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