The first stage in an SSM (Soft System Methodology) investigation involves the careful observation of the problem situation with all its intricate details, and the recording of all that is perceived. This involves collecting qualitative data – such as attitudes and opinions concerning the problem situation, including reactions to our intervention in matters (as external consultants) – as well as quantitative data, and recording this in the form of a “picture”. In this way we try to capture as much as possible of the richness of the real situation. Following this, the essence of these observations is encapsulated in brief descriptions of human activity systems that we hope may later provide relevant insights into the problem situation. Then models of these systems that are consistent with the different viewpoints expressed within the descriptions are drawn. Finally, several comparisons are made of the models with the observations of the real-world situation, which are used in a discussion with the problem owners to suggest systemically desirable and culturally feasible changes that it is hoped will lead to improvements in the problem situation. Note that, unlike many other problem-solving processes, SSM does not explicitly attempt to identify problems, but through its iterative “learning” process it is intended to make changes to the problem situation such that whatever the problem were they no longer exist.
(Hicks, 2004, p. 259f)