Restoring Legitimacy to the Systems Approach | Clinton J. Andrews | 2000

A public policy professor, Clinton J. Andrews, looks at how The Systems Approach may encounter problems in skepticism from engineering practice.

The systems approach is one general way of going about tackling a problem; some others include the experimental, political, moral, religious, and aesthetic approaches [1,p. 5], [2]. The systems approach to a problem tends to take a broad view, tries to take all aspects into account, accepts the basic propositions of science, assumes that the world contains structured wholes, and concentrates on interactions between different parts of the whole [1, pp. 5-6]. […]

Elements of the systems approach have long been in widespread use. [….] Most of these users have had only descriptive aspirations, and they have merely wanted to show how things fit together and related to one another. However, others with more ambition have wanted to prescribe changes — they have wanted to act like engineers. They have wanted to redesign landscapes, cities, economies, governments, and even Earth systems. When they have tried, they have often come to grief, and in so doing they have given the systems approach a bad name [3]- [7].

Engineers should care about this because it tarnishes the field’s image. Non-engineers should care because the world we live in could be vastly improved, and we need more effective prescriptive thinkers in many fields. But the prescriptions need to be credible and legitimate. [….]


[1] P. Checkland, Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. Chichester, UK: Wiley, 1981.
[2] C.W. Churchman, The Systems Approach and Its Enemies. New York, NY: Basic, 1979.

Andrews, C. J. 2000. “Restoring Legitimacy to the Systems Approach.” IEEE Technology and Society Magazine 19 (4): 38–44.  Cached at

Andrews (2000) Restoring Legitimacy to the Systems Approach



#chuchman, #systems-approach