A case study of an after school study centre using soft systems methodology.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Teaching and Learning
From the middle of 2003 to the beginning of 2004, this research was carried out by Craig McGregor, a student in the Master of Teaching and Learning Programme at the Christchurch of College of Education. The purpose of the research was to investigate and analyse an After School Study Centre that had been set up in a local school as part of a New Zealand government initiative towards its policy of closing the digital divide between less affluent and more affluent schools. This research used the Soft Systems Methodology that was developed by Checkland and Scholes (1984, 1990, 1999) and other writers. The purpose of the methodology was to provide suggestions for improvement and change in the Study Centre. A further purpose of the research was to explore and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the methodology. In general, the research had the overriding aim of creating learning, both in the use of the methodology, and about the Study Centre, rather than explanation. A literature review charts the course from where systems thinking developed, and how this developed into the Soft Systems Methodology. Such areas as components of systems, development of systems theory, hard and soft systems, and Soft Systems Methodology are discussed. Writers such as Carter, Martin, Mayblin, and Munday (1984), Checkland and Scholes (1984, 1990, 1999), Davies and Ledington (1991), and Dick (2002) are focused upon, with their own unique perspectives on systems thinking and Soft Systems Methodology. Although the research started out by using the seven step approach set out by Davies and Ledington (1991), it soon became quite clear that a more holistic model for the methodology was needed to explain the various reiterations that were required of several of the steps. As learning about the Study Centre developed, previous steps in the methodology were revisited and refined. Checkland and Scholes (1999) made it clear that this was how their own practice of the methodology had developed in their 30 year perspective on their work, and refined their own model of the methodology to a four stage approach. In gathering data in the Study Centre, which was defined in the methodology as the problem situation, participant observations and informal interviews were used. To analyse this data, three main analytical techniques were used: an Intervention Analysis looked at the data in terms of what potential problems had shown up as areas that could require improvement or change; the Social and Cultural Analysis looked at the roles, norms and values of the people who were identified as the "actors" in the Centre; a Political Analysis looked at power and influence in the Centre. The information gained from these analyses was set out in a "Rich Picture" as a holistic representation of the Centre. By using steps within the methodology, root definitions of three critical systems within the Centre were created and checked against the mnemonic, CATWOE. The root definitions are word statements that encapsulate the essence of the Homework Completion System, Information Literacy System and the Infrastructure Maintenance System. Through using systems thinking, and looking at the logically dependent activities in the systems, models were created of how these three systems would operate in an ideal world. A process was used to compare the ideal world models with how the systems operated within the real world of the Study Centre. From this, recommendations for improvement and change were developed. When discussing these recommendations with the Principal and Centre Teacher, it was found that there was a high degree of agreement on the changes that need to be implemented. The area that particularly needed attention was in the Information Literacy Model, where the Principal felt that the recommendations need to be instituted school wide. All of the comparisons revealed recommendations need to be implemented in the control systems. The discussion and conclusions section of the research looked at how effective the methodology had been in providing the recommendations for improvement and change. It was concluded that the actioning of the Soft Systems Methodology in the research followed more in the model outlined by Dick (2002), where the methodology was explained as a dialectic between four stages. While doing the Intervention Analysis, it was discovered that not only was it useful to look at the problems from the angle of who were the people who held a particular point of view, but also who held the point of view as the most relevant point of view. The Political Analysis of the problem situation did not show the full picture, and a diagram was developed that graphically showed the informal and formal lines of influence. When checking the root definitions and models against the CATWOE, it was found that the weltanschauung was the most difficult area to incorporate. A model was developed within this research to create a typology of world views that would help gain understanding of weltanschauung. With the reporting back of the recommendations, although they were well received, it was felt that a better disclosure was needed on how each suggestion was received. To this end, a table was created to better explain the reactions to each of the recommendations. In creating these recommendations as a starting point for discussion, much thought had to be given to avoid value judgments that might be implicit in the recommendations. Great care was taken to explain that the recommendations were a starting point for discussion, not a value judgment as to how effectively the Centre was operating. This was particularly important when explaining the need for control subsystem activities within all of three of the systems. Care had to be taken to avoid the inference that the suggested activities were low-trust devices. The discussion also centred upon checking the validity of the research through looking at what constitutes acceptable practice in systems modeling, and results of a similar research. Parallels were also drawn between the SSM and Action Research, and SSM and Futures Studies.