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A review of the recent contribution of systems thinking to operational research and management science


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  • Mingers, John
  • White, Leroy
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    The systems approach, or systems thinking, has been intimately connected with the development of OR and management science initially through the work of founders such as Churchman and Ackoff and latterly through innovations such as soft systems. In this paper we have undertaken a review of the contribution that systems thinking has been making more recently, especially to the practice of OR. Systems thinking is a discipline in its own right, with many theoretical and methodological developments, but it is also applicable to almost any problem area because of its generality, and so such a review must always be selective. We have looked at the literature from both a theoretical and an applications orientation. In the first part we consider the main systems theories and methodologies in terms of their recent developments and also their applications. This covers: the systems approach, complexity theory, cybernetics, system dynamics, soft OR and PSMs, critical systems and multimethodology. In the second part we review the main domains of application: strategy, information systems, organisations, production and operations, ecology and agriculture, and medicine and health. Our overall conclusion is that while systems may not be well established institutionally, in terms of academic departments, it is incredibly healthy in terms of the quantity and variety of its applications.

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    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal European Journal of Operational Research.

    Volume (Year): 207 (2010)
    Issue (Month): 3 (December)
    Pages: 1147-1161

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:ejores:v:207:y:2010:i:3:p:1147-1161

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    Keywords: Systems thinking Systems approach Complexity theory System dynamics Soft systems methodology Cybernetics Critical systems Multimethodology;


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    Cited by:
    1. Trutnevyte, Evelina & Stauffacher, Michael & Scholz, Roland W., 2012. "Linking stakeholder visions with resource allocation scenarios and multi-criteria assessment," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 219(3), pages 762-772.
    2. Jean-Fabrice Lebraty & Katia Lobre, 2010. "Contrôle de l'information et crowdsourcing," Post-Print halshs-00545788, HAL.
    3. Espinosa, Angela & Walker, J., 2013. "Complexity management in practice: A Viable System Model intervention in an Irish eco-community," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 225(1), pages 118-129.
    4. Müller, Matthias Otto & Stämpfli, Adrian & Dold, Ursula & Hammer, Thomas, 2011. "Energy autarky: A conceptual framework for sustainable regional development," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(10), pages 5800-5810, October.
    5. Li, Ya & Zhu, Zhichang, 2014. "Soft OR in China: A critical report," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 232(3), pages 427-434.
    6. Liu, Wenbin B. & Meng, Wei & Mingers, John & Tang, Ning & Wang, Wei, 2012. "Developing a performance management system using soft systems methodology: A Chinese case study," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 223(2), pages 529-540.
    7. Michnik, Jerzy, 2013. "Weighted Influence Non-linear Gauge System (WINGS) – An analysis method for the systems of interrelated components," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 228(3), pages 536-544.
    8. Yearworth, Mike & White, Leroy, 2013. "The uses of qualitative data in multimethodology: Developing causal loop diagrams during the coding process," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 231(1), pages 151-161.
    9. Ülengin, Füsun & Önsel, Şule & Aktas, Emel & Kabak, Özgür & Özaydın, Özay, 2014. "A decision support methodology to enhance the competitiveness of the Turkish automotive industry," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 234(3), pages 789-801.


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