Community Evaluation Programs

A Division of the Office for Public Engagement and
Scholarship, a department of University Outreach
and Engagement

 

Systemic Approaches to Engagement, Inquiry, and Change

Systemic approaches to engagement, inquiry, and change use systems thinking and systems approaches. Read Gene Bellinger's explanation of systems thinking.

Systems thinking alone will only take us so far in increasing our understanding of how systems operate or improving our ability to transform those systems to produce the results we want. To achieve these aims, we need to use one of the many varieties of systems approaches that have developed since the 1940s. See the section below.

View a diagram that displays the historical development of different systems approaches.

Varieties of systems approaches

Systems approaches can be categorized as hard, soft, and critical.

Hard systems approaches are primarily quantitative, and view systems as entities that exist in the real world. They include:

Soft systems approaches are qualitative, and view systems as mental constructs that are useful for understanding situations. They include:

Critical systems approaches, like soft systems approaches, are qualitative and view systems as mental constructs. Critical systems approaches were created because of the perceived failure of hard and soft systems approaches to take into account power relations. They include:


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