Journal of the Operational Research Society

, Volume 57, Issue 9, pp 1064–1080 | Cite as

Broadening the boundaries: an application of critical systems thinking to IS planning in Colombia

  • J-R CórdobaEmail author
  • G Midgley
Case-Oriented Paper


Most current information systems (IS) planning methodologies are focused on achieving plans that provide competitive advantage to business and solve the problems of information needs by using the latest technologies available. This paper presents an alternative approach to IS planning based on critical systems thinking—a research perspective that encourages the analysis of stakeholders' understandings of social contexts prior to the selection and/or design of planning methods. The approach is underpinned by a combination of the systems theories of autopoiesis and boundary critique, and it enables participants to reflect on different concerns and values during IS planning. This approach was applied in a project with a Colombian University, and it helped participants to uncover and address important human issues not usually seen as relevant by traditional approaches to IS planning. In addition, it led the authors to undertake further research on ethics after the project had been concluded.


autopoiesis boundary critique critical systems thinking ethics of OR information systems planning systems methodology 



We would like to thank all the people at Javeriana University who were involved in the project, particularly Diego Torres (our co-facilitator) and the other members of staff in the Computer Science Department, who provided us with so much support.


  1. Ackoff R (1981). Creating the Corporate Future. John Wiley and Sons: New York.Google Scholar
  2. Avison DE and Wood-Harper AT (1990). Multiview: An Exploration in Information Systems Development. Alfred Waller (McGraw-Hill Publishing Company): Henley on Thames.Google Scholar
  3. Bilson A (1997). Guidelines for a constructivist approach: Steps toward the adaptation of ideas from family therapy for use in organizations. Sys Pract 10: 153–177.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brocklesby J (1997). Becoming multimethodology literate: An assessment of the cognitive difficulties of working across paradigms. In: Mingers J and Gill A (eds). Multimethodology: The Theory and Practice of Combining Management Science Methodologies. John Wiley and Sons, Chichester, pp 189–216.Google Scholar
  5. Checkland P (1981). Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. John Wiley and Sons: Chichester.Google Scholar
  6. Checkland P and Holwell S (1998). Information, Systems and Information Systems: Making Sense of the Field. John Wiley and Sons: Chichester.Google Scholar
  7. Checkland P and Scholes P (1990). Soft Systems Methodology in Action. John Wiley and Sons: Chichester.Google Scholar
  8. Chepaitis E (2000). The criticality of information ethics in emerging economies: Beyond piracy and privacy. J Inform Ethics 9: 5–7.Google Scholar
  9. Churchman CW (1968). The Systems Approach. Delacorte Press: New York.Google Scholar
  10. Churchman CW (1970). Operations research as a profession. Mngt Sci 17: b37–b53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Churchman CW (1971). The Design of Inquiring Systems. Basic Books: New York.Google Scholar
  12. Churchman CW (1979). The Systems Approach and its Enemies. Basic Books: New York.Google Scholar
  13. Clarke S (2001). Information Systems Strategic Management: An Integrated Approach. Routledge: London.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Clarke S and Lehaney B (2000). Mixing methodologies for information systems development and strategy: A higher education case study. J Opl Res Soc 51: 542–566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Córdoba J (2002). A critical systems thinking approach for the planning of information technology in the information society. PhD thesis, University of Hull, Hull, UK.Google Scholar
  16. Córdoba J and Midgley G (2003). Addressing organisational and societal concerns: An application of critical systems thinking to information systems planning in Colombia. In: Cano J (ed). Critical Reflections on Information Systems: A Systemic Approach. Idea Group Publishing, Hershey, PA, pp 159–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Córdoba J, Midgley G and Torres D (2000). Rethinking stakeholder involvement: An application of the theories of autopoiesis and boundary critique to IS planning. In: Clarke S and Lehaney B (eds). Human Centered Methods in Information Systems: Current Research and Practice. Idea Group Publishing: Hershey, PA, pp 195–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Currie W (1994). The strategic management of a large scale IT project in the financial services sector. New Technol Work Employ 9: 19–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Earl M (1993). Experiences in strategic information systems planning. MIS Quarterly 17: 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Earl M (1999). Strategy making in the information age. In: Currie W and Galliers R (eds). Rethinking Management Information Systems: An Interdisciplinary Perspective. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 161–174.Google Scholar
  21. Edlund A (2003). New challenges in application performance. Bus Commun Rev 33: 58–61.Google Scholar
  22. Flood RL (1995). Total systems intervention (TSI): A reconstitution. J Opl Res Soc 46: 174–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Flood RL and Jackson MC (1991). Critical Systems Thinking: Directed Readings. John Wiley and Sons: Chichester.Google Scholar
  24. Flood RL and Romm N (1996). Diversity Management: Triple Loop Learning. John Wiley and Sons: Chichester.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Foucault M (1977a). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Allen Lane: London.Google Scholar
  26. Foucault M (1977b). The History of Sexuality, Volume One: The Will to Knowledge. Penguin: London.Google Scholar
  27. Foucault M (1982a). Afterword: The subject and power. In: Dreyfus H and Rabinow P (eds). Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. The Harvester Press, Brighton, pp 208–226.Google Scholar
  28. Foucault M (1982b). On the genealogy of ethics: An overview of work in progress. In: Rabinow P (ed). The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault's Thought. Penguin, London, pp 340–372.Google Scholar
  29. Foucault M (1984a). The History of Sexuality, Volume Two: The Use of Pleasure. Penguin: London.Google Scholar
  30. Foucault M (1984b). What is enlightenment? In: Rabinow P (ed). The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault's Thought. Penguin, London, pp 32–50.Google Scholar
  31. Foucault M (1985). The History of Sexuality, Volume Three: The Care of the Self. Penguin: London.Google Scholar
  32. Galliers R (1995). Re-orienting information systems strategy: Integrating information systems into the business. In: Stowell F (ed). Information Systems Provision: The Contribution of Soft Systems Methodology. McGraw-Hill, London, pp 51–74.Google Scholar
  33. Galvis A (1997). Estrategia de negocio e informática: Articulación e integración. In: Galvis A & Espinosa A (eds). Estrategia, Competitividad e Informática. Ediciones Uniandes, Bogotá, Columbia, pp 209–240.Google Scholar
  34. Galvis A (1998). Educación para el siglo XXI apoyada en ambientes educativos interactivos, lúdicos, creativos y colaborativos. Revista de Informatica Educativa 11: 169–182.Google Scholar
  35. García A (1993). Sistemas de Información: Planeamiento Estratégico y Análisis. Universidad de los Andes: Bogotá, Colombia.Google Scholar
  36. Ginzberg M (1981). Early diagnosis of MIS implementation failure: Promising results and unanswered questions. Mngt Sci 27: 459–479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Gregory WJ (1996). Discordant pluralism: A new strategy for critical systems thinking? Sys Pract 9: 605–625.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Gregory WJ and Romm N (2000). Critical facilitation: Learning through intervention in group processes. Mngt Learn 32: 453–467.Google Scholar
  39. Hammer M and Champy J (1995). Re-engineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution. Nicholas Brealey: London.Google Scholar
  40. Handy C (1994). The Empty Raincoat. Hutchinson: London.Google Scholar
  41. Howcroft D and Wilson M (2003). Participation: ‘Bounded freedom’ or hidden constraints on user involvement. New Technol Work Employ 18: 2–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hutton W (2003). The World We're In. Abacus: London.Google Scholar
  43. ISC (1996). Information Society Ireland: Strategy for Action. Information Society Commission: Dublin, Ireland.Google Scholar
  44. Jackson MC (1991). Systems Methodology for the Management Sciences. Plenum: New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Jackson MC (1999). Towards coherent pluralism in management science. J Opl Res Soc 50: 12–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Jackson MC (2000). Systems Approaches to Management. Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers: London.Google Scholar
  47. Jackson MC and Keys P (1984). Towards a system of systems methodologies. J Opl Res Soc 35: 473–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Kearns G and Lederer A (2004). The impact of industry contextual factors on IT focus and the use of IT for competitive advantage. Informat Mngt 41: 899–919.Google Scholar
  49. Keen (1991). Shaping the Future: Business Design through Information Technology. Harvard Business School Press: Harvard, Mass.Google Scholar
  50. Leigh A, Mundy G and Tuffin R (1999). Best Value Policing: Making Preparations. Home Office Police Department: London, pp 1–82.Google Scholar
  51. Mansell R and Steinmueller W (2000). Mobilizing the Information Society: Strategies for Growth and Opportunity. Oxford University Press: Oxford.Google Scholar
  52. Maturana H (1988). Reality: The search for objectivity or the quest for a compelling argument. Irish J Psychol 9: 25–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Maturana H and Varela F (1987). The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding. Shambhala: Boston, Mass.Google Scholar
  54. McFarlan F and McKenney J (1983). The information archipelago: Governing the new world. Harvard Business Rev 61: 91–99.Google Scholar
  55. Midgley G (1990a). Creative methodology design. Systemist 12: 108–113.Google Scholar
  56. Midgley G (1990b). Vocational rehabilitation in the information age. Rehab Network Winter: 25–28.Google Scholar
  57. Midgley G (1992). The sacred and profane in critical systems thinking. Systems Practice 5: 5–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Midgley G (1994). Ecology and the poverty of humanism: A critical systems perspective. Systems Res 11: 67–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Midgley G (1996). What is this thing called CST? In: Flood RL and Romm N (eds). Critical Systems Thinking: Current Research and Practice. Plenum Press, New York, pp 11–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Midgley G (1997). Developing the methodology of TSI: From the oblique use of methods to creative design. Sys Prac 10: 305–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Midgley G (2000). Systemic Intervention: Philosophy, Methodology, and Practice. Kluwer Academic/Plenum: New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Midgley G and Floyd M (1990). Vocational training in the use of new technologies for people with disabilities. Behav Inform Technol 9: 409–424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Midgley G and Milne A (1995). Creating employment opportunities for people with mental health problems: A feasibility study for new initiatives. J Opl Res Soc 46: 35–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Midgley G, Munlo I and Brown M (1998). The theory and practice of boundary critique: Developing housing services for older people. J Opl Res Soc 49: 467–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Mingers J (1995). Self-Producing Systems. Plenum: New York.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Mingers J and Gill A (1997). Multimethodology: The Theory and Practice of Combining Management Science Methodologies. John Wiley & Sons: Chichester.Google Scholar
  67. Mumford E (1983). Designing Human Systems for New Technology: The ETHICS Method. Manchester Business School: Manchester.Google Scholar
  68. Negroponte N (1995). Being Digital. MIT Press: Boston, Mass.Google Scholar
  69. Oliga J (1988). Methodological foundations of systems methodologies. Syst Pract 1: 87–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Ormerod R (1996). Information systems strategy development at Sainsbury's supermarket using ‘soft’ OR. Interfaces 26(1): 102–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sabherwal R, Hirschheim R and Goles T (2001). The dynamics of alignment: Insights from a punctuated equilibrium model. Organ Sci 12: 179–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Taket A and White L (2000). Partnership and Participation: Decision-making in the Multi-agency Setting. John Wiley and Sons: Chichester.Google Scholar
  73. Toffler A (1992). Power Shift: Knowledge, Wealth and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century. Bantam Books: London.Google Scholar
  74. UK Department of Health (2002). Getting the Best from Best Value: Experience of Applying Best Value in Social Care. Department of Health (Social Services Inspectorate): London, pp 1–36.Google Scholar
  75. Ulrich W (1983). Critical Heuristics of Social Planning: A New Approach to Practical Philosophy. Haupt: Berne.Google Scholar
  76. Ulrich W (1986). Critical Systems Thinking for Citizens: A Research Proposal. Centre for Systems Studies Research Memorandum #10. Centre for Systems Studies, University of Hull: Hull, UK.Google Scholar
  77. Walsham G (1993). Interpreting Information Systems in Organisations. John Wiley and Sons: Chichester.Google Scholar
  78. Ward J and Griffiths P (2002). Strategic Planning for Information Systems. John Wiley and Sons: Chichester.Google Scholar
  79. Warren L (2000). Critical thinking and human centered methods in IS. In: Clarke S and Lehaney B (eds). Human Centered Methods in Information Systems: Current Research and Practice. Idea Group Publishing, Hershey, PA, pp 175–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Weil S (1998). Our Concerns as Researchers: Action Research Methods to Develop Critical Reflection. Workshop, University of Hull: Hull, UK.Google Scholar
  81. Willmott H (1993). Strength is ignorance; slavery is freedom: Managing culture in modern organizations. J Mngt Stud 30: 515–562.Google Scholar
  82. Willmott H (1995). The odd couple: Re-engineering businesses—managing human relations. New Technol Work Employ 10: 89–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Winograd T and Flores F (1987). Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design. Addison Wesley: London.Google Scholar
  84. Wood-Harper AT, Antill L and Avison DE (1985). Information Systems Definition: The Multiview Approach. Blackwell: London.Google Scholar
  85. Yolles M (2001). Viable boundary critique. J Opl Res Soc 52: 35–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan Ltd 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of HullHullUK
  2. 2.Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR)ChristchurchNew Zealand
  3. 3.Victoria UniversityWellingtonNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations