Answers to the question: What is a systems approach? tend now to be of the kind: an approach to a problem which takes a broad view, which tries to take all aspects into account, which concentrates on interactions between the different parts of the problem. (Checkland, 1981, p. 5)
Systems thinking is about a particular way of thinking of the world, one which although broadly a part of the science movement, uses some concepts which are complementary to those of classical natural science. This book is about systems thinking, and about the use of a particular set of ideas, systems ideas, in trying to understand the world’s complexity. The central concept ‘system’ embodies the idea of a set of elements connected together which form a whole, this showing properties which are properties of the whole, rather than properties of its component parts. (The taste of water, for example, is a property of the substance water, not of the hydrogen and oxygen which combine to form it.) The phrase ‘systems thinking’ implies thinking about the world outside ourselves, and doing so by means of the concept ‘system’ … Systems thinking makes conscious use of the particular concept of wholeness captured in the word ‘system’, to order our thoughts. ‘Systems practice’ then implies using the product of this thinking to initiate and guide actions we take in the world. (Checkland, 1981, p. 3) […]
Science provides us with the phrase ‘a scientific approach’ just as systems provides ‘a systems approach’. Both are meta-disciplines, and both embody a particular way of regarding the world. The scientific outlook assumes that the world is characterized by natural phenomena which are ordered and regular, not capricious, and this has led to an effective way of finding out about the regularities – the so-called ‘laws of Nature’. The systems outlook, accepting the basic propositions of science, for it is a part of the scientific tradition, assumes that the world contains structured wholes (which include soap bubbles, slow-worms and social systems) which can maintain their identity under a certain range of conditions and which exhibit certain general principles of ‘wholeness’. Systems thinkers are interested in elucidating these principles, believing that this will contribute usefully to our knowledge of the world.
The best understanding of the new subject comes from examining the history of the scientific method. There we observe that the idea of connected wholes emerges as something worth studying as a result of some intractable problems which defeat the classical scientific method, with its emphasis on reducing the situation observed in order to increase the chance that experimentally reproducible observations will be obtained.(Checkland, 1981, s. 6)