Back in 1972, systems thinking was an addition to the burgeoning
world of environmental science. Its apparent simplicity coupled
with its predictive ability presaged a new era in analysis.
Sadly, that early promise fell apart when the Meadows' book
Limits to Growth was fully critiqued and was found
to be lacking in some areas. That much of the critique was based
on a faulty reading of the analysis did not help and the idea
of systems analysis was set back. However, the notion continued
to develop and now, with global warming models, has become an
important technique to understand if not apply. This book has
interest by virtue of the fact it was authored by one of the
leading figures in the early systems debate. It has been assembled
to show how systems analysis can be applied and as such it becomes
a guide to the basic thinking needed.
book is divided into three parts. The first part looks at the
basic idea of systems. We start with a very simple model of
input, output and feedback and the ways in which changing these
can lead to further responses in the system. This initial view
is useful but hardly representative of the more complex systems.
Chapter two therefore expands upon this idea using two of more
inter-related systems. This is useful in two ways. The obvious
one is that it can better model real-world situations; the second
is that in building the models slowly, the reader can appreciate
how even the most complex systems can be reduced to that same
simple input-output-feedback version. Having given the reader
some idea of the ways in which systems work, part two examines
their limitations. Chapters three and four are complementary
in that the former looks at the advantages of using models and
the latter at some elements systems analysis is less good at
explaining. Both are vital for the beginner. It was blind faith
in the power of systems analysis that, in part, led to its demise
in the early 1970s and it is the need to realise its limitations
that will help it become a popular way of understanding situations
today. Part three moves the reader towards a more pro-active
use of systems analysis. Chapter six examines the places where
one might be able to effect change (and why it might end up
with the opposite effect). Chapter seven is focussed less on
systems analysis and more on thinking and how we approach decision-making.
As such it is more a call for more rigorous thinking than a
blind support for this method of analysis. In some ways this
is the most effective chapter because it demands that the reader
stops and considers how his/her thinking might be adding to/reducing
the problems. It expects people to think before they act.
has admitted in the editor's introduction, there are numerous
books on systems analysis many of which take a far more detailed
approach to the subject. What there are not however are many
texts which explain the system from the bottom up and build
upon that initial construction to make a more powerful model.
As such this is an ideal text for the teacher who needs to know
more but is uncertain of how to proceed. It requires virtually
no maths which can make student understanding more difficult.
It uses simple but 'real-world' examples to explain how the
models work and it demands that the reader thinks about how
they "see" the world. This is certainly a book that
deserves to be on the reading list if not library and it should
be a key text in teacher education courses.