (2013) 143–154


Problem structuring methods

Jonathan Rosenhead1

Chapter in book

(1) The London School of Economics and Political Science, London, England

Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001


Encyclopedia of Operations Research and Management Science

2001 Edition | Editors: Saul I. Gass, Carl M. Harris

Beyond Problem Structuring Methods: Reinventing the Future of OR/MS

Author(s): M. C. Jackson

Source: The Journal of the Operational Research Society, Vol. 57, No. 7, Special Issue: Problem Structuring Methods (Jul., 2006), pp. 868-878

Published by: Palgrave Macmillan Journals on behalf of the Operational Research Society

Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/4102274

Strategic Development: Methods and Models

Robert G. Dyson (Editor)Frances A. O’Brien (Editor)

ISBN: 978-0-471-97495-6 

May 1998 346 Pages


Group Model Building:
Problem Structuring, Policy Simulation and Decision Support

David F. Andersen, University at Albany
Jac A.M. Vennix, Radboud University Nijmegen George P. Richardson, University at Albany Etiënne A.J.A. Rouwette, Radboud University Nijmegen

Reassessing the Scope of OR Practice: the Influences of Problem Structuring Methods and the Analytics Movement

J. C. Ranyard, R. Fildes* and Tun-I Hu

The Department of Management Science Lancaster University Management School Lancaster LA1 4YX

Networks, Narratives, and Interaction

Networks, Narratives, and Interaction

Bruner (1973: xi) described this duality as follows:“our knowledge of the world is not merely a mirroring or reflection of order and structure ‘out there,’ but consists rather of a construct or model that can, so to speak, be spun a bit ahead of things to predict how the world will be or might be”

Key Terms

  • Narratives
  • Culture
  • Psychology
  • Anthropology
  • Meaning
  • Meaning making
  • Networks
  • Boundaries
  • Folk Culture
  • Communication
  • Sensemaking
  • Active Learning
  • Karl Weick
  • Dirk Baecker
  • Jerome Bruner
  • Erving Goffman
  • George Spencer Brown
  • Charles Sanders Peirce
  • Social Interactions
  • Strategic Interactions
  • Cultural Psychology
  • Systems
  • Social Systems
  • Individual and Collective
  • Symbolic Interactions
  • Face Work
  • Face to Face
  • Micro Sociology
  • Drama
  • Kenneth Burke
  • Chain of Events
  • Sequence of Events
  • Time Space
  • Choices, Conflicts, Dilemmas
  • Constraints, Limits, Boundaries
  • Networks, Connections, Interaction
  • Social Simulation
  • Discrete Events
  • Scenes, Scenarios
  • Games and Dramas
  • Harmony
  • Colors, Tones
  • Interaction Rituals
  • Interaction Order
  • Ethnomethodology
  • LL and LR Quadrants in AQAL Model of Ken Wilber
  • Many Faces of Man
  • Backstage and Frontstage
  • Russell Ackoff’s Interaction Planning
  • Faces, Masks, and Rituals
  • Frame Analysis
  • Self and Others
  • Social Constructivism
  • Agent Based Modeling
  • Cellular Automata
  • Computational Sociology
  • Micro Motives and Macro Behavior
  • Conversations
  • Strategic Conversations
  • Boundaries and Distinctions
  • Networks and Boundaries

Jerome Bruner ON Narratives

Source: Chapter 1 Narrative Inquiry: From Story to Method

… Narrative as a mode of knowing 

In 1984 at an address to the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Jerome Bruner challenged the psychological community to consider the possibilities of narrative as one of two distinct and distinctive modes of thinking, namely the “paradigmatic” or logico-scientific mode and the narrative mode. For Bruner, each mode constituted a unique way of construing and constructing reality and of ordering experience. Importantly, neither of these modes was reducible to the other, as each was necessary in the development of human thought and action. Taking up these ideas in later writings, Bruner (1986) presents the narrative mode of meaning-making as one that “looks for particular conditions and is centred around the broader and more inclusive question of the meaning of experience” (p. 11), whilst the paradigmatic mode is characterised as one that is more concerned with establishing universal truth conditions.

Bruner has pursued the notion of “narrative” modes of thinking and explored the ways in which we draw on “narrative” modes of knowing as a learning process (1996a). For Bruner, we construct our understandings of the world “mainly in the form of narrative – stories, excuses, myths, reasons for doing and not doing, and so on” (2003, p. 44). In earlier writings, he points to the power and import of narrative as a meaning-making process, commenting that “our capacity to render experience in terms of narrative is not just child’s play, but an instrument for making meaning that dominates much of life in culture – from soliloquies at bedtime to the weighing of testimony in our legal system” (1990, p. 97). Importantly, Bruner suggests that our “sensitivity” to narrative constitutes a major link between our “sense of self and our sense of others in the social world around us” (1986, p. 69) and is the mode through which we “create a version of the world” with which we can live (1996a, p. 39).

Bruner’s work in the field of cognitive psychology constitutes one way in which narrative has been conceptualised within scholarship and has led to the establishment of the field of narrative psychology. It is perhaps serendipitous that Bruner’s account of the narrative mode of thinking occurred at a time of growing interest in the ways in which narrative might be drawn upon for research and inquiry purposes. As educators and scholars took up the “call of stories” (Coles, 1989) to provide alternative means to explore, interrogate, interpret, and record experience, “it helped that the messenger was Bruner, an enormously powerful scholar with unusual cross-disciplinary knowledge, stature, and impact, who ventured to articulate what narrative could mean to the social sciences at large” (Bresler, 2006, p. 23). Crucially, Bruner’s work leads us to consider narrative as more than a means of presenting meaning and to consider the role of narrative and narrative forms in “re-presenting,” in the sense of constructing meaning, both individually and collectively. For Bruner, narrative operates simultaneously in both thought and action, shaping the ways in which we conceive and respond to our worlds. In short, all cognition, whatever its nature, relies upon representation, how we lay down our knowledge in a way to represent our experience of the world . . . representation is a process of construction, as it were, rather than of mere reflection of the world (Bruner, 1996b, p. 95).

Here, a narrative might become a “template for experience” (Bruner, 2002, p. 34) that works on the mind, modelling “not only its world but the minds seeking to give it its meanings” (p. 27). This move from narrative as “story presented” to narrative as a “form of meaning-making,” indeed, a form of “mind-making,” has played an important role in the development of narrative as a method of inquiry in the social sciences.

Source: INTRODUCTION: BRUNER’S WAY/ David Bakhurst and Stuart G. Shanker

Another reason why Bruner is an ideal focus is his role in two crucial paradigm shifts in twentieth-century psychology. In the 1950s, he was an instrumental figure in the cognitive revolution, which restored to psychology the inner life of the mind after decades of arid behaviourist objectivism. Cognitive psychology prospered and, in league with other fields, evolved into ‘cognitive science’, conceived as a systematic inter- disciplinary approach to the study of mind (see Gardner, 1985). Bruner, however, gradually grew more and more dissatisfied with what cognitivism had become. In 1990, he published Acts of Meaning, in which he argued that the cognitive revolution had betrayed the impulse that had brought it into being. The revolution’s principal concern, Bruner argued, had been to return the concept of meaning to the forefront of psychological theorizing. But cognitivism had become so enamoured of computational models of the mind that it had replaced behaviourism’s impoverished view of the person with one no better: human beings as information processors. In response, Bruner argued forcefully that meaning is not a given, but something made by human beings as they negotiate the world. Meaning is a cultural, not computational, phenomenon. And since meaning is the medium of the mental, culture is constitutive of mind.

In many ways, Bruner’s objection was familiar. It had often been lamented that mainstream psychology was individualistic and scientistic, representing minds as self-contained mental atoms and ignoring the social and cultural influences upon them. In the last decade, however, this well-known critique has really been gaining momentum. Besides Bruner, both Richard Shweder (1990) and Michael Cole (1996) have sounded the call for a new ‘cultural psychology’. Assorted versions of ‘constructionist’ and ‘discursive’ psychology have appeared on the scene, joining a veritable chorus of diverse voices urging that psychology treat the mind as a sociocultural phenomenon (e.g., Edwards and Potter, 1992; Harré and Gillett, 1994; Gergen, 1999). It is particularly striking that these voices no longer come exclusively from the margins. Just as the left/right divide is collapsing in political theory, so the dichotomy between mainstream ‘individualistic/scientistic/Cartesian’ psychology and radical ‘communitarian/interpretative/post-Cartesian’ psychology has become outmoded. Cognitive scientists and philosophers of mind now commonly acknowledge that no plausible account of the mind can be indifferent to the context in which we think and act, and some significant works have appeared devoted to the cultural origins, and social realization, of human mentality (e.g., Donald, 1991). A psychologist interested in culture is no longer a counter-cultural figure.

Source: The narrative constitution of identity: A relational and network approach

From diverse sources it is possible to identify four features of a reframed narrativity particularly relevant for the social sciences:1) relationality of parts, 2) causal emplotment, 3) selective appropriation, and 4) temporality, sequence and place.43 Together, these dimensions suggest narratives are constellations of relationships (connected parts) embedded in time and space, constituted by causal emplotment. Unlike the attempt to produce meaning by placing an event in a specified category, narrativity precludes sense making of a singular isolated phenomenon. Narrativity demands that we discern the meaning of any single event only in temporal and spatial relationship to other events. Indeed, the chief characteristic of narrative is that it renders understanding only by connecting (however unstably) parts to a constructed configuration or a social network of relationships (however incoherent or unrealizable) composed of symbolic, institutional, and material practices 4.4


Narrative accounts must have at least two characteristics. They should center upon people and their intentional states: their desires, beliefs, and so on; and they should focus on how these intentional states led to certain kinds of activities. Such an account should also be or appear to be order preserving, in the sense of preserving or appearing to preserve sequence — the sequential properties of which life itself consists or is supposed to consist. Now, in the nature of things, if these points are correct, autobiographies should be about the past, should be par excellence the genre (or set of genres) composed in the past tense. So just for fun, we decided to find out whether in fact autobiographies were all in the past tense — both the spontaneous ones we had collected and a sample of literary autobiographies.

We have never found a single one where past-tense verbs constituted more than 70 percent of the verbs used. Autobiographies are, to be sure, about the past; but what of the 30 percent or more of their sentences that are not in the past tense? I’m sure it will be apparent without all these statistics that autobiography is not only about the past, but is busily about the present as well. If it is to bring the protagonist up to the present, it must deal with the present as well as the past — and not just at the end of the account, as it were. That is one part of it. But there is another part that is more interesting. Most of the “present-tense” aspect of autobiography has to do with what students of narrative structure call “evaluation” — the task of placing those sequential events in terms of a meaningful context. Narrative, whether looked at from the more formalistic perspective of William Labov (1982) or the more literary, historical one of Barbara Herrnstein-Smith (1986), necessarily comprises two features: one of them is telling what happened to a cast of human beings with a view to the order in which things happened. That part is greatly aided by the devices of flashback, flashforward, and the rest. But a narrative must also answer the question “Why”, “Why is this worth telling, what is interesting about it?” Not everything that happened is worth telling about, and it is not always clear why what one tells merits telling. We are bored and offended by such accounts as“I got up in the morning, got out of bed, dressed and tied my shoes, shaved, had breakfast, went off to the office and saw a graduate student who had an idea for a thesis…”

The “why tell” function imposes something of great (and hidden) significance on narrative. Not only must a narrative be about a sequence of events over time, structured comprehensibly in terms of cultural canonicality, it must also contain something that endows it with exceptionality. We had better pause for a moment and explore what this criterion of exceptionality means for autobiography and, incidentally, why it creates such a spate of present-tense clauses in the writing of autobiography.


The object of narrative, then, is to demystify deviations. Narrative solves no problems. It simply locates them in such a way as to make them comprehensible. It does so by invoking the play of psychological states and of actions that transpire when human beings interact with each other and relates these to what can usually be expected to happen. I think that Kenneth Burke has a good deal to say about this “play of psychological states” in narrative, and I think it would help to examine his ideas. In his The Grammar of Motives, he introduces the idea of “dramatism” (Burke 1945). Burke noted that dramatism was created by the interplay of five elements (he refers to them as the Pentad). These comprise an Actor who commits an Action toward a Goal with the use of some Instrument in a particular Scene. Dramatism is created, he argues, when elements of the Pentad are out of balance, lose their appropriate “ratio”. This creates Trouble, an emergent sixth element. He has much to say about what leads to the breakdown in the ratios between the elements of the dramatistic pentad. For example, the Actor and the Scene don’t fit. Nora, for example: what in the world is the rebellious Nora in A Doll’s House doing in this banal doctor’s household? Or Oedipus taking his mother Jocasta unknowingly to wife. The “appropriate ratios”, of course, are given by the canonical stances of folk psychology toward the human condition. Dramatism constitutes their patterned violation. In a classically oral culture, the great myths that circulate are the archetypal forms of violation, and these become increasingly “smoothed” and formalized — even frozen — over time, as we know from the classic studies of Russian folktales published by Vladimir Propp (1986). In more mobile literary cultures, of course, the range and variation in such tales and stories greatly increases, matching the greater complexity and widened opportunities that accompany literacy. Genres develop, new forms emerge, variety increase — at least at first. It may well be that with the emergence of mass cultures and the new massifying media, new constraints on this variation occur, but that is a topic that would take us beyond the scope of this essay (see Feldman, in this volume).

Erving Goffman On Interactionism

Source: Wikipedia

Goffman was influenced by Herbert BlumerÉmile DurkheimSigmund FreudEverett HughesAlfred Radcliffe-BrownTalcott ParsonsAlfred SchützGeorg Simmel and W. Lloyd Warner. Hughes was the “most influential of his teachers”, according to Tom Burns.[1][3][22] Gary Alan Fine and Philip Manning have said that Goffman never engaged in serious dialogue with other theorists,[1] but his work has influenced and been discussed by numerous contemporary sociologists, including Anthony GiddensJürgen Habermas and Pierre Bourdieu.[23]

Though Goffman is often associated with the symbolic interaction school of sociological thought, he did not see himself as a representative of it, and so Fine and Manning conclude that he “does not easily fit within a specific school of sociological thought”.[1] His ideas are also “difficult to reduce to a number of key themes”; his work can be broadly described as developing “a comparative, qualitative sociology that aimed to produce generalizations about human behavior”.[23][24]

Goffman made substantial advances in the study of face-to-face interaction, elaborated the “dramaturgical approach” to human interaction, and developed numerous concepts that have had a massive influence, particularly in the field of the micro-sociology of everyday life.[23][25] Much of his work was about the organization of everyday behavior, a concept he termed “interaction order”.[23][26][27] He contributed to the sociological concept of framing (frame analysis),[28] to game theory (the concept of strategic interaction), and to the study of interactions and linguistics.[23] With regard to the latter, he argued that the activity of speaking must be seen as a social rather than a linguistic construct.[29] From a methodological perspective, Goffman often employed qualitative approaches, specifically ethnography, most famously in his study of social aspects of mental illness, in particular the functioning of total institutions.[23] Overall, his contributions are valued as an attempt to create a theory that bridges the agency-and-structuredivide—for popularizing social constructionismsymbolic interactionconversation analysis, ethnographic studies, and the study and importance of individual interactions.[30][31] His influence extended far beyond sociology: for example, his work provided the assumptions of much current research in language and social interaction within the discipline of communication.[32]

Goffman defined “impression management” as a person’s attempts to present an acceptable image to those around them, verbally or nonverbally.[33] This definition is based on Goffman’s idea that people see themselves as others view them, so they attempt to see themselves as if they are outside looking in.[33] Goffman was also dedicated to discovering the subtle ways humans present acceptable images by concealing information that may conflict with the images for a particular situation, such as concealing tattoos when applying for a job in which tattoos would be inappropriate, or hiding a bizarre obsession such as collecting/interacting with dolls, which society may see as abnormal.

Goffman broke from George Herbert Mead and Herbert Blumer in that while he did not reject the way people perceive themselves, he was more interested in the actual physical proximity or the “interaction order” that molds the self.[33] In other words, Goffman believed that impression management can be achieved only if the audience is in sync with a person’s self-perception. If the audience disagrees with the image someone is presenting then their self-presentation is interrupted. People present images of themselves based on how society thinks they should act in a particular situation. This decision how to act is based on the concept of definition of the situation. Definitions are all predetermined and people choose how they will act by choosing the proper behavior for the situation they are in. Goffman also draws from William Thomas for this concept. Thomas believed that people are born into a particular social class and that the definitions of the situations they will encounter have already been defined for them.[33] For instance. when an individual from an upper-class background goes to a black-tie affair, the definition of the situation is that they must mind their manners and act according to their class.

In 2007 by The Times Higher Education Guide listed Goffman as the sixth most-cited author in the humanities and social sciences, behind Anthony Giddens and ahead of Habermas.[2] His popularity with the general public has been attributed to his writing style, described as “sardonic, satiric, jokey”,[31] and as “ironic and self-consciously literary”,[34] and to its being more accessible than that of most academics.[35] His style has also been influential in academia, and is credited with popularizing a less formal style in academic publications.[31] Interestingly, if he is rightly so credited, he may by this means have contributed to a remodelling of the norms of academic behaviour, particularly of communicative action, arguably liberating intellectuals from social restraints unnatural to some of them.

His students included Carol Brooks Gardner, Charles Goodwin, Marjorie Goodwin, John Lofland, Gary Marx, Harvey SacksEmanuel Schegloff, David Sudnow and Eviatar Zerubavel.[1]

Despite his influence, according to Fine and Manning there are “remarkably few scholars who are continuing his work”, nor has there been a “Goffman school”; thus his impact on social theory has been simultaneously “great and modest”.[30] Fine and Manning attribute the lack of subsequent Goffman-style research and writing to the nature of his style, which they consider very difficult to duplicate (even “mimic-proof”), and also to his subjects’ not being widely valued in the social sciences.[3][30] Of his style, Fine and Manning remark that he tends to be seen either as a scholar whose style is difficult to reproduce, and therefore daunting to those who might wish to emulate it, or as a scholar whose work was transitional, bridging the work of the Chicago school and that of contemporary sociologists, and thus of less interest to sociologists than the classics of either of those groups.[24][30] Of his subjects, Fine and Manning observe that the topic of behavior in public places is often stigmatized as trivial and unworthy of serious scholarly attention.[30]

Nonetheless, Fine and Manning note that Goffman is “the most influential American sociologist of the twentieth century”.[36] Elliott and Turner see him as “a revered figure—an outlaw theorist who came to exemplify the best of the sociological imagination”, and “perhaps the first postmodern sociological theorist”.[14]

Source: Looking back on Goffman: The excavation continues

The “descent of the ego,” then, was witnessed by both Durkheim and Goffman in terms of the mechanisms at work in modem Western society whereby the tendencies toward an unbridled egoistic individualism are continually rebuffed (Chriss, 1993). MacCannell successfully makes the case for such a Durkheim-Goffman link through a semiotic sociology which resists the temptation of explaining in solely positivistic terms why it is that in modem Western society, imbued as it is with a strong ethic of individualism, we nevertheless see persons orienting their actions toward a perceived moral universe and the accommodation of the other. Like Durkheim and many of the great students of society from Plato to Hobbes, from Kant to Parsons, Goffman was ultimately concerned with the question, how is social order possible (Berger, 1973: 356; Collins, 1980: 173)?

Burns recognizes the Durkheim-Goffman link as well, but carries the analysis even further by comparing and contrasting Durkheim’s notion of social order with Goffman’s interaction order. Durkheim’s sui generis reality was society; Goffman’s is the encounters between individuals, or the social act itself. The moral order which pervades society and sustains individual conduct constitutes a “social fact” in both Durkheim’s and Goffman’s eyes. But Burns (1992) notes also that for Durkheim this order was·seen as durable and all-sustaining, whereas for Goffman “it was fragile, impermanent, full of unexpected holes, and in constant need of repair” (p.26).

my Related Posts

Boundaries and Relational Sociology

Boundaries and Distinctions

Boundaries and Networks

Society as Communication: Social Systems Theory of Niklas Luhmann

Third and Higher Order Cybernetics

Autocatalysis, Autopoiesis and Relational Biology

Relational Turn in Economic Geography

Cybernetics, Autopoiesis, and Social Systems Theory

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Integral Theory of Ken Wilber

Systems and Organizational Cybernetics

A Unifying Model of Arts

Ratio Club: A Brief History of British Cyberneticians

Micro Motives, Macro Behavior: Agent Based Modeling in Economics

On Holons and Holarchy

Reflexivity, Recursion, and Self Reference

The Social Significance of Drama and Narrative Arts

Socio-Cybernetics and Constructivist Approaches

Drama Therapy: Self in Performance

Narrative Psychology: Language, Meaning, and Self

Psychology of Happiness: Value of Storytelling and Narrative Plays

Drama Theory: Choices, Conflicts and Dilemmas

Drama Theory: Acting Strategically

Key Sources of Research

The Oxford Handbook of Culture and Psychology

edited by Jaan Valsiner

Culture in Mind: Cognition, Culture, and the Problem of Meaning

By Bradd Shore

Erving Goffman on Wikipedia


On Face-Work
An Analysis of Ritual Elements in Social Interaction

Erving Goffman
Pages 213-231 | Published online: 08 Nov 2016

Chapter in Book Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face to Face Behavior


Click to access Goffman,%20Erving%20%27On%20Face-work%27.pdf

Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face-To-Face Behavior

E. Goffman

Published 1967



Encounters: Two Studies in the Sociology of Interaction.

Goffman, Erving. 1961

Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. 

Goffman, Erving. 1959. 

New York: Doubleday Anchor.

Strategic interaction.

Goffman, Erving (1969), 

Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania.

Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience.

Goffman, E. (1974). 

New York: Harper & Row.

Sociology. Narrative psychology: Internet and resource guide. 

Hevern, V. W. (2004, Apr). 

Retrieved [3/15/2021] from the Le Moyne College Web site: http://web.lemoyne.edu/~hevern/nr-soc.html


Narrative scenarios: Toward a culturally thick notion of narrative. 

Brockmeier, J. (2012). 

In J. Valsiner (Ed.), Oxford library of psychology. The Oxford handbook of culture and psychology (p. 439–467). Oxford University Press.


Erving Goffman


Looking back on Goffman: The excavation continues

James J. Chriss 

Cleveland State University


Sociology & Criminology Faculty Publications. 98.

Beyond Goffman: Studies on Communication, Institution, and Social Interaction


Erving Goffman: Exploring,the interaction order 


Tom Burns’s Erving Goffman


Chapter 1
Narrative Inquiry: From Story to Method

Troubling Certainty

Margaret S. Barrett and Sandra L. Stauffer

In Narrative Inquiry in Music Education

DOI 10.1007/978-1-4020-9862-8  

Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009


David Bakhurst and Stuart G. Shanker

In Jerome Bruner: Language, Culture, Self

Edited by
David Bakhurst and Stuart G. Shanker

Sage Publications, 2001

Analyzing Narratives and Story-Telling

Matti Hyvärinen


The narrative constitution of identity: A relational and network approach


Universityof Michigan

TheoryandSociety23: 605-649, 1994


Cognitive–Linguistic and Constructivist Mnemonic Triggers in Teaching Based on Jerome Bruner’s Thinking

Jari Metsämuuronen1* and Pekka Räsänen2

  • 1Department of Pedagogy, NLA University College, Bergen, Norway
  • 2Niilo Mäki Institute, Jyväskylä, Finland

Front. Psychol., 12 December 2018 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02543


Storytelling and the Construction of Realities

Paul Stoller

Etnofoor Vol. 30, No. 2, Race-ism (2018), pp. 107-112 

The Construction of Identity in the Narratives of Romance and Comedy

Kevin Murray 

Texts of Identity In J.Shotter & K.Gergen (eds.)  London: Sage (1988)

The Construction of Identity in the Narratives of Romance and Comedy

Actual Minds, Possible Worlds

By Jerome S. BRUNER

The Narrative Construction of Reality

Jerome Bruner

Jerome Bruner Life as a Narrative

Polarising narrative and paradigmatic ways of knowing: exploring the spaces through narrative, stories and reflections of personal transition


David Cleaver

cleaver@usq.edu.au University of Southern Queensland

Possibilities for Action: Narrative Understanding

Donald Polkinghorne

Fielding Graduate University


Two Modes of Thought

Jerome Bruner

Narrating the Self



Barbara Czarniawska

Acts of meaning. 

Bruner, J. (1990). 

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Language learner stories and imagined identities

Margaret Early and Bonny Norton
Department of Language and Literacy Education, University of British Columbia

Narrative Rhetorics in Scenario Work: Sensemaking and Translation

Zhan Li
University of Southern California USA


Chapter 2
Self-making and world-making

Jerome Bruner

In Narrative and Identity

Studies in Autobiography, Self and Culture

Jens Brockmeier
University of Toronto & Freie Universität Berlin

Donal Carbaugh
University of Massachusetts at Amherst

John Benjamins Publishing Company

A Grammar of Motives

By Kenneth Burke

Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives, 1950–1955

By Kenneth Burke


Kenneth Burke

Click to access CaricatureofCourtshipKafkaCastleKennethBurke.pdf

A Calculus of Negation in Communication

Cybernetics & Human Knowing 24, 3–4 (2017), 17–27

Posted: 23 Jan 2018

Dirk Baecker

Witten/Herdecke University

Date Written: September 1, 2017


Working the Form: George Spencer-Brown and the Mark of Distinction*

Dirk Baecker

Universität Witten/Herdecke


Shape of things to come: From the ‘laws of form’ to management in the post-growth economy

André Reichel

http://www.ephemerajournal.org volume 17(1): 89-118

Click to access 17-1reichel.pdf

Systems, Network, and Culture

Dirk Baecker Zeppelin University Friedrichshafen, Germany baecker@mac.com

Presented at the International Symposium “Relational Sociology: Transatlantic Impulses for the Social Sciences”, Berlin, September 25-26, 2008

Click to access baecker2.pdf

Organisations as distinction generating and processing systems: Niklas Luhmann’s contribution to organisation studies

David Seidl and Kai Helge Becker


Niklas Luhmann
TRANSLATED BY John Bednarz, Jr., with Dirk Baecker FOREWORD BY Eva M. Knodt

Introduction to Systems Theory

Niklas Luhmann

Click to access Niklas_Luhmann_Introduction_to_System_Theory.pdf

Mysteries of cognition. Review of neocybernetics and narrative by bruce clarke.

Baecker D. (2015)

Constructivist Foundations 10(2): 261–263. http://constructivist.info/10/2/261


The Communication of Meaning in Anticipatory Systems: A Simulation Study of the Dynamics of Intentionality in Social Interactions

Loet Leydesdorff

In: Daniel M. Dubois (Ed.) Proceedings of the 8th Intern. Conf. on Computing Anticipatory Systems CASYS’07, Liège, Belgium, 6-11 August 2007. Melville, NY: American Institute of Physics Conference Proceedings, Vol. 1051 (2008) pp. 33-49.

Why Systems?

Dirk Baecker

Universität Witten/Herdecke http://www.uni-wh.de/baecker

Theory Culture & Society 18 (2001), pp. 59-74


In collaboration with the Liverpool University
and the Laws of Form 50th Anniversary Conference.
Alphabetum III
September 28 — December 31, 2019 West Den Haag, The Netherlands

Click to access Alphabetum_III_V8_ONLINE.pdf

Systems in Context
On the outcome of the Habermas/Luhmann

Poul Kjaer

Niklas Luhmann and Organization Studies

Edited by
David Seidl and Kai Helge Becker

Click to access 9788763003049.pdf

A Note on Max Weber’s Unfinished Theory of Economy and Society

Dirk Baecker
Witten/Herdecke University, Germany dbaecker@uni-wh.de

The fractal geometry of Luhmann’s sociological theory or debugging systems theory

José Javier Blanco Rivero

CONICET/Centro de Historia Intelectual, National University of Quilmes, Roque Sáenz Peña 352, Bernal, Argentina

Technological Forecasting & Social Change 146 (2019) 31–40

Diamond Calculus of Formation of Forms

A calculus of dynamic complexions of distinctions as an interplay of worlds and distinctions

Archive-Number / Categories 3_01 / K06, K03
Publication Date 2011

Rudolf Kaehr (1942-2016)

Click to access rk_Diamond-Calculus-of-Formation-of-Forms_2011.pdf


Niklas Luhmann


Snakes all the Way Down: Varela’s Calculus for Self-Reference and the Praxis of Paradise

André Reichel*

European Center for Sustainability Research, Zeppelin University, Friedrichshafen, Germany

Systems Research and Behavioral Science Syst. Res. (2011)
Published online in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com) DOI: 10.1002/sres.1105

Who Conceives of Society?

Ernst von Glasersfeld

University of Massachusetts evonglas@hughes.net

Constructivist Foundations 2008, vol. 3, no. 2 http://www.univie.ac.at/constructivism/journal/

Click to access glasersfeld.pdf

Dramaturgy (sociology)




Beyond Bourdieu:
The Interactionist Foundations of Media Practice Theory

PETER LUNT University of Leicester, UK

International Journal of Communication 14(2020), 2946–2963


Drama as Life: The Significance of Goffman’s Changing Use of the Theatrical Metaphor

Phil Manning

Sociological Theory Vol. 9, No. 1 (Spring, 1991), pp. 70-86 (17 pages) 

Published By: American Sociological Association 



Simon Susen

In: H. F. Dahms & E. R. Lybeck (Eds.), Reconstructing Social Theory, History and Practice. Current Perspectives in Social Theory. (pp. 111-143). Bingley, UK: Emerald. ISBN 9781786354709


Mainstreaming Relational Sociology – Relational Analysis of Culture in Digithum

P. Baert. Published 2016

The Foundations of the Social: Between Critical Theory and Reflexive Sociology

S. Susen. Published 2007

Language, self, and social order: A reformulation of Goffman and Sacks

A. RawlsPublished 1989SociologyHuman Studies

The Interaction Order: American Sociological Association, 1982 Presidential Address

Author(s): Erving Goffman

Reviewed work(s):
Source: American Sociological Review, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Feb., 1983), pp. 1-17 Published by: American Sociological Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2095141 .


Face and interaction

Michael Haugh

(2009): In Francesca Bargiela-Chiappini and Michael Haugh (eds.), Face, Communication and Social Interaction, Equinox, London, pp.1-30.


Public and private faces in web spaces – How Goffman’s work can be used to think about purchasing medicine online. 

Lisa Sugiura

Organizational Analysis: Goffman and Dramaturgy  

Peter K. Manning

The Oxford Handbook of Sociology, Social Theory, and Organization Studies: Contemporary Currents

Edited by Paul Adler, Paul du Gay, Glenn Morgan, and Mike Reed

Print Publication Date: Oct 2014


Complete bibliography: Erving Goffman ́s writings

Persson, Anders



Click to access s7769.pdf

A review of Jerome Bruner’s educational theory:

Its implications for studies in teaching and learning and active learning (secondary publication)


Faculty of Economics Nagoya Gakuin University

Click to access syakai_vol5401_11.pdf

The Use of Stories in Moral Development: New Psychological Reasons for an Old Education Method

DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.45.6.709

Narrative Understanding and Understanding Narrative

Sarah E. Worth

Contemporary Aesthetics (Journal Archive): Vol. 2 , Article 9.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.risd.edu/liberalarts_contempaesthetics/vol2/iss1/9

Strategy | Strategic Management | Strategic Planning | Strategic Thinking

Strategy | Strategic Management | Strategic Planning | Strategic Thinking




Key Terms and Concepts

  • Action Learning
  • Systems Thinking/Systems Dynamics – Jay Forrester
  • Organizational Learning – Peter Senge
  • Business Environment Scanning
  • Trends
  • Risks
  • Competitive Industry Analysis
  • Scenario Planning
  • Corporate Planning
  • Strategic Planning
  • Operations Research
  • Threats – Micheal Porter
  • Organizational Psychology and Culture – Ed Schein
  • Internal vs External
  • Resource based view of Strategy
  • Innovation Management
  • Balance Scorecards
  • Strategic Management
  • Sales and Operational Planning (S&OP)
  • Integrated Demand Supply Planning
  • Operational Effectiveness
  • Operational Excellence
  • Value Chain Analysis
  • SWOT analysis
  • Strategic Conversations
  • Business Policy
  • BCG Growth Share Matrix
  • GE/McKinsey  Matrix
  • Ansoff Matrix
  • ADL Matrix
  • Shell Directional Policy Matrix
  • Product Portfolio Planning Models
  • Corporate Planning Models
  • Porters Five Forces Analysis
  • McKinsey 7S
  • PIMS Analysis
  • PEST Analysis
  • Porters Four Corners Analysis
  • Business Process Reengineering


Key People

  • Henry Mintzberg
  • Russell Ackoff
  • Arnaldo Hax
  • Peter Drucker
  • Gary Hamel
  • Igor Ansoff
  • Kenneth Andrews
  • George Steiner
  • Alfred Chandler
  • C K Prahlad
  • Micheal Porter
  • David P Norton
  • Robert S Kaplan
  • Richard L Nolan
  • J Scott Armstrong
  • Peter Senge
  • Edgar Schein
  • Chris Argyris
  • Donald Schon
  • Bruce Henderson
  • John Sterman
  • John Morecraft
  • R G Dyson
  • Pankaj Ghemawat
  • Kenichi Ohmae
  • Pierre Wack
  • Peter Schwartz


From The History of Strategy and Its Future Prospects



Schools of Thoughts on Strategic Planning

  • Design
  • Planning
  • Positioning
  • Entrepreneurial
  • Cognitive school
  • Learning school
  • Political school
  • Cultural school and
  • Environmental school



Please see my related posts:

Art of Long View: Future, Uncertainty and Scenario Planning

Hierarchical Planning: Integration of Strategy, Planning, Scheduling, and Execution

Shell Oil’s Scenarios: Strategic Foresight and Scenario Planning for the Future

Water | Food | Energy | Nexus: Mega Trends and Scenarios for the Future

On Anticipation: Going Beyond Forecasts and Scenarios

Key Sources of Research


Russell Ackoff: A Concept of Corporate Planning

Click to access A1986E843300001.pdf



The Evolution of Business Strategy

By Rich Horwath


Click to access evolution.pdf




The Art of Planning


Click to access file75267.pdf






Click to access nd_00286.pdf



The Use of Corporate Planning Models: past, present and future





Click to access




Concept of Corporate Strategy


Click to access mbaii_sm.pdf


How to improve strategic planning




Integrated business planning: Unlocking business value in uncertain times



Click to access EY-Integrated_Business_Planning.pdf






Fred Nickols


Click to access strategy_etc.pdf

Click to access strategy_definitions.pdf





Arnoldo C.:,Hax and Nicolas S. Majluft

January 1983



Click to access SWP-1396-09362356.pdf








Click to access fulltext.pdf





World Bank Group


Click to access mosaica_10_steps.pdf



Strategic Management for Senior Leaders: A Handbook for Implementation

Click to access managebk.pdf


What Is Strategy?



Strategic Management for Competitive Advantage





From Competitive Advantage to Corporate Strategy





Blue Ocean Strategy



How Information Gives You Competitive Advantage





The Office of Strategy Management

Nolan and Kaplan




Getting Back to Strategy





The Core Competence of the Corporation





Strategic Management: The theory and practice of strategy in (business) organizations.

Jofre, Sergio


Click to access rapport1.11.pdf



Creating the Office of Strategy Management

Robert S. Kaplan

David P. Norton


Click to access 05-071.pdf

The Corporate Strategic Planning Process

Profiles in Operations Research

Profiles in Operations Research


There are several sources for profiles of luminaries of OR field.

  • Book – Profiles in Operations Research
  • INFORMS – History website
  • UK OR society


From Profiles in Operations Research


From IFORS Hall of Fame




Key Sources of Research:

Profiles in Operations Research

Pioneers and Innovators

Editors: Assad, Arjang A., Gass, Saul I. (Eds.)



Profiles in Operations Research:Jay Wright Forrester

David C. Lane

John D. Sterman

Click to access jwf-profile-in-op.pdf



Profiles in Operations Research

John D. C. Little Profile

By Glen Urban and John Hauser

Click to access little.pdf




George B. Dantzig


John D. C. Little




Anthony Stafford Beer



Russell L. Ackoff


Abraham Charnes


William W. Cooper


C. West Churchman


Leonid V. Kantorovich


Tjalling C. Koopmans


Harry Markowitz


Oskar Morgenstern


Philip M. Morse



John F. Nash, Jr.



Herbert A. Simon


John von Neumann




History of OR Excellence








IFORS Hall of Fame


Operations Research: Opportunities and Challenges

Click to access u_pitt_2014_OR.pdf

Systems and Organizational Cybernetics

Systems and Organizational Cybernetics


From  System Dynamics and the Evolution of Systems Movement A Historical Perspective


The systems movement has many roots and facets, with some of its concepts going back as far as ancient Greece. What we call ”the systems approach” today materialized in the first half of the twentieth century. At least, two important components should be mentioned, those proposed by von Bertalanffy and by Wiener.

Ludwig von Bertalanffy, an American biologist of Austrian origin, developed the idea that organized wholes of any kind should be describable, and to a certain extent explainable, by means of the same categories, and ultimately by one and the same formal apparatus. His General Systems Theory triggered a whole movement, which has tried to identify invariant structures and mechanisms across different kinds of organized wholes (for example, hierarchy, teleology, purposefulness, differentiation, morphogenesis, stability, ultrastability, emergence, and evolution). 

Norbert Wiener, an American mathematician at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, building on interdisciplinary work, accomplished in cooperation with Bigelow, an IBM engineer, and Rosenblueth, a physiologist, published his seminal book on Cybernetics. His work became the trans-disciplinary foundation for a new science of capturing, as well as designing control and communication mechanisms in all kinds of dynamical systems. Cyberneticians have been interested in concepts such as information, communication, complexity, autonomy, interdependence, cooperation and conflict, self-production (”autopoiesis”), self-organization, (self-) control, self-reference, and (self-) transformation of complex dynamical systems.

From System Dynamics and the Evolution of Systems Movement A Historical Perspective


Along the tradition which led to the evolution of General Systems Theory (Bertalannfy, Boulding, Gerard, Miller, Rapoport) and Cybernetics (Wiener, McCulloch, Ashby, Powers, Pask, Beer), a number of roots can be identified, in particular:

  • Mathematics (for example, Newton, Poincaré, Lyapunov, Lotka, Volterra, Rashevsky);
  • Logic (for example, Epimenides, Leibniz, Boole, Russell and Whitehead, Goedel, Spencer-Brown);
  • Biology, including general physiology and neurophysiology (for example, Hippocrates, Cannon, Rosenblueth, McCulloch, Rosen);
  • Engineering, including its physical and mathematical foundations (for example, Heron, Kepler, Watt, Euler, Fourier, Maxwell, Hertz, Turing, Shannon and Weaver, von Neumann, Walsh); and
  • Social and human sciences, including economics (for example, Hume, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, John Stuart Mill, Dewey, Bateson, Merton, Simon, Piaget).


From System Dynamics and the Evolution of Systems Movement A Historical Perspective

Levels of Organizations 

In this strand of the systems movement, one focus of inquiry is on the role of feedback in communication and control in (and between) organizations and society, as well as in technical systems. The other focal interest is on the multidimensional nature and the multilevel structures of complex systems. Specific theory building, methodological developments and pertinent applications have occurred at the following levels:

  • Individual and family levels (for example, systemic psychotherapy, family therapy, holistic medicine, cognitivist therapy, reality therapy);
  • Organizational and societal levels (for example, managerial cybernetics, organizational cybernetics, sociocybernetics, social systems design, social ecology, learning organizations); and
  • The level of complex technical systems (systems engineering).


From System Dynamics and the Evolution of Systems Movement A Historical Perspective

Mathematical/Quantitative Strand


As can be noted from these preliminaries, different kinds of system theory and methodology have evolved over time. One of these is Jay W. Forrester’s theory of dynamical systems, which is a basis for the methodology of System Dynamics. In SD, the main emphasis is on the role of structure, and its relationship with the dynamic behavior of systems, modeled as networks of informationally closed feedback loops between stock and flow variables. Several other mathematical systems theories, for example, mathematical general systems theory (Klir, Pestel, Mesarovic & Takahara), as well as a whole stream of theoretical developments, which can be subsumed under the terms ”dynamical systems theory” or ”theories of non-linear dynamics,” for example, catastrophe theory, chaos theory, complexity theory have been elaborated. Under the latter, branches such as the theory of fractals (Mandelbrot), geometry of behavior (Abraham) and self- organized criticality (Bak) are subsumed. In this context, the term ”sciences of complexity” has also been used. In addition, a number of essentially mathematical theories, which can be called ”system theories,” have emerged in different application contexts, examples of which are discernible in such fields as:

  • Engineering, namely information and communication theory and technology (for example, Kalman filters, Walsh functions, hypercube architectures, automata, cellular automata, artificial intelligence, cybernetic machines, neural nets);
  • Operations research (for example, modeling theory and simulation methodologies, Markov chains, genetic algorithms, fuzzy control, orthogonal sets, rough sets);
  • Social sciences, economics in particular (for example, game theory, decision theory); and
  • Ecology (for example, H. Odum’s systems ecology).

Qualitative System Theories

Examples of essentially non-mathematical system theories can be found in many different areas of study, for example:

  • Economics, namely its institutional/evolutionist strand (Veblen, Myrdal, Boulding);
  • Sociology (for example, Parsons’ and Luhmann’s social system theories, Hall’s cultural systems theory);
  • Political sciences (for example, Easton, Deutsch, Wallerstein);
  • Anthropology (for example, Levi Strauss’s structuralist-functionalist anthropology);
  • Semiotics (for example, general semantics (Korzybski, Hayakawa, Rapoport)); and
  • Psychology and psychotherapy (for example, systemic intervention (Bateson, Watzlawick, F. Simon), fractal affect logic (Ciompi)).

Quantitative and Qualitative

Several system-theoretic contributions have merged the quantitative and the qualitative in new ways. This is the case for example in Rapoport’s works in game theory as well as General Systems Theory, Pask’s Conversation Theory, von Foerster’s Cybernetics of Cybernetics (second order cybernetics), and Stafford Beer’s opus in Managerial Cybernetics. In all four cases, mathematical expression is virtuously connected to ethical, philosophical, and epistemological reflection. Further examples are Prigogine’s theory of dissipative structures, Mandelbrot’s theory of fractals, Kauffman’s complexity theory, and Haken’s Synergetics, all of which combine mathematical analysis and a strong component of qualitative interpretation.

System Dynamics vs Managerial Cybernetics

At this point, it is worth elaborating on the specific differences between two major threads of the systems movement: the cybernetic thread, from which Managerial Cybernetics has emanated, and the servomechanic thread in which SD is grounded [Richardson 1999]. As Richardson’s detailed study shows, the strongest influence on cybernetics came from biologists and physiologists, while the thinking of economists and engineers essentially shaped the servomechanic thread. Consequently, the concepts of the former are more focused on the adaptation and control of complex systems for the purpose of maintaining stability under exogenous disturbances. Servomechanics, on the other hand, and SD in particular, take an endogenous view, being mainly interested in understanding circular causality as a source of a system’s behavior. Cybernetics is more connected with communication theory, the general concern of which can be summarized as how to deal with randomly varying input. SD, on the other hand, shows a stronger link with engineering control theory, which is primarily concerned with behavior generated by the control system itself, and the role of nonlinearities. Managerial cybernetics and SD both share the concern of contributing to management science, but with different emphases and with instruments that are, in principle, complementary. Finally, the quantitative foundations are generally more evident in the basic literature on SD, than in the writings on Managerial Cybernetics, in which the mathematical apparatus underlying model formulation is confined to a small number of publications [e.g., Beer 1962, 1981], which are less known than the qualitative treatises.

Positivistic Tradition

A positivistic methodological position is tendentially objectivistic, conceptual–instrumental, quantitative, and structuralist–functionalist in its approach. An interpretive position, on the other hand, tendentially emphasizes the subjectivist, communicational, cultural, political, ethical, and esthetic: the qualitative, and the discursive aspects. It would be too simplistic to classify a specific methodology in itself as ”positivistic” or as ”interpretative.” Despite the traditions they have grown out of, several methodologies have evolved and been reinterpreted or opened to new aspects (see below).

In the following, a sample of systems methodologies will be characterized and positioned in relation to these two traditions:

  • ”Hard” OR methods. Operations research (OR) uses a wide variety of mathematical and statistical methods and techniques––for example of optimization, queuing, dynamic programming, graph theory, time series analysis––to provide solutions for organizational problems, mainly in the domains of operations, such as production and logistics, and finance.
  • Living Systems Theory. In his LST, James Grier Miller [1978], identifies a set of 20 necessary components that can be discerned in living systems of any kind. These structural features are specified on the basis of a huge empirical study and proposed as the ”critical subsystems” that ”make up a living system.” LST has been used as a device for diagnosis and design in the domains of engineering and the social sciences.
  • Viable System Model. Stafford Beer’s VSM specifies a set of control functions and their interrelationships as the sufficient conditions for the viability of any human or social system [cf. Beer, 1981]. These are applicable in a recursive mode, for example, to the different levels of an organization. The VSM has been widely applied in the diagnostic mode, but also to support the design of all kinds of social systems. Specific methodologies for these purposes have been developed, for instance, for use in consultancy. The term viable system diagnosis (VSD) is also widely used.

Interpretative Tradition

The methodologies addressed up to this point have by and large been created in the positivistic tradition of science. However, they have not altogether been excluded from fertile contacts with the interpretivist strand of inquiry. In principle, all of them can be considered as instruments to support discourses about different interpretations of an organizational reality or alternative futures studied in concrete cases.

  • Interactive Planning. IP is a methodology, designed by Russell Ackoff [1981], and developed further by Jamshid Gharajedaghi, for the purpose of dealing with ”messes” and enabling actors to design their desired futures, as well as bring them about. It is grounded in theoretical work on purposeful systems, reverts to the principles of continuous, participative, and holistic planning, and centers on the idea of an ”idealized design.”
  • Soft Systems Methodology. SSM is a heuristic designed by Peter Checkland [1981] for dealing with complex situations. Checkland suggests a process of inquiry constituted by two aspects: a conceptual one, which is logic based, and a sociopolitical one, which is concerned with the cultural feasibility, desirability, and the implementation of change.
  • Critical Systems Heuristics. CSH is a methodology, which Werner Ulrich [1996] proposed for the purpose of scientifically informing planning and design in order to lead to an improvement in the human condition. The process aims to uncover the interests that the system under study serves. The legitimacy and expertise of actors, and particularly the impacts of decisions and behaviors of the system on others – the ”affected” – are elicited by means of a set of boundary questions.

All of these three methodologies (IP, SSM, and CSH) are positioned in the interpretive tradition. They were designed to deal with the qualitative aspects in the analysis and design of complex systems, emphasizing the communicational, social, political, and ethical dimensions of problem solving. Several of them mention explicitly that they do not preclude the use of quantitative techniques.


Key People:

  • Markus Schwaninger
  • Stafford Beer
  • Werner Ulrich
  • Raul Espejo
  • Peter Checkland
  • John Mingers
  • M C Jackson 
  • Peter Senge
  • Russell Ackoff
  • C. West Churchman
  • R L Flood
  • J Rosenhead
  • Gregory Bateson
  • Fritjof Capra
  • D C Lane 
  • Ralph Stacey
  • James Grier Miller
  • Hans Ulrich


Key Sources of Research:


System theory and cybernetics

A solid basis for transdisciplinarity in management education and research

Markus Schwaninger


Click to access System%20Theory%20and%20Cybernetics_%20A%20Solid%20Basis.pdf


Intelligent Organizations: An Integrative Framework

Markus Schwaninger

Click to access Intelligent%20Organizations_An%20Integrative%20Framework.pdf


System Dynamics and the Evolution of the Systems Movement

Markus Schwaninger

Click to access System%20Dynamics%20and%20the%20Evolution%20of%20the%20Systems%20Movement_SysResBehSc%2023.pdf


Methodologies in Conflict: Achieving Synergies Between System Dynamics and Organizational Cybernetics

Markus Schwaninger


Click to access Integrative%20Systems%20Methodology%20-%20Methodologies%20in%20Conflict%202004_.pdf


System dynamics and cybernetics: a synergetic pair


Markus Schwaningera and José Pérez Ríos

Click to access System%20Dynamics%20and%20Cybernetics_SDR_2008.pdf


Managing Complexity—The Path Toward Intelligent Organizations

Markus Schwaninger


Click to access Managing%20Complexity%20-%20The%20Path%20Toward%20Intelligent%20Organizations.pdf


Design for viable organizations: The diagnostic power of the viable system model


Markus Schwaninger


Click to access Design%20for%20Viable%20Organizations_06.pdf


Contributions to model validation: hierarchy, process, and cessation

Stefan N. Groesser and Markus Schwaninger

Click to access 233_Contributions%20to%20Model%20Validation_SDR%2028-2,%202012.pdf




Click to access A%20Cybernetic%20Model%20to%20Enhance%20Organizational%20Intelligence-Systems%20Analysis%20Modeling%20Simulation_2003.pdf


System Dynamics and Cybernetics: A Necessary Synergy

Schwaninger, Markus; Ambroz, Kristjan & Ríos, José Pérez

Click to access System%20Dynamics%20and%20Cybernetics%20-%20A%20Necessary%20Synergy%20072004_IntSDConf%20Oxford.pdf


System Dynamics and the Evolution of Systems Movement

A Historical Perspective

Markus Schwaninger

Click to access DB52_Schwaninger_historical.pdf.pdf


System Dynamics in the evolution of Systems Approach

Markus Schwaninger


Click to access 214_System%20Dynamics%20in%20the%20Evolution%20of%20the%20Systems%20Approach_Encycl.%20SySciences_2009.pdf


The Evolution of Organizational Cybernetics

Markus Schwinger

Click to access The%20Evolution%20of%20Organizational%20Cybernetics.pdf


Operational Closure and Self-Reference: On the Logic of Organizational Change

Markus Schwaninger and Stefan N. Groesser

Click to access 235_Operational%20Closure%20and%20Self-Reference_SRBS%202012.pdf



Model-based Management: A Cybernetic Concept

Markus Schwaninger



Click to access 254_Model-Based%20Management_A%20Cybernetic%20Concept-SRBS-2015.pdf




Raul Espejo 2003


Click to access INTRODUCTION%20TO%20THE%20VIABLE%20SYSTEM%20MODEL3.pdf



A complexity approach to sustainability – Stafford Beer revisited


A. Espinosa *, R. Harnden, J. Walker


Click to access 57043bc708ae74a08e2461d9.pdf




Allenna Leonard with Stafford Beer




Stafford Beer

The Viable System Model:

its provenance, development, methodology and pathology




Cybernetics and the Mangle: Ashby, Beer and Pask

Andrew Pickering

Click to access 544529760cf2f14fb80ef419.pdf


What Can Cybernetics Contribute to the Conscious Evolution of Organizations and Society?

Markus Schwaninger

Click to access What%20can%20Cybernetics%20Contribute%20to%20the%20Conscious%20Evolution….pdf


Fifty years of systems thinking for management

MC Jackson




Introducing Systems Approaches

Martin Reynolds and Sue Holwell


Click to access systems-approaches_ch1.pdf


A review of the recent contribution of systems thinking to operational research and management science

John Mingers
Leroy White

Click to access EJOR-Systems_version_1_sent_Web.pdf


Managing Complexity by Recursion

by Bernd Schiemenz


Hard OR, Soft OR, Problem Structuring Methods, Critical Systems Thinking: A Primer

Hans G. Daellenbach

Click to access Daellenbach.pdf


Anticipatory Viable Systems

Maurice Yolles

Daniel Dubois



Second-order cybernetics: an historical introduction

Bernard Scott

Click to access 1798.pdf


Glanville R. (2003)

Second-Order Cybernetics.



Systems Theory, Systems Thinking

S White

Click to access Systems%20Theory%20-%20Systems%20Thinking%20Baltimore%20talk%2010022012.pdf


Theoretical approaches to managing complexity in organizations: A comparative analysis

Estudios Gerenciales
Volume 31, Issue 134, January–March 2015, Pages 20–29



Helping business schools engage with real problems: The contribution of critical realism and systems thinking

John Mingers

Click to access Tackling%20Real%20Problems%20EJOR%20Rev1%20sent.pdf


Only Connect! An Annotated

Bibliography Reflecting the Breadth and Diversitv of Svstem.sThinking

David C. Lane

Mike C. Jackson

Click to access 548f08000cf2d1800d861f3f.pdf


The greater whole: Towards a synthesis of system dynamics and soft systems methodology
David C. Lane  Rogelio Oliva

Click to access 54d9e2e20cf2970e4e7d06ae.pdf