Critical Systems Heuristics: The Idea and Practice of Boundary Critique



Critical systems heuristics (CSH) is a framework for reflective professional practice organised around the central tool of boundary critique. This chapter, written jointly by the original developer, Werner Ulrich, and Martin Reynolds, an experienced practitioner of CSH, offers a systematic introduction to the idea and use of boundary critique. Its core concepts are explained in detail and their use is illustrated by means of two case studies from the domain of environmental planning and management. A particular focus is on working constructively with tensions between opposing perspectives as they arise in many situations of professional intervention. These include tensions such as ‘situation’ versus ‘system’, ‘is’ versus ‘ought’ judgements, concerns of ‘those involved’ versus ‘those affected but not involved’, stakeholders’ ‘stakes’ versus ‘stakeholding issues’, and others. Accordingly, boundary critique is presented as a participatory process of unfolding and questioning boundary judgements rather than as an expert-driven process of boundary setting. The paper concludes with a discussion of some essential skills and considerations regarding the practice of boundary critique.


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© The Open University 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Open UniversityMilton KeynesUK
  2. 2.University of FribourgFribourgSwitzerland
  3. 3.School of Engineering and InnovationThe Open UniversityMilton KeynesUK

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