Soft OR comes of age--but not everywhere!
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everywhere and this is especially so in the US, where top journals such as Operations Research and Management Science do not publish Soft OR papers.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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Volume (Year): 39 (2011)
Issue (Month): 6 (December)
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