The greater whole: Towards a synthesis of system dynamics and soft systems methodology Academic Article uri icon


  • This paper makes a theoretical case for using these two systems approaches together. The theoretical and methodological assumptions of system dynamics (SD) and soft system methodology (SSM) are briefly described and a partial critique is presented. SSM generates and represents diverse perspectives on a problem situation and addresses the socio-political elements of an intervention. However, it is weak in ensuring 'dynamic coherence': consistency between the intuitive behaviour resulting from proposed changes and behaviour deduced from ideas on causal structure. Conversely, SD examines causal structures and dynamic behaviours. However, whilst emphasising the need for a clear issue focus, it has little theory for generating and representing diverse issues. Also, there is no theory for facilitating sensitivity to socio-political elements. A synthesis of the two called 'Holon Dynamics' is proposed. After an SSM intervention, a second stage continues the socio-political analysis and also operates within a new perspective which values dynamic coherence of the mental construct - the holon - which is capable of expressing the proposed changes. A model of this holon is constructed using SD and the changes are thus rendered 'systemically desirable' in the additional sense that dynamic consistency has been confirmed. The paper closes with reflections on the proposal and the need for theoretical consistency when mixing tools is emphasised. 1998 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 3

author list (cited authors)

  • Lane, D. C., & Oliva, R.

citation count

  • 155

complete list of authors

  • Lane, DC||Oliva, R

publication date

  • May 1998