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Checkland's SSM Dooyeweerd's Ideas
(=: similarity, #: difference, *: note)
Transformation, T ".. an expresssion of purposeful activity as a transformation process T. Any purposeful activity can be expressed in this form." [pA22]
  • = Transformation: purposeful change to something.
  • = All activity is purposeful (its meaning being supplied by its aspects)
  • * All human activity is multi-aspectual; there are several distinct aspects of any human activity and each deserves consideration not reduced to (or conflated with) that of others. See the discussion of layers or levels below.
What is 'purposeful activity'?
  • # But Dooyeweerd sees even biotic and physical functioning as meaningful, though it might not be what we would ordinarily conceive as (humanly) purposeful.
  • * This hinges on what 'purposeful' is.
  • # What Checkland seems to conceive of as (human) purpose is any activity in which the formative and later aspects are involved. 'Mere' life functions (digesting, growing, etc.) and sensory functions are presumably not included in SSM transformation. 'Purposeful activity' must involve at least some formative functioning (which is the aspect of history, culture and technology: deliberate shaping and forming, achieving, goals, etc.)
  • * Four aspects tend to be important:
    • - Qualifying aspect: that which captures the essential meaning of all systems of this type. e.g. lingual aspect for books in general.
    • - Contingent aspects: those aspects that are important to each specific creator or stakeholder of a system, e.g. sensitive aspect of feeling for relaxing with a novel, pistic aspect when the book's purpose is to make a name for the author.
    • - Necessary aspects: aspects that are necessary to achieve the qualifying or contingent aspects, e.g. sensory aspect by which the eyes detect the marks on the page of the book.
    • - Formative aspect of achievement: deliberate achievement is important to T, as discussed above.
  • * The purpose or 'why' of a T can be considered from two angles by Dooyeweerd: as contingent aspects, and as single qualifying aspects. These are discussed below.
Weltanschaung, W W is confusing, of three types that are not well defined: W1, W2, W3. W gives the meaning to the T. Also, in practice, the problem of 'trivial Ws' has arisen: "I wish to do T because doing T is possible".
  • = Dooyeweerd's philosophy being based on Meaning can be expected to make a useful contribution to understanding W.
  • = We can compare W with Dooyeweerdian ideas as follows:
    	Trivial Ws  | Necessary aspects
    	            | Qualifying aspect(s)
    	        W1  |----
    	        ----| Contingent aspects
    	        W2  |----
    	        ----| Aspect-elevating world views
    	        W3  |----
    	            | Polar world views
Customer, C The persons or groups who should benefit from T when implemented.
  • * Aspectual functioning (of T) generates aspectual repercussions.
  • = Customer C is those on whom repercussions fall.
  • # But Dooyeweerd's notion can more easily go wider, to consider those who will not benefit, and also non-human recipients of repercussions.
The Owner "The next higher level is then defined automatically as that of the 'wider system': the system of which the system defined by T is itself only a sub-system. In SSM this higher level is the level at which a decision to stop the system operating would be taken: it is the level of the system 'owner', i.e. the O of CATWOE." [A23]

[O seems necessary for purposeful activity because if activity is purposeful then it is meaningful to talk about the stopping of that activity. It might not be physically possible always to stop it (e.g. a runaway truck) but it is at least meaningful to talk about stopping.]

  • # Owner as person with specific interest defined by the juridical aspect of responsibilities and rights. (The very concept of owning is juridical.)
  • = This includes the formal right ('power') to stop T. But it goes much further.
  • # It can include the following responsibilities: - central overall responsibility - that all stakeholders (incl. non-human) receive what is their due - for all repercussions of T - provide all resources needed to implement T - ensure all Actors function properly together
  • * Points us towards multiple responsibilities: diverse types of responsibility arise from the anticipatory or retrocipatory relationships that the juridical aspect.
Actor, A
  • = Formative aspect of forming, achieving, shaping, is singled out above as of particular importance in T. Actors are those who achieve T.
  • = Competences of Actors: Competence is a formative functioning that is directed towards one or more aspects, so each aspect offers a distinct competence.
  • + Therefore, by identifying the qualifying and contingent aspects in particular, we can identify what types of competences will be required for the process of implementing T.
Environment, E That which must be 'taken as given'. Constraints that must be worked within. [But some constraints can be got round; how to distinguish?]
  • = Aspects have laws that transcend humans. These are what should be 'taken as given'.
  • * Some aspects normative, others determinative. This suggests that some constraints are more flexible than others.
  • * Note: aspectual laws are enablers, more than constraints. Enablers of beneficial, 'healthy', meaningful functioning.
  • + Aspectual analysis of environment can help us identify the relevance of certain constraints and thus ensure nothing is overlooked.
  • + It can help us treat normative constraints differently from determinative
Criteria for Effectiveness A24-5. The 3 or 5 E's: - Efficacy: "that the output is produced"
  • = Formative aspect of achievement (good match)
- Efficiency: "whether minimum resources are used to obtain it"
  • = Economic aspect of frugality in use of resources (perfect match)
- Effectiveness: "at a higher level, that this transformation is worth doing because it makes a contribution to higher level or longer-term aim"
  • = Partly formative aspect (for 'contribution'), partly pistic aspect of commitment, vision, faith (for what longer-term aim we are committed to, what vision it gives us). (Weaker match)
- Ethicality: "is this transformation morally correct?"
  • = Ethical aspect of self-giving (partial match)
  • # But partly, 'morally correct' this could be a multi-aspect notion, especially taking into account the juridical aspect of what is due, and the pistic aspect of religion and commitment.
- Elegance: "is this an aesthetically pleasing transformation?"
  • = Aesthetic aspect of harmony (good match).
Layers/Levels of Systems "The idea of levels or layers ... is absolutely fundamental to systems thinking. Much human conversation is dogged by the confusion which follows from the common inability to organise thoughts and expressions consciously in several layers." [A23] Example he uses: Tennis Club Social Committee deciding WHETHER to organize the club fete, with first contribution being an unhelpful WHAT or HOW statement. "... the level at which will sit the T of CATWOE. This makes the next lower level the 'sub-system' level: that of the individual activities which, linked together, meet the requirements of the definition. The next higher level is then defined automatically as that of the 'wider system': the system of which the system defined by T is itself only a sub-system. " [A23] The most basic thing we can say about what Checkland is saying is that the three levels or layers are to be seen and treated as distinct, and never confused or conflated.
  • * Dooyeweerd's aspects can be considered as kinds of levels - areas of consideration that are radically distinct from each other because of their distinct meaning.
Inconsistency? There might be an inconsistency or confusion in Checkland's thought here. What Checkland calls levels is defined by the system-sub relationship, though characterized by the distinction between whether and what. The whether-what/how distinction is not necessarily identical with the system-sub relationship. Only under certain assumptions (maybe those of traditional British organizational hierarchies?) is the 'what/how' a part of the 'whether'. It could be argued that these are rather at the same level, as Beer seems to assume in his VSM. Later [A24 diagram] the upper level of the wider system, is characterized by 'why' rather than 'whether'. Though this might not be strictly be valid, it at least indicates the way Checkland was thinking: that whether and why are both at a 'higher' level than what. But the relationship between 'whether' and 'why' he does not seem to discuss anywhere and leaves us to ponder.
  • * Philosophical thinking can help differentiate the confused notions, and Dooyeweerd can take it further to make their relationship clear.
  • * System-sub relationship is largely the traditional part-whole relationship. This allows us to speak of three levels of 'what', i.e. entity.
  • * Deciding whether, what and how seem to correspond to functioning in three of Dooyeweerd's aspects: the pistic aspect of commitment, the analytic aspect of delineation, and the formative aspect of achieving and planning.
The 'why' of a system.
  • = The 'why' of a system or activity is accounted for by various aspects thereof.
  • = Though human activity involves all aspects, in any given concrete activity certain aspects stand to the fore. Dooyeweerd speaks of qualifying and founding aspects. The qualifying aspect gives it its essential meaning, while the founding aspect says something about implementation. Stafleu [2000] adds a third.
  • # This suggests that Checkland's implication of an hierarchy or linear sequence of layers, as shown in Fig. A5, is too simple.
Perspectives on a System The same system can be seen in different ways by different people. This is a major practical contribution of SSM and CATWOE analysis, in that is structures and guides such consideration. For example, seeing a hospital from the point of view of patients, surgeons, lawyers, etc.
  • * All human activity (system) has multiple aspects.
  • = Each professional has expertise in one aspect, or a small number of aspects), and that expertise largely defines his perspective.
  • = Therefore to each professional involved in the system, a different aspect might be important. For example, in considering a hospital, the biotic aspect is important to the surgeons, the juridical aspect to the lawyer, the economic aspect to the accountant, the social aspect to the public relations manager, the lingual aspect (messages, information flows, etc.) to the I.S. person, etc.
  • = This can help guide multi-perspective analysis of human activity systems: consider each aspect in turn, and those professionals whose expertise is in that aspect.
  • * It can also help the analyst team ensure they have not overlooked any important stakeholder.
  • # But Dooyeweerd goes further, in drawing a distinction between knowledge that is based in theory and everyday knowing. This brings us to a separate point.
Two Types of Perspective? ?: Does Checkland recognise the difference between perspectives of what might be called professionals and everyday users?
  • # But Dooyeweerd's fundamental distinction between theoretical and everyday attitudes of thought leads us to distinguish between professional stakeholders such as the above and those whose relationship to the system is centred in their everyday living. In the example of the hospital, this is so of the patient and their families.
  • * In everyday attitude of thought, all aspects are important, though certain ones might be more visibly important. This means that while the professional specialists might be able to adopt a perspective based on a single aspect, the patients and their families must adopt a wider, more holistic multi-aspect perspective.
  • = Often it is those who might be considered the main customer C who might have this everyday relationship with the system.
  • * Note, however that this distinction only pertains when some of the stakeholders have an everyday relationship with the system. This is not always so. For example, a system to create sheet metal for the car industry: the customers have a professional relationship with the producer rather than an everyday relationship. Such a professional relationship is simpler to define and analyse, in that it can be centred on a single aspect, or at least a couple of aspects.
  • * But where there is a stakeholder group that has an everyday relationship with the system, then it is they who are the 'main' customers.
  • + This could help analysis of who is C.
Relative, not Absolute "'What' and 'how', 'system' and 'sub-system' are relative, not absolute concepts." [A23] Checkland then gives a diagram of a vertical stack of layers, in which these are marked off in overlapping triples of why-what-how defined by the perspectives of various people (shown by eyes on diagram).
  • = To Dooyeweerd the aspects are relative, not absolute.
  • = Therefore, if levels in a triple are aligned with aspects, this supports Checkland's claim.
Model building The balance between abstracting from current practice and keeping links with the real world. "The craft skill is to build a model using a background of real-world knowledge without including features of typical practice which are not justified by the root definition, CATWOE, 3Es, and PQR." [p A26] The steps he suggests in Fig. A6 are: write down, select, develop a structure.
  • = Dooyeweerd did not believe human knowledge (models) is absolute. Rather it is a product of (non-determinative) human functioning, especially in the analytic, formative and lingual aspects. It is fundamentally abstracting from the concrete world, rather than being that world itself.
  • = Analytic functioning: selecting
  • = Formative functioning: to structure and shape
  • = Lingual functioning: to express in symbolic form (writing down, drawing diagrams, etc.)
Andrew Basden, 11 February 2002.
This page is part of a collection of pages that compare the ideas of the late Herman Dooyeweerd with those of Peter Checkland's Soft Systems Thinking, as part of an attempt to link Dooyeweerd's thought to that of various other thinkers. It is part of The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Copyright (c) 2002 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

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Created: 11 February 2002 Last updated: 17 June 2010 .nav, rid unet.