Soft Systems Methodology


Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) is a problem-solving approach to address complex, ill-structured, or "soft" problems in organizational and social systems. Developed by Peter Checkland in the 1970s, SSM focuses on understanding the different perspectives and interpretations of stakeholders involved in a problem situation rather than seeking an objectively optimal solution. The primary goal of SSM is to facilitate a shared understanding among stakeholders and develop improvements that are both desirable and feasible within the specific context.

Key Concepts and Steps

SSM consists of a seven-step process that encourages an iterative and participatory approach to problem-solving:

  • Problem Situation: The first step involves identifying and exploring the problem situation in an unstructured manner. This includes gathering relevant information, understanding stakeholders' perspectives, and identifying key issues.
  • Rich Picture: A visual representation, called a rich picture, is created to illustrate the problem situation, including relationships, conflicts, and constraints. This diagram helps stakeholders develop a shared understanding of the problem context.
  • Root Definitions: In this step, stakeholders create root definitions for relevant systems within the problem situation. These are concise descriptions that capture the purpose, activities, and relationships of each system from different perspectives.
  • Conceptual Models: Based on the root definitions, conceptual models are developed to represent the ideal activities and relationships within each system. These models serve as a basis for comparing and evaluating the actual problem situation.
  • Comparison: The conceptual models are compared with the real-world problem situation to identify discrepancies, opportunities for improvement, and potential consequences of change.
  • Changes: Stakeholders collaboratively develop and propose feasible and desirable changes to improve the problem situation, considering the insights gained from the comparison.
  • Action: Finally, the agreed-upon changes are implemented, monitored, and evaluated to assess their effectiveness in addressing the problem situation. The process may be iterated as necessary to refine the solutions further.

Benefits of Soft Systems Methodology

  • Shared Understanding: SSM facilitates communication and collaboration among stakeholders, enabling them to develop a shared understanding of complex problem situations.
  • Holistic Approach: SSM considers the broader context of a problem, including social, political, and cultural aspects, leading to more comprehensive and robust solutions.
  • Flexibility: The iterative nature of SSM allows for continuous learning and adaptation, making it suitable for addressing dynamic and evolving problem situations.
  • Inclusiveness: SSM values the diverse perspectives and interpretations of stakeholders, encouraging the consideration of multiple viewpoints and fostering a more inclusive decision-making process.

See Also

Problem Solving