Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) provides a method for participatory design of human-centered information systems. It also provides an excellent approach to surfacing multiple perspectives in decision-making, complex problem-analysis, and socially-situated research. The analysis tools suggested by the method — which is really a family of methods, rather than a single method in the sense of modeling techniques — permit change-analysts, consultants and researchers to exercise reflexivity and to explore alternatives.

SSM is based upon a single concept: that we model systems of purposeful human activity (what people do), rather than data-management or IT components (the more usual focus of systems analysis). It is systemic, rather than systems-focused, calling upon the tradition of general systems theory (von Bertanlaffy, 1968) and inquiring systems (Churchman, 1971) in acknowledging the disparate elements of a situation. SSM is helpful for analysis approaches that wish to understand the connections, conflicts, and discrepancies between elements of a situation rather than attempting to subsume all elements into a single perspective.

Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) was devised by Peter Checkland and elaborated in collaboration with Sue Holwell and Jim Scholes¬† (among others) at Lancaster University in the UK. SSM provides a philosophy and a set of techniques for investigating a “real-world” problem situation. SSM is an approach to the investigation of the problems that may or may not require computer-based system support as part of its solution. In this sense, SSM could be described as an approach to early system requirements analysis, rather than a systems design approach. This website attempts to explain some of the elements of SSM for educational purposes. It is not intended as a comprehensive source of information about SSM and may well subvert some of Checkland’s original intentions, in an attempt to make the subject accessible to students and other lifelong learners … .

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Checkland, P. (1999)  Systems Thinking, Systems Practice: includes a 30-year retrospective. John Wiley and Sons Ltd. Chichester UK. ISBN: 0-471-98606-2.

Checkland, P. & Scholes, J. (1999) Soft Systems Methodology in Action. John Wiley and Sons Ltd. Chichester UK. ISBN: 0-471-98605-4.

Checkland, P., Holwell, S.E. (1997) Information, Systems and Information Systems. John Wiley and Sons Ltd. Chichester UK. ISBN: 0-471-95820-4.

Checkland, P., Poulter, J. (2006) Learning for Action: A Short Definitive Account of Soft Systems Methodology and its Use, for Practitioners, Teachers and Students. John Wiley and Sons Ltd. Chichester UK. ISBN: 0-470-02554-9.

Churchman, C.W. (1971) The Design of Inquiring Systems, Basic Concepts of Systems and Organizations, Basic Books, New York.

von Bertanlaffy, L. (1968) General System theory: Foundations, Development, Applications, New York: George Braziller, revised edition 1976.