Systemic Practice and Action Research

, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 141–150 | Cite as

Problem Conceptualisation Using Idea Networks

  • Mike MetcalfeEmail author
Original Paper


The social act of conceptualising a situation as problematic is thought to determine what will later be seen as a satisfactory solution. Pierce argues that conceptualising something (or an event) is a process of thinking about it through a set of conceptual frames. This paper presents a method for emerging those conceptual frames from preliminary discussions with participants. It draws on the work of Christopher Alexander and the Small Worlds phenomenon. Alexander suggests that participants’ statements can be thought of as being networked. The Small Worlds phenomenon then suggests that this network will not be uniform but rather be made up of a number of clusters (small worlds). These can be used to identify the conceptual frames in the participants’ statements. Therefore, the argument of this paper is that this method can be used to conceptualise problems. Having an explicit method is thought preferable to calling for unspecified creativity. The creativity comes from the method taking Dewey’s advice to switch between analysis and synthesis. The paper’s argument will be supported by explaining how the method can be practiced, while explaining why (theorising) the steps advised might be creative.


Problem conceptualisation Analysis and synthesis Christopher alexander Ideas Network Small worlds phenomenon 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of South AustraliaAdelaideAustralia

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