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Soft OR comes of age--but not everywhere!


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  • Mingers, John
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    Over the last forty years, new methods and methodologies have been developed to deal with wicked problems or "messes". They are structured and rigorous but non-mathematical. Prime examples are: soft systems methodology (SSM), cognitive mapping/SODA and the strategic choice approach (SCA). Collectively they are known as Soft OR, Soft Systems, or Problem Structuring Methods (PSMs). Soft OR has now come of age in terms of both dealing with complex practical situations and having a presence in the academic literature. However, Soft OR is not recognized, or even seen as a legitimate part of an OR, everywhere and this is especially so in the US, where top journals such as Operations Research and Management Science do not publish Soft OR papers. The purpose of this paper is to generate an informed discussion and debate, which may lead to a greater recognition of the contribution of Soft OR, and to it being seen to be a proper part of the OR discipline worldwide. In order to achieve this, the first section outlines the nature of Soft OR and describes briefly some of the main methods. The second section demonstrates that Soft OR has been successful both in practice and within the academic literature. The third section documents the invisibility of Soft OR within important sections of the OR literature, and the final section then suggests some explanations for this, and also proposes practical actions to try and alleviate the problem. It is not suggested that Soft OR is an alternative to traditional, mathematical OR but, rather, a complement.

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    Bibliographic Info

    Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Omega.

    Volume (Year): 39 (2011)
    Issue (Month): 6 (December)
    Pages: 729-741

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    Handle: RePEc:eee:jomega:v:39:y:2011:i:6:p:729-741

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    Keywords: Problem structuring methods OR journals OR practice Soft OR Soft systems Wicked problems;


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    Cited by:
    1. 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.
    2. Cronin, Karen & Midgley, Gerald & Jackson, Laurie Skuba, 2014. "Issues Mapping: A problem structuring method for addressing science and technology conflicts," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 233(1), pages 145-158.
    3. Hämäläinen, Raimo P. & Luoma, Jukka & Saarinen, Esa, 2013. "On the importance of behavioral operational research: The case of understanding and communicating about dynamic systems," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 228(3), pages 623-634.
    4. Ackermann, Fran, 2012. "Problem structuring methods ‘in the Dock’: Arguing the case for Soft OR," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 219(3), pages 652-658.
    5. Small, Adrian & Wainwright, David, 2014. "SSM and technology management: Developing multimethodology through practice," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 233(3), pages 660-673.
    6. Kato, Hironori & Shiroyama, Hideaki & Nakagawa, Yoshinori, 2014. "Public policy structuring incorporating reciprocal expectation analysis," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 233(1), pages 171-183.
    7. Yearworth, Mike & White, Leroy, 2014. "The non-codified use of problem structuring methods and the need for a generic constitutive definition," European Journal of Operational Research, Elsevier, vol. 237(3), pages 932-945.


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