Managing organizational change by using soft systems thinking in action research projects

Publication Type:
Journal Article
International Journal of Managing Projects in Business, 2009, 2 (2), pp. 179 - 197
Issue Date:
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Purpose – This paper aims to show how systems thinking can be incorporated in action research (AR) interventions to successfully implement organizational change. The two case studies described in this paper would be useful to managers who want to implement change in their own organizations. Design/methodology/approach – Both projects used AR as the methodology due to its flexible, responsive and emergent nature. In one project, there was a deliberate attempt to incorporate soft systems thinking whereas in the other project soft systems thinking was used as a sensemaking process while carrying out AR. As an added benefit both approaches have resulted in successful completion of doctoral research. Findings – Soft systems methodology (SSM) and AR can both help in addressing illstructured problems faced by managers, in collaboration with stakeholders using questioning and reflection. Both lead to an increased understanding about the problem situation. The difference is that SSM uses a more structured approach while AR is emergent in its application. SSM practitioners advocate that action researchers would benefit by declaring in advance an intellectual framework to guide their research. This has the additional benefit of overcoming obstacles in an academic environment where research processes are still governed based on traditional research methods. Practical implications – The ideas presented in the paper could be particularly useful to a practicebased discipline such as project management where research into its practice is in demand. Originality/value – This paper would be useful to managers interested in a rigorous methodology to implement organizational change in addressing business problems. It demonstrates ways of combining SSM and AR, resulting in a powerful research tool to carry out rigorous research. © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
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