Paradigm Issues in Critical Systems Thinking and Their Interpretation in Three Developmental Systemic Interventions

Doncho I Petkov, Olga Petkova, Truthilal Nepal, Theo Andrew


The paper reviews paradigm incommensurability and possible ways of overcoming it. One of the open problems of pluralist systemic intervention theory on which there is no uniform understanding in the literature is whether work across paradigms represents some kind of a meta paradigm or whether it belongs to a completely new paradigm itself or as a third alternative, should it be grounded within the theory of existing paradigms. Other issues that require additional investigation are their use within different paradigms from those for which they were created originally.

Our understanding of those issues was informed by the developments in Critical Systems thinking in the past decade and was applied to three interventions in rural telecommunications and software development. They involved mixing of techniques from several soft systems approaches and multi-criteria decision analysis.

We justified mixing of methods using the theory of the three worlds by Habermas. Our work was influenced by the Multimethodology ideas of Mingers and those on Critical Systems practice by Jackson. An integrated approach towards the resolution of paradigm incommensurability is derived from the literature. At the same time our practical experience in the three cases of concern confirmed also our theoretical findings on the feasibility of mixing methods in the same intervention and showed that it is possible to implement the interventions in a way that enables a conversation between the methods involved within the intervention and not from above. Further work is needed however to confirm our exploratory findings from applying pluralist ideas in systemic interventions.


Critical Systems Thinking, Mixing methods, Paradigm Incommensurability.

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