Systemic Practice and Action Research

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 125–153 | Cite as

Exploring Systemic Problems in IS Adoption Using Critical Systems Heuristics

  • Syed Arshad RazaEmail author
  • Atiq W. Siddiqui
  • Craig Standing
Original Paper


Most of the traditional technology acceptance models revolve around information systems (IS)/information technology (IT) adoption at individual user level. Organizations are complex social systems in which stakeholders interact and play different roles in IS/IT adoption and use. This study provides an organizational perspective through multiple stakeholder viewpoints to explore ‘systemic problems’ in IS adoption. This paper contributes to IS literature by applying boundary critique mechanism of Critical Systems Heuristics (CSH) through an interpretive study of a web portal implementation project in a West Australian University. This perspective considers systemic problems as a ‘system of conflicts’ comprising key factors and organization-wide stakeholder interactions. Moreover, it adds to CSH theory as to how systemic problems are identified by using boundary judgments and evaluated using a hermeneutic approach.


Information systems/information technology adoption Boundary critique Critical systems heuristics Systemic problems Systems thinking 


  1. Aakhus M, Ågerfalk PJ, Lyytinen K, Te'eni D (2014) Symbolic action research in information systems: introduction to the special issue. MIS Q 38(4):1187–1200Google Scholar
  2. Achterkamp MC, Vos JFJ (2007) Critically identifying stakeholders evaluating boundary critique as a vehicle for stakeholder identification. Syst Res Behav Sci 24(1):3–14Google Scholar
  3. Ackoff RL (1995) ‘Whole-ing’ the parts and righting the wrongs. Syst Res Behav Sci 12(1):43–46Google Scholar
  4. Ågerfalk PJ, Eriksson O (2006) Socio-instrumental usability: IT is all about social action. J Inf Technol 21(1):24–39Google Scholar
  5. Ajzen I (1991) The theory of planned behavior. Organ Behav Hum Decis Process 50(2):179–211Google Scholar
  6. Ajzen I, Fishbein M (1980) Understanding attitude and predicting social behavior. Prentice-Hall, Eaglewood Cliff, NJGoogle Scholar
  7. Arnold RD, Wade JP (2015) A definition of systems thinking: a systems approach. Procedia Comput Sci 44:669–678Google Scholar
  8. Avital M, Boland RJ, Lyytinen K (2009) Introduction to designing information and organizations with a positive lens. Inf Organ 19(3):153–161Google Scholar
  9. Babaheidari SM (2007) Reviewing interpretive approaches for evaluation of information systems investments: a literature review of central concepts. Master Thesis in Informatics, IT University of Göteborg, Gothenburg, Sweden 2007, Report No. 2007:43. Accessed Sept 2017
  10. Bentley LD, Dittman KC, Whitten JL (2000) Systems analysis and design methods. Irwin/McGraw HillGoogle Scholar
  11. Bentley Y, Cao G, Lehaney B (2013) The application of critical systems thinking to enhance the effectiveness of a university information system. Syst Pract Action Res 26(5):451–465Google Scholar
  12. Bevan N (1995) Measuring usability as quality of use. Softw Qual J 4(2):115–130Google Scholar
  13. Black DA, Lebow J (2009) Systemic research controversies and challenges. Blackwell Publishing.
  14. Butler T (2016) Towards a hermeneutic method for interpretive research in information systems enacting research methods in information systems. Springer, vol 2, pp 11–39Google Scholar
  15. Carr S, Oreszczyn S (2003) Critical systems heuristics: a tool for the inclusion of ethics and values in complex policy decisions. Paper presented at the 4th congress of the European Society for Agricultural and Food Ethics, Toulouse, FranceGoogle Scholar
  16. Checkland P (1981) Systems thinking, systems practice. Wiley, Chichester, UKGoogle Scholar
  17. Checkland P, Holwell S (1997) Information, systems and information systems: making sense of the field. Wiley, ChichesterGoogle Scholar
  18. Córdoba JR (2007) Developing inclusion and critical reflection in information systems planning. Organ 14(6):909–927Google Scholar
  19. Córdoba JR (2009) Critical reflection in planning information systems: a contribution from critical systems thinking. Inf Syst J 19(2):123–147Google Scholar
  20. Córdoba JR, Midgley G (2008) Beyond organisational agendas: using boundary critique to facilitate the inclusion of societal concerns in information systems planning. Eur J Inf Syst 17(2):125–142Google Scholar
  21. Davis FD (1989) Perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, and user acceptance of information technology. MIS Q 14(3):319–340Google Scholar
  22. Dongping F (2007) Towards complex holism. Syst Res Behav Sci 24(4):417–430Google Scholar
  23. Ellis RK (1995) Critical considerations in the development of systems thinking and practice. Syst Pract 8(2):199–214Google Scholar
  24. Elpez I, Fink D (2006) Information systems success in the public sector: stakeholders’ perspectives and emerging alignment model. Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology 3(1):219–231. Accessed Sept 2017
  25. Flood RL (2010) The relationship of ‘systems thinking’to action research. Syst Pract Action Res 23(4):269–284Google Scholar
  26. Flood RL, Carson ER (1993) Dealing with complexity: an introduction to the theory and application of systems science. Plenum Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  27. Freeman RE (1984) Strategic management: a stakeholder approach. Pitman, BostonGoogle Scholar
  28. Freeman RE, Harrison JS, Wicks AC, Parmar BL, De Colle S (2010) Stakeholder theory: the state of the art. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  29. Friedman AL, Miles S (2006) Stakeholders: theory and practice. Oxford University Press on DemandGoogle Scholar
  30. Fuenmayor R (1991) The roots of reductionism: a counter-ontoepistemology for a systems approach. Syst Pract 4(5):419–448Google Scholar
  31. Gangwar H, Date H, Raoot A (2014) Review on IT adoption: insights from recent technologies. J Enterp Inf Manag 27(4):488–502Google Scholar
  32. Gharajedaghi J (2011) Systems thinking: managing chaos and complexity, a platform for designing business architecture, 3rd edn. Morgan Kaufmann Publishers Inc., San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  33. Goldkuhl G, Lyytinen K (1982) A language action view of information systems. In: Ginzberg M, Ross C (eds) Proceedings of the third international conference on information systems, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  34. Grohs JR, Kirk GR, Soledad MM, Knight DB (2018) Assessing systems thinking: a tool to measure complex reasoning through ill-structured problems. Think Skills Creat 28:110–130Google Scholar
  35. Grudin J (1992) Utility and usability: research issues and development contexts. Interact Comput 4(2):209–217Google Scholar
  36. Hirschheim R, Klein HK (1994) Realizing emancipatory principles in information systems development: the case for ETHICS. MIS Q 18(1):83–109Google Scholar
  37. Hirschheim RA, Smithson S (1998) Evaluation of information systems: a critical assessment. In: Willcocks L, Lester S (eds) Beyond the IT productivity paradox. Wiley, Chichester, pp 381–409Google Scholar
  38. Houghton L (2009) Generalization and systemic epistemology: why should it make sense? Syst Res Behav Sci 26(1):99–108Google Scholar
  39. Huynh MQ, Klein HK (2004) The critical social theory of Jürgen Habermas and its implications for IS research. In: Social theory and philosophy for information systems. Wiley, Hoboken, pp 157–237Google Scholar
  40. Ivanov K (2011) Critical systems thinking and information technology: Some summary reflections, doubts, and hopes through critical thinking critically considered, and through hypersystems1. Information and communication technologies, society and human beings: Theory and framework (Festschrift in honor of Gunilla Bradley). IGI Global, pp 493–515Google Scholar
  41. Jackson MC (1991a) Creative problem solving: total systems intervention. In: Flood RL, Jackson MC (eds) Systems methodology for the management sciences. Contemporary systems thinking. Springer, Boston, pp 271–276.
  42. Jackson MC (1991b) The origins and nature of critical systems thinking. Syst Pract 4(2):131–149Google Scholar
  43. Jackson MC (1997) Critical systems thinking and IS research. In: Mingers J, Stowell F (eds) Information systems: an emerging discipline? McGraw-Hill, London, pp 201–238Google Scholar
  44. Jackson MC (2003) Systems thinking: creative holism for managers. Wiley, ChichesterGoogle Scholar
  45. Jackson MC (2006) Creative holism: a critical systems approach to complex problem situations. Syst Res Behav Sci 23(5):647–657Google Scholar
  46. Jackson MC, Keys P (1984) Towards a system of systems methodologies. J Oper Res Soc:473–486Google Scholar
  47. Jeyaraj A, Rottman JW, Lacity MC (2006) A review of the predictors, linkages, and biases in IT innovation adoption research. J Inf Technol 21(1):1–23Google Scholar
  48. Jokonya O (2016) Towards a critical systems thinking approach during IT adoption in organisations. Procedia Comput Sci 100:856–864Google Scholar
  49. Jokonya O, Kroeze JH, van der Poll JA (2012) Towards a framework for decision making regarding IT adoption. Paper presented at the proceedings of the South African Institute for Computer Scientists and Information Technologists conferenceGoogle Scholar
  50. Kalnins HJR, Jarohnovich N (2015) System thinking approach in solving problems of technology transfer process. Procd Soc Behv 195:783–789Google Scholar
  51. Klein HK, Myers MD (1999) A set of principles for conducting and evaluating interpretive field studies in information systems. MIS Q 23(1):67–93Google Scholar
  52. Lai P (2017) The literature review of technology adoption models and theories for the novelty technology. J Inf Syst Technol Manag 14(1):21–38Google Scholar
  53. Laplume AO, Sonpar K, Litz RA (2008) Stakeholder theory: reviewing a theory that moves us. J Manag 34(6):1152–1189Google Scholar
  54. Lee AS (1994) Electronic mail as a medium for rich communication: an empirical investigation using hermeneutic interpretation. MIS Q 18(2):143–157Google Scholar
  55. Lyytinen K, Hirschheim R (1988) Information systems failures—a survey and classification of the empirical literature. Oxford Surveys in Information Technology 4:257–309Google Scholar
  56. Lyytinen K, Klein HK (1985) The critical theory of Jurgen Habermas as a basis for a theory of information systems. In: Mumford E, Hirschheim R, Fitzgerald G, Wood-Harper T (eds) Research methods in information systems IFIP 8.2 Proceedings, Amsterdam, North-Holland, pp 219–236Google Scholar
  57. Mason RO, McKenney JL, Copeland DG (1997) An historical method for MIS research: steps and assumptions. MIS Q 21(3):307–320Google Scholar
  58. Midgley G (2003) Science as systemic intervention: some implications of systems thinking and complexity for the philosophy of science. Syst Pract Action Res 16(2):77–97Google Scholar
  59. Midgley G (2006) Systems thinking for evaluation. In: Williams B, Imam I (eds) Systems concepts in evaluation: an expert anthology. EdgePress/American Evaluation Association, Point Reyes, CA, pp 11–29Google Scholar
  60. Miles S (2011) Stakeholder definitions: Profusion and confusion. Paper presented at the EIASM 1st interdisciplinary conference on stakeholder, resources and value creation, IESE Business School, University of Navarra, BarcelonaGoogle Scholar
  61. Miles S (2012) Stakeholder: essentially contested or just confused? J Bus Ethics 108(3):285–298Google Scholar
  62. Mitchell RK, Agle BR, Wood DJ (1997) Toward a theory of stakeholder identification and salience: defining the principle of who and what really counts. Acad Manag Rev 22(4):853–886Google Scholar
  63. Mulej M (2007) Systems theory: a worldview and/or a methodology aimed at requisite holism/realism of humans’ thinking, decisions and action. Syst Res Behav Sci 24(3):347–357Google Scholar
  64. Mumford E, Weir M (1979) Computer systems in work design: the ETHICS method. John Wiley & Sons, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  65. Ngwenyama OK (1991) The critical social theory approach to information systems: problems and challenges. In: Nissen HE, Klein HK, Hirschheim R (eds) Information systems research: contemporary approaches and emergent traditions. North-Holland, Amsterdam, pp 267–280Google Scholar
  66. Nielsen J (1993) Usability engineering. Academic Press, San DiegoGoogle Scholar
  67. O’Donovan B (2011) Systems thinking in adult social care: how focusing on a customer’s purpose leads to better services for the vulnerable in society and enhances efficiency. In: Zokaei K, Seddon J, O’Donovan B (eds) Systems thinking: from heresy to practice. Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp 40–66Google Scholar
  68. Packer MJ, Addison RB (1989) Entering the circle: hermeneutic investigation in psychology. Suny PressGoogle Scholar
  69. Raza SA, Standing C (2010) Towards a systemic model on information systems’ adoption using critical systems thinking. Journal of Systems and Information Technology 12(3):196–209Google Scholar
  70. Raza SA, Standing C (2011) A systemic model for managing and evaluating conflicts in organizational change. Syst Pract Action Res 24(3):187–210Google Scholar
  71. Reich BH, Benbasat I (1990) An empirical investigation of factors influencing the success of customer-oriented strategic systems. Inf Syst Res 1(3):325–347Google Scholar
  72. Reynolds M (2007) Evaluation based on critical systems heuristics. In: Williams B, Imam I (eds), Systems concepts in evaluation. An expert anthology. Point Reyes, American Evaluation Association, Edgepress, CA, pp 101–122Google Scholar
  73. Rogers EM (1983) Diffusion of innovations, 3rd edn. The Free Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  74. Rogers EM (1995) Diffusion of innovations, 4th edn. The Free Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  75. Sankaran S, Tay BH, Orr M (2009) Managing organizational change by using soft systems thinking in action research projects. Int J Manag Proj Bus 2(2):179–197Google Scholar
  76. Santhanam R, Hartono E (2003) Issues in linking information technology capability to firm performance. MIS Q 27(1):125–153Google Scholar
  77. Schwaninger M (2006) System dynamics and the evolution of the systems movement. Syst Res Behav Sci 23(5):583–594Google Scholar
  78. Sommerville I (1996) Software engineering, 5th edn. Addison-Wesley, WokinghamGoogle Scholar
  79. Staples DS, Wong I, Seddon PB (2002) Having expectations of information systems benefits that match received benefits: does it really matter? Inf Manag 40(2):115–131Google Scholar
  80. Stockdale R, Standing C (2005) An interpretive approach to evaluating information systems: a content, context, process framework. Eur J Oper Res 173(3):1090–1102Google Scholar
  81. Sun D, Hyland P, Bosch O (2015) A systemic view of innovation adoption in the Australian beef industry. Syst Res Behav Sci 32(6):646–657Google Scholar
  82. Symons VJ (1991) A review of information systems evaluation: content, context and process. Eur J Inf Syst 1(3):205–212Google Scholar
  83. Tan FB, Hunter MG (2002) The repertory grid technique: a method for the study of cognition in information systems. MIS Q 26(1):39–57Google Scholar
  84. Thong JY (1999) An integrated model of information systems adoption in small businesses. J Manag Inf Syst 15(4):187–214Google Scholar
  85. Ulrich W (1983) Critical heuristics of social planning. In: A new approach to practical philosophy. Wiley, ChichesterGoogle Scholar
  86. Ulrich W (1987) Critical heuristics of social system design. Eur J Oper Res 31(3):276–283Google Scholar
  87. Ulrich W (1996) A primer to critical systems heuristics for action researchers. Centre for Systems Studies, University of HullGoogle Scholar
  88. Ulrich W (2000) Reflective practice in the civil society: the contribution of critically systemic thinking. Reflective Pract 1(2):247–268Google Scholar
  89. Ulrich W (2001) The quest for competence in systemic research and practice. Syst Res Behav Sci 18(1):3–28Google Scholar
  90. Ulrich W (2003) Beyond methodology choice: critical systems thinking as critically systemic discourse. J Oper Res Soc 54(4):325–342Google Scholar
  91. Vemuri P, Bellinger G (2017) Examining the use of systemic approach for adoption of systems thinking in organizations. Systems 5(3):43Google Scholar
  92. Venkatesh V, Bala H (2008) Technology acceptance model 3 and a research agenda on interventions. Decis Sci 39(2):273–315Google Scholar
  93. Venkatesh V, Davis FD (2000) A theoretical extension of the technology acceptance model: four longitudinal field studies. Manag Sci 46(2):186–204Google Scholar
  94. Venkatesh V, Morris MG, Davis GB, Davis FD (2003) User acceptance of information technology: toward a unified view. MIS Q 27(3):425–478Google Scholar
  95. Von Bertalanffy L (1975) Perspectives on general system theory: scientific-philosophical studies. Braziller, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  96. Waldman J (2007) Thinking systems need systems thinking. Syst Res Behav Sci 24(3):271–284Google Scholar
  97. Walsham G (1993) Interpreting information systems in organizations. Wiley, ChichesterGoogle Scholar
  98. Walsham G (1995) The emergence of interpretivism in IS research. Inf Syst Res 6(4):376–394Google Scholar
  99. Walsham G (2006) Doing interpretive research. Eur J Inf Syst 15(3):320–330Google Scholar
  100. Ward J, Daniel E (2006) Benefits management: delivering value from IS & IT investments. Wiley, ChichesterGoogle Scholar
  101. Warren L, Adman P (1999) The use of critical systems thinking in designing a system for a university information systems support service. Inf Syst J 9(3):223–242Google Scholar
  102. Whitney KM, Daniels CB (2013) The root cause of failure in complex IT projects: complexity itself. Procedia Comput Sci 20:325–330Google Scholar
  103. Zabadi AM (2016) Adoption of information systems (IS): the factors that influencing IS usage and its effect on employee in Jordan telecom sector (JTS): a conceptual integrated model. International Journal of Business and Management 11(3):25Google Scholar
  104. Zhichang Z (2007) Complexity science, systems thinking and pragmatic sensibility. Syst Res Behav Sci 24(4):445–464Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Business AdministrationImam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal UniversityDammamSaudi Arabia
  2. 2.School of Business and LawEdith Cowan UniversityJoondalupAustralia

Personalised recommendations