Improving Systems Intervention in SMEs: Reflections on Systems Boundaries in Practice

  • Lorraine Warren
  • Gillian Ragsdell


The role of the systems practitioner is complex with many dimensions to take account of; one dimension is the range of expectations that are to be met — expectations of the organisational stakeholders, of the paying client, of the wider community and personal expectations, for instance. Meeting these expectations while intervening effectively and responsibly in a situation makes numerous demands on the systems practitioner and their skills. Historically, emphasis has been on the expert, technical skills of the practitioner, which in turn has supported a functionalist approach to intervention and left the practitioner outside of the organisational system boundary. There seems to be a shift towards a recognition that it is often the social, human skills of the practitioner that can ‘make or break ’ an intervention. This recognition promotes a more interpretive approach and often brings the practitioner within the organisational system boundary. Inevitably such a shift brings another dimension to the role of the systems practitioner and, with it, more complexity. In this paper, we suggest that an understanding of the position of the practitioner in relation to their system of interest can aid the management of this additional complexity. Analysis of interventions with two small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) is used as a vehicle to draw out practical illustrations of different boundary positions for an interventionist and to frame discussion of the functionalist — interpretivist spectrum of approaches.


Family Firm Harvard Business Review Management Control System Soft System Methodology Viable System Model 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lorraine Warren
    • 1
  • Gillian Ragsdell
    • 2
  1. 1.University of LincolnLincolnUK
  2. 2.University of PaisleyPaisleyScotland

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