Expanding the Concept of ‘Model’: The Transfer from Technological to Human Domains within Systems Thinking

  • Magnus Ramage
  • Karen Shipp
Part of the Automation, Collaboration, & E-Services book series (ACES, volume 1)


‘Systems thinking’ is a portmanteau term for a body of theories and techniques that unite around a focus on whole systems and relationships between entities, rather than breaking systems down into their individual components and considering those components in isolation. Various forms of modelling are central within systems thinking, with many of the modelling techniques being developed from work originally carried out in engineering and technology settings, but applied to human-centred application domains, in particular organisations and the environment, but also many others. In this chapter we will discuss four quite different systems modelling approaches that have adapted modelling techniques from engineering to studies of humanity: system dynamics (the work of Jay Forrester and others, applied to organisational, economic and ecological systems); the viable systems model of Stafford Beer (applied to organisational systems); the work of Howard Odum on ecological systems; and the systems diagramming approach of the former Faculty of Technology at the Open University.


Modelling Language Unify Modelling Language System Thinking Soft System Methodology General System Theory 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Ashby, W.R.: An introduction to cybernetics. Chapman & Hall, London (1956)zbMATHGoogle Scholar
  2. Ashby, W.R.: Design for a brain: The origin of adaptive behaviour, 2nd edn. Chapman & Hall, London (1960)zbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barabasi, A.-L.: Linked: the new science of networks. Perseus, Cambridge (2002)Google Scholar
  4. Bateson, G.: Steps to an ecology of mind. Chandler, Toronto (1972)Google Scholar
  5. Bateson, M.C.: Willing to learn: Passages of personal discovery. Steerforth Press, Hanover (2004)Google Scholar
  6. Beer, S.: Cybernetics and Management. English Universities Press, London (1959)Google Scholar
  7. Beer, S.: Designing freedom. John Wiley, Chichester (1974)Google Scholar
  8. Beer, S.: Brain of the firm. John Wiley, Chichester (1981)Google Scholar
  9. Beer, S.: The viable system model: Its provenance, development, methodology and pathology. Journal of the Operational Research Society 35(1), 7–26 (1984)Google Scholar
  10. Beer, S.: Diagnosing the system for organizations. John Wiley, Chichester (1985)Google Scholar
  11. Brown, M.T.: A picture is worth a thousand words: energy systems language and simulation. Ecological Modelling 178(1/2), 83–100 (2004)Google Scholar
  12. Brown, M.T., Hall, C.A.S., Jørgensen, S.E.: Eulogy. Ecological Modelling 178(1/2), 1–10 (2004)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Buzan, A.: Use Your Head. BBC Publications, London (1974)Google Scholar
  14. Checkland, P.B.: Systems thinking, systems practice. John Wiley, Chichester (1981)Google Scholar
  15. Checkland, P.B.: Soft systems methodology: A thirty year retrospective. Systems Research and Behavioral Science 17(S1), S11–S58 (2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Checkland, P.B., Scholes, J.: Soft systems methodology in action. John Wiley, Chichester (1990)Google Scholar
  17. Forrester, J.W.: Industrial dynamics: A major breakthrough for decision makers. Harvard Business Review 36(4), 37–66 (1958)Google Scholar
  18. Forrester, J.W.: Industrial dynamics. MIT Press, Cambridge (1961)Google Scholar
  19. Forrester, J.W.: The beginning of system dynamics. System Dynamics Society, Stuttgart (1989), (accessed July 11, 2011)
  20. Forrester, J.W.: System dynamics – a personal view of the first fifty years. System Dynamics Review 23(2/3), 345–358 (2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hardin, G.: The Tragedy of the Commons. Science 162(3859), 1243–1248 (1968)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hoverstadt, P.: The Viable System Model. In: Reynolds, M., Holwell, S. (eds.) Systems Approaches to Managing Change: A Practical Guide, pp. 87–133. Springer, London (2010)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. INCOSE, A Consensus of the INCOSE Fellows. International Council on Systems Engineering (2006), (accessed July 11, 2011)
  24. Ishikawa, K.: Introduction to Quality Control. Chapman and Hall, London (1990)Google Scholar
  25. Jackson, M.C.: Evaluating the managerial significance of the VSM. In: Espejo, R., Harnden, R. (eds.) The Viable System Model Revisited: Interpretations and Applications of Stafford Beer’s VSM, pp. 407–439. John Wiley, Chichester (1989)Google Scholar
  26. Jackson, M.C.: Systems thinking: Creative holism for managers. John Wiley, Chichester (2003)Google Scholar
  27. Kauffman, S.: At home in the universe: The search for the laws of self-organization and complexity. Penguin, London (1995)Google Scholar
  28. Lane, A.: Systems Thinking and Practice: Diagramming. The Open University, Milton Keynes (1999)Google Scholar
  29. Lane, A., Morris, D.: Teaching Diagramming at a Distance: Seeing the Human Wood Through the Technological Trees. Systemic Practice and Action Research 14(6), 715–734 (2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lane, D.C.: Trying to think systematically about ‘Systems Thinking’. Journal of the Operational Research Society 46(9), 1158–1162 (1995)Google Scholar
  31. Maani, K.E., Cavana, R.Y.: Systems Thinking and Modelling: Understanding Change and Complexity. Pearson Education, Auckland (2000)Google Scholar
  32. Meadows, D.H.: Thinking in Systems: A Primer. In: Wright, D. (ed.) White River Junction, Chelsea Green Publishing, VT (2008)Google Scholar
  33. Meadows, D.H., Meadows, D.L., Randers, J., Behrens, W.W.: The limits to growth: A report for the club of Rome’s project on the predicament of mankind. Universe Books, New York (1972)Google Scholar
  34. Morris, D., Chapman, J.: Systems Thinking and Practice: Modelling. The Open University, Milton Keynes (1999)Google Scholar
  35. Nguyen, N.C., Bosch, O.J.H., Maani, K.E.: Creating ‘learning laboratories’ for sustainable development in biospheres: A systems thinking approach. Systems Research and Behavioral Science 28(1), 51–62 (2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Odum, E.P.: Fundamentals of ecology, 3rd edn. W.B. Saunders, Philadelphia (1971)Google Scholar
  37. Odum, H.T.: Trophic structure and productivity of Silver Springs, Florida. Ecological Monographs 27(1), 55–112 (1957)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Odum, H.T.: Systems ecology: An introduction. John Wiley, New York (1983)Google Scholar
  39. Odum, H.T.: Ecological and general systems: an introduction to systems ecology. University Press of Colorado, Niwot (1994)Google Scholar
  40. Pickering, A.: The science of the unknowable: Stafford Beer’s cybernetic informatics. Kybernetes 33(3/4), 499–521 (2004)MathSciNetCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Pidd, M.: Tools for Thinking: Modelling in Management Science, 2nd edn. John Wiley, Chichester (2003)Google Scholar
  42. Ramage, M., Shipp, K.: Systems Thinkers. Springer, London (2009)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Richardson, G.P.: Foreword. In: Maani, K.E., Cavana, R.Y. (eds.) Systems Thinking and Modelling: Understanding Change and Complexity, pp. vii–viii. Pearson Education, Auckland (2000)Google Scholar
  44. Rosenhead, J.: IFORS operational research hall of fame: Stafford Beer. International Transactions in Operational Research 13(6), 577–581 (2006)MathSciNetzbMATHCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Senge, P.M.: The fifth discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization. Doubleday, New York (1990)Google Scholar
  46. Shipp, K.: Systems Thinking and Practice: Diagramming CD-ROM. The Open University, Milton Keynes (2002)Google Scholar
  47. Sterman, J.D.: Business dynamics: Systems thinking and modeling for a complex world. Irwin/McGraw-Hill, Boston (2000)Google Scholar
  48. Taylor, P.J.: Technocratic Optimism, H. T. Odum, and the Partial Transformation of Ecological Metaphor after World War II. Journal of the History of Biology 21(2), 213–244 (1988)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Taylor, P.J.: Unruly complexity: Ecology, interpretation, engagement. University of Chicago Press, Chicago (2005)Google Scholar
  50. Turner, G.: A comparison of the Limits to Growth with thirty years of reality. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, CSIRO (2008), (accessed July 11, 2011)
  51. Werner, E.: All systems go. Nature 446(7135), 493–494 (2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Wiener, N.: Cybernetics: or control and communication in the animal and the machine. MIT Press, Cambridge (1948)Google Scholar
  53. Wolstenholme, E.F.: Qualitative vs quantitative modelling: The evolving balance. Journal of the Operational Research Society 50(4), 422–428 (1999)zbMATHGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Magnus Ramage
    • 1
  • Karen Shipp
    • 1
  1. 1.The Open UniversityMilton KeynesUK

Personalised recommendations