This action research-based, interpretive approach is strongly influenced by Vickers' (1968, pp.59,176) description of the importance of appreciative systems in dealing with human complexity. Checkland (1981), and Checkland and Scholes (1990) have attempted to transform these ideas from systems theory into a practical methodology that is called Soft Systems Methodology (SSM).
Soft Systems Methodology developed by Professor Peter Checkland is a way of dealing with problem situations in which there is a high social, political and human activity component. (Checkland, 1981) This distinguishes SSM from other methodologies that deal with hard problems which are more technologically oriented. Thus, SSM can be a useful research tool for understanding problematic ELT situations. (Holliday, 1990)
Hard problems are problems characterized by the fact that they can be well defined. The assumption is that there is a definite solution and we can define a number of specific goals that must be accomplished. Soft problems, on the other hand, are difficult to define.When we think of soft problems, we don't think of problems but of problem situations. It is the classic situation of it not being a "problem" but an "opportunity". Soft Systems methodology was developed for the express purpose of dealing with problems of this type.His "Soft Systems Methodology" was created through a number of research projects in industry and its application and refinement over a number of years. A leading SSM specialist in Japan, suggests that SSM can be a useful research tool in the educational context, and argues that it can be applied to any messy, problematic human situation that requires decision-making aimed at improvement (Kijima, 1999) The most important feature of this analysis of data, information and knowledge is that the act of creating information is a human act, not one which a machine can accomplish. It is the human being who can attribute meaning to the selected data. (Checkland, Holwell, 1998)
SSM is divided into seven distinct stages. These are;
1. Finding out about the problem situation. This is basic research into the problem area. Who are the key players How does the process work now etc.
2. Expressing the problem situation through Rich Pictures. As with any type of diagram, more knowledge can be communicated visually. A picture is worth a 1000 words.
3. Selecting how to view the situation and producing root definitions. From what different perspectives can we look at this problem situation.
4. Building conceptual models of what the system must do for each root definitions. You have basic "Whats" from the root definitions. Now begin to define "Hows".
5. Comparison of the conceptual models with the real world. Compare the results from steps 4 and 2 and see where they differ and are similar.
6. Identify feasible and desirable changes. Are there ways of improving the situation.
7. Recommendations for taking action to improve the problem situation. How would you implement the changes from step 6.
Step 1: Problem situation unstructured
The initial stage consists simply of managers and/or employees (problem owner) deciding that a review or change of tasks and the way they are performed is required, and an analyst (problem solver) is called in to review and provide recommendations.
Step 2: Problem situation expressed
Step 1 is basically that people of the organization think there