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General System Theory. Reduction vs. Systems. 1950’s the main approach to understanding was ‘reductionism’ – divide something into its parts Ludwig von Bertalnffy proposed systems thinking – discover how something interacts with its environment. General Systems Theory.

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General System Theory


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    1. General System Theory

    2. Reduction vs. Systems • 1950’s the main approach to understanding was ‘reductionism’ – divide something into its parts • Ludwig von Bertalnffy proposed systems thinking – discover how something interacts with its environment

    3. General Systems Theory • Science of understanding open systems theory • GST provides a framework to study open systems • GST is not too general nor too specific

    4. Open Systems • All living and many non-living things are open systems • Systems theory gives us a way to ‘think about’ open systems • Systems theory lays the foundation for the analysis and modelling of systems • Systems theory provides an analytical framework for comprehending dynamic interrelated operating systems

    5. Open System OPEN SYSTEM Response Sense ENVIRONMENT

    6. University – Open System Policy Approved Funding Industry Needs Students UNIVERSITY Funding Requests New Knowledge Graduates

    7. Systems Thinking • holistic approach to problem solving • reflecting on how the organisation relates to its business environment and • how factors in the environment can affect the organisation

    8. Definition of ‘System’ “... an identifiable, complex dynamic entity composed of discernibly different parts or subsystems that are interrelated to and interdependent on each other and the whole entity with an overall capability to maintain stability and to adapt behaviour in response to external influences” [Webster’s]

    9. Boulding’s Explanation “Somewhere … between the specific that has no meaning and the general that has no content there must be, for each purpose and at each level of abstraction, an optimum degree of generality”

    10. Beckett’s explanation "The trust of general systems .. is to draw attention to the study of relationships of parts to one another within the wholes”

    11. GST Traits • Systems … • are Goal Seeking • are Holistic • have Hierarchy • have Inputs and Outputs • transform inputs into outputs • consume and/or create Energy • are affected by Entropy • have Equifinality • have Feedback

    12. Goal Seeking • All open systems must have goals • There are two types • Inner directed goals • Outer directed goals • Design strategies are typically “outer directed” goals • Maintenance strategies are an “inner directed” goal

    13. Holistic • Fredrick Hagel (1770-1831) • The whole is more than the sum of the parts • The whole determines the sum of the parts • The parts cannot be understood if considered in isolation from the whole • The parts are dynamically interrelated and interdependent

    14. Hierarchical

    15. Transform Inputs into Outputs

    16. Entropy • A measure of the amount of disorder in a system • Everything disintegrates over time • Negative entropy or centropy • Effects of entropy are offset by the system transforming itself continuously • Maintain order through such things as repairs, maintenance and possibly growing by importing ‘energy’

    17. Energy, Equifinality and Feedback • Systems create/consume energy • Physical • Emotional • Equifinality is the ability for systems to achieve goals in a number of ways • This flexibility allows systems avoid the effects of entropy • Systems have feedback - feedback can allow a system to change its direction

    18. Conclusions • Views of GST are universal • GST combats ‘isolationist’ tendencies among engineers, systems analysts, business analysts, IT specialists, etc. etc. • GST offers a framework for understanding all systems • Benefits of GST to design of systems are significant • Theory of GST lays at the foundation of much new thinking in - including ‘Learning Organisations’, ‘Structured Analysis’, ‘Sociotechnical Design’ and ‘Strategic Planning’

    19. Boulding and the Hierarchy of Systems Complexity • Kenneth Boulding, “General System Theory – The Skeleton of Science”, 1956 • The existing over-specialization of science and the lack of communication between the different areas. • Each studies some kind of systems, a classification is necessary if a general methodology for their study is to be developed.

    20. Boulding and the Hierarchy of Systems Complexity [2] • Frameworks • Level of static structures and relationship • Ex: the arrangement of atoms in a crystal, the anatomy of genes, the organization of the astronomical universe. • Clockworks • The Solar System  simple dynamic system with predetermined motion • Car engines and dynamos

    21. Boulding and the Hierarchy of Systems Complexity [3] • Cybernetic Systems • Control mechanism, characterized: feedback mechanisms with transmission and interpretation of information. • A thermostat with teleological behavior • Cell • Self-maintaining structure • Open-system level

    22. Boulding and the Hierarchy of Systems Complexity [4] • Plant • Process of the plant level take place without specialized sense organs, the reaction to changes in the environment is slow. • Animal • Wide range of specialized sensors convey a great amount of information via a nervous system to a brain where information can be stored and structured. • Reaction to changes in the environment are more or less instantaneous.

    23. Boulding and the Hierarchy of Systems Complexity [5] • Human • Sophisticated language capability and the use of internal symbols through which man accumulates knowledge. • Social Organization • The units assumed roles and these are tied together by the channel of communication. • Transcendental • Unknowable, presupposed exhibit systemic structure and relationship.

    24. Boulding and the Hierarchy of Systems Complexity [6] • Physical Scientist • Category of physical and mechanical systems: framework, clockwork, cybernetics • Biologist, Botanist, and zoologist • cell, plant, and animal • Social Scientist • Human and social organization • Philosophy • Transcendental systems

    25. Checkland and the Systems Typology • Peter Checkland, “Systems Thinking Systems Practice”, 1981. • The absolute minimum number of systems classes necessary to describe the existing reality is four  natural, human activity, designed physical, designed abstract, systems.

    26. Checkland and the Systems Typology [2] • Natural Systems • “they are systems which could not be other than they are, given a universe whose patterns and laws are not erratic” • Human Activity Systems • Have a tendency to integrate in such a way that they can be viewed as a whole. • Social system • Ex: agricultural, defence, trading, transportation

    27. Checkland and the Systems Typology [3] • Designed Physical Systems • Systems fitted with purpose of mind because a need for them in some human activity has been identified • Individual tools, individual machines, other designed and fabricated material entities • Designed Abstract Systems • Various type of theological, philosophical or knowledge systems. • Only associated with human beings.