DSI 2004 Annual Meeting Boston

Panel Discussion

Why a combination of theories and insights coming from different disciplines are needed to explain complex societal phenomena


Organized by

D Petkov, ECSU, D DeTombe, Int OR WG on Complex Societal Problems

and O Petkova, CCSU





Complex Societal Problems need a multi-disciplinary approach

How can we make this possible?!


Dorien DeTombe, Ph.D

Chair International Society on Methodology for Societal Complexity

P.O. Box 3286, 1001 AB Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Europe

Tel: +31 20 6927526

E-Mail: DeTombe@lri.jur.uva.nl



Complex Societal Phenomena such as large city problems, immigration issues, floods, educational issues or stock exchange events are not restricted to one discipline. A discipline only focuses on a part of reality. In order to understand what is going on one needs knowledge coming form many disciplines. Combining this knowledge in a fruitful way gives the opportunity to see the whole picture.

Each discipline explains and has a view on a (small) part of reality. Focusing on the societal complexity one realizes that in order to explain this complexity one needs theories coming from different disciplines.  A way to combine the knowledge is to create a structured environment in which experts, each with a small and different view on reality, can combine their knowledge. One of the methods that takes care of this is the method Compram. In the first step of the Compram method groups of experts make an analysis and a description of a complex societal phenomenon. This knowledge description includes a power and emotional analysis of the actors involved.




On The Role of Multiple Perspectives


Olga Petkova

School of Business, CCSU petkovao@ccsu.edu


It has been now 20 years since Linstone’s book on the role of Multiple Perspectives in systems inquiry. Why do we need still to talk about it? Have we succeeded in promoting this simple but powerful idea? Why do we need to stress that it is different from a multi disciplinary approach?



A Systems-based Journey toward the Resolution of Today’s

Complex Societal Problems


Dr. Rexford H. Draman

Chair, Operations Concentration

School of Management & Business

St. Edwards University

Austin, Texas

The complex societal problems we are currently facing did not develop overnight.  They have been in the making for a long time.  By believing their growth and development is a byproduct of our societal system that has evolved, I draw support from Einstein’s understanding of problem solving - one can not solve a problem with the beliefs that created it – to frame and develop a solution.  This leads to identifying the foundational assumptions, beliefs and practices that provided the framework upon which our current society evolved.   My search led to the Renaissance and the works of Descartes, Newton, and their peers who established the perspective of the world as a machine whose understanding is obtainable through analysis (reductionism). 


Drawing on the fields of philosophy and psychology led to establishing the hierarchical nature of the development / evolution of thought and thinking.  Given this understanding, the ongoing transition from the traditional / current belief system which is based on independence and reductionism to one based upon the acceptance of systems which includes inter-dependence, cooperation and synthesis is strongly supported.  By highlighting the journey systems and systems thinking has taken over the last fifty plus years I was able to put forth my thoughts on its continued growth, which leads to a society whose foundational assumptions are focused on inter-dependence and cooperation.  Getting there, involves two stages / steps.  The first is focused on transitioning businesses and organizations to a systems paradigm.  In support of this change, my current systems-based business model is introduced as one possible transitional path.  The second stage, the establishment and growth of a systems-based society, is dependent on the continued pulling – demanding the development and adoption of systems-based solutions – by the ever-growing number of individuals within our society that understand the benefits of this holistic approach.  While this can easily be construed as an evolutionary approach to today’s societal problems, I also recognize the work of some of today’s true visionaries that are putting forth thoughts and visions about this systems-based future which each of us, who are concerned about the problems within today’s society should read.      



Applying Systems Thinking to Complex Societal Problems


Steven G. Brant, Business Futurist

Founder and Principal, Trimtab Management Systems www.trimtab.com

Affiliated with the Ackoff Center for Advancement of Systems Approaches at the University of Pennsylvania www.acasa.upenn.edu



To apply Systems Thinking to society’s problems, we must acquire the influence needed to implement the systemic redesign solutions. Only when the public learns what kind of education, health care, government, and – yes – society-as-a-whole is possible will the public demand the future we have the power to help society have.


Management Flight Simulators as Aids for Decision-makers in

Health and Human Services

Gary B. Hirsch

Consultant, Creator of Learning Environments

Wayland, Massachusetts


Management Flight Simulators, also known as Microworlds and Interactive Learning Environments, can be valuable tools for helping decision-makers better understand the complex systems they manage.  This is especially true in health and human services where there is constant change and complex interactions between services and the problems they are designed to deal with.  Management Flight Simulators offer the potential for rich learning experiences in which decision-makers can engage with simulated problems rather than simply hearing an expert’s advice about how to deal with those problems.  The result can be an intuitive understanding of how these systems work, how narrowly-focused strategies can be ineffective or create new problems, and how well-balanced approaches are necessary for managing health and human services effectively.


The author has developed several of these management flight simulators and used them extensively with decision-makers in health care and human services. One of these simulators, called “Mastering the Transition to Capitation”, was created to help health care providers adapt to changing payment patterns.  Another, called “Creating Integrated Care and Healthier Communities” (CICHC), was developed in conjunction with a consortium of fourteen health care providers, the New England Health Care Assembly, and the American Hospital Association with support from Pfizer.  CICHC helped providers deal with fundamental changes in how health care is organized and focus on how to keep communities healthier rather than simply treating people when they get sick.  The author will provide examples of how this latter simulator is used.  A model for managing patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart failure will also be presented.  This model extended the part of the approach to improving health in the CICHC by applying it as a tool for designing strategies focused on particular illnesses.



IT Outsourcing in the Public Sector


Helena Lindskog

Department of Management and Economics

Linköping University, Sweden



Following the trend and in many case successful outsourcing of IT in the private sector, the public sector followed the same route. The results were much more diversed and not always encouraging. Many public organizations are contact and data intensive externally and internally thus dependent on IT for service delivery and internal work.This presentation investigates and analyzes the reasons behind the IT outsourcing in the public sector and consequences of it for outsourcing organizations and outsourcers as well as for other parts involved such as politicians and outsourced personnel and the public sector’s clients: citizens and businesses.




IT Global Outsourcing

- a systems perspective might help


D Petkov

Dept Business Administration, ECSU, Willimantic CT



Global outsourcing is a hot topic. It is probably misunderstood by managers and politicians. Economists treat it without consideration for any boundaries. A simple systems perspective with consideration of the notions of subsystems, systems and boundaries might be appropriate in attempting to understand the different points of view on this issue.



Applying Conversation Theory

while studying Complex Societal Problems

Stephen G. Taylor

Biology Department

Champlain Regional College

900 Riverside Drive

St-Lambert, QC, J4P 3P2, CANADA



Cybernetics and systems science methods require model building and model testing.  Pask studied cybernetics more than forty years ago and then began applying this approach to the study of learning and the processes of education.  He developed Conversation Theory as a result of his work and it provides us with an approach to developing a modeling approach to understanding the use of concepts.  Complex societal problems often involve a differential use of the same language and conceptual schemes.  Asking people to build knowledge webs as a way of recording their conversational transactions about a definite is offered here as an aid to help in the understanding of problem solving methods.