Systemic Practice and Action Research

, Volume 23, Issue 4, pp 269–284 | Cite as

The Relationship of ‘Systems Thinking’ to Action Research

  • Robert Louis FloodEmail author
Original Paper


This article investigates the relationship of systems thinking to action research by reviewing the main developments in systems thinking and relating these to action research. There are two main lines of thought in systems thinking that lead to wholly different conceptions about action research. The first (systems thinking) advocates thinking about real social systems that it assumes exist in the world. The second (systemic thinking) supposes only that the social construction of the world is systemic. Greater emphasis is placed on systemic thinking consistent with its greater importance to contemporary action research. The article concludes that systemic thinking when taken to its practical conclusion from a critical perspective offers to action research a somewhat unique liberating praxis. Concern that any liberating praxis could remain hollow is addressed through a certain kind of ‘spiritual’ awareness that is suggested by wholeness.


Action research Systemic practice Holistic practice History of systems thinking Complexity theory Systemic spiritualism 



This article has been adapted from the original in Bradbury and Reason (2006) to make a positional article for Systemic Practice and Action Research. The section on the ‘socio-ecological perspective’ benefits from unpublished notes provided by and subsequent communications with John Barton and John Selsky. It also takes into account ideas that developed at a round table discussion held in July 1999 between myself, Merrelyn Emery and Eric Wolstenholme, a video of which is available from the Department of Management at Monash University, Australia.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Maastricht School of ManagementMaastrichtThe Netherlands

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