An analysis of the role of soft systems methodology in the change process and the contribution of the facilitator within this process

  • S. Dickinson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This research aims to examine the effectiveness of Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) to enable systemic change within local goverment and local NHS environments and to examine the role of the facilitator within this process. Checkland's Mode 2 variant of Soft Systems Methodology was applied on an experimental basis in two environments, Herefordshire Health Authority and Sand well Health Authority. The Herefordshire application used SSM in the design of an Integrated Care Pathway for stroke patients. In Sandwell, SSM was deployed to assist in the design of an Infonnation Management and Technology (IM&T) Strategy for the boundary-spanning Sandwell Partnership. Both of these
environments were experiencing significant organisational change as the experiments unfurled.
The explicit objectives of the research were:
To examine the evolution and development of SSM and to contribute to its further development.
To apply the Soft Systems Methodology to change processes within the NHS.
To evaluate the potential role of SSM in this wider process of change.
To assess the role of the researcher as a facilitator within this process.
To develop a critical framework through which the impact of SSM on change might be understood and assessed.
In developing these objectives, it became apparent that there was a gap in knowledge relating to SSM. This gap concerns the evaluation of the role of the approach in the change process. The case studies highlighted issues in stakeholder selection and management; the communicative assumptions in SSM; the ambiguous role of the facilitator; and the impact of highly politicised problem environments on the effectiveness of the methodology in the process of change. An augmented variant on SSM that integrates an appropriate (social constructivist) evaluation method is outlined, together with a series of hypotheses about the operationalisation of this proposed method.
Date of AwardOct 2009
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorPaul W Davis (Supervisor) & Jill Schofield (Supervisor)


  • soft systems methodology
  • process
  • facilitator

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