Reference Work Entry

Encyclopedia of Operations Research and Management Science

pp 314-326


Critical Systems Thinking

  • Werner UlrichAffiliated withUniversity of FribourgThe Open University Email author 


Critical systems thinking (CST) is a development of systems thinking that aims to support good practice of all forms of applied systems thinking and professional intervention. In its simplest definition, CST is applied systems thinking in the service of good practice. Three essential ideas are as follows:
  1. 1.

    Professional practice in all its stages and activities, from the formulation of problems to the implementation of solutions and the evaluation of outcomes, involves choices that need to be made transparent and require systematic examination and validation.

  2. 2.

    Systems thinking, although it does not protect against the need for such choices, at least offers a methodological basis for examining them systematically.

  3. 3.

    Consequently, applied systems thinking should make it standard practice to employ not only a hard (quantitative, scientific) and/or a soft (qualitative, interpretive) but always also a systematically critical (reflective, questioning) perspective and mo ...

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