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


  • Doncho I Petkov Eastern CT State University
  • Olga Petkova CCSU
  • Truthilal Nepal Durban Institute of Technology
  • Theo Andrew Univ of Johannesburg


Critical Systems Thinking, Mixing methods, Paradigm Incommensurability.


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.

Author Biographies

Doncho I Petkov, Eastern CT State University

Dr. Doncho Petkov is an Associate Professor and Coordinator in BIS at the Eastern Connecticut State University. Previously he taught at the University of Natal (South Africa) and the University of Zimbabwe. His publications are in systems thinking, IS management, Operations Research and Software Engineering. They have appeared or are accepted in the Journal of Systems and Software, Decision Support Systems, Telecommunications Policy, International Journal on Technology Management, JITCA and elsewhere.

Olga Petkova, CCSU

Associate Professor MIS dept, CCSU

Truthilal Nepal, Durban Institute of Technology

Associate Professor DIT, South Africa

Theo Andrew, Univ of Johannesburg

Dean of Engineering, Univ of Johannesburg, South Africa



How to Cite

Petkov, D. I., Petkova, O., Nepal, T., & Andrew, T. (2006). Paradigm Issues in Critical Systems Thinking and Their Interpretation in Three Developmental Systemic Interventions. Proceedings of the 50th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2006, Sonoma, CA, USA. Retrieved from



Critical Systems