Application of Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) in a Swedish State University Resource Allocation Problem

Term Paper, 2010

16 Pages



Funding and resource allocation in a Swedish university is fast degenerating to a problematic situation. This write-up applied soft system methodology to the situation, it placed the ‘ problems ’ in perspective and came up with a conceptual model of the problematic situation. A conclusion was drawn by comparing the model with the actual problem description.

1.0 Introduction

Soft System Methodology (SSM) as introduced by Checkland’s in the 1970s is not a direct problem solving concept, it simply provide a way of re-illustrating a problematic situation. SSM derived its strength from one of the system myths that says “The best thing that can be done to a problem is to dissolve it, to redesign the entity to eliminate the problem2. SSM helps in creating radically different perspective of the problematic area; it redefines the system in such a way that the problem is no longer a problem3

We adopt a six step approach in applying SSM to the problematic situation,

1. Describe problematic Situation
2. Draw a rich picture showing all components of the system and information, money and material flows
3. Define subsystems
4. Create root definitions
5. Create conceptual models
6. Compare model with actual problem definition

The description of the problematic situation we are considering in this write-up is available in the assignment text3 ; it hovers around resource allocation in a Swedish state university.

Next is the rich picture diagram.

2.0 The Rich Picture

Considering the peculiarities of the team work vis-à-vis our geographic location and timing, the best option we had was to arrange a virtual discussion session on Skype. We use a screen sharing and video conferencing tools available in Skype. In our virtual discussion session, we identified the system border, suggested all possible components within and outside the system border, this components have direct or indirect relationship with the description of the problematic situation. After identifying the components we looked at the relationship within the components of the system in terms of information, material and money flow. We all drew individual draft diagrams of the rich picture on plane sheet of paper. One of the pictures is shown in figure 2.0a

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Figure 2.0a: Raw Rich Picture (Initial Manual Draft)

The raw diagram was transformed with Microsoft Visio, figure 2.0b shows the defined system and all identified components

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Figure 2.0b: Rich Picture - Defined boundary and system components

The Swedish state university is the system boundary, outside the boundary, we identified the following components:

- Founding Partners: These include Swedish Government, European Union, private organizations, public organizations, foundations, private companies and private individuals
- Research Fields: These represent location where researchers retrieved raw data. In case of social research, the research field could be a target group of people or respondents to some sorts of questionnaires or interviews. It could also represent locations where experiment materials are obtained for scientific laboratories research.
- Research Conference: Gathering of researchers to share idea
- Prospective Student: Incoming students that may be indirectly affected by funding policies of the university
- Publishers of research papers: these include all publishers of research papers, it may include in-house university publishers but they will not been seen as local to the university since they publish papers from other researchers outside the university.
- Providers of Social Support Services: these include the hospitals, pension, vacancy adverts, and other social benefits sponsored by the university.
Inside the boundary we have the following:
- University Admin: Oversees the faculties and liaise with funding bodies.
- Internet: We looked at internet as compound component with sub-components like email, e-learning platforms, websites etc. we decided not to dwell on these subcomponents because it plays a passive role in the bigger picture of the funding system; we could have consider the details if we are target system is “Learning in Swedish state university”.
- Professors / Researchers /Teachers: This component includes all individuals responsible for teaching; it could be research or academic teaching. It also refer to researchers that are teachers at the same time.
- Students /PHD Students: Research student or academic student
- Other staff: These include all Non- academic staffs of the faculty like laboratory attendants, library attendants, research assistants etc
- Others include Stationeries, Laboratories, Computers, Classrooms and offices

The next step was the flows; as shown in figure 2.0b

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Figure 2.0c: Rich Picture - Information, Material and Monetary Flow

Red, green and black arrows shows money, Information and ‘ Knowledge ’, flow respectively; the knowledge flow is seen as a special type of information flow -“Teaching” provided by the faculty (teachers) to the students and private/public organizations. The blue clouds represent some confusion that may exist in the following areas

- Researcher’s research result, and the opinion of other researchers in research conference
- The students / teacher learning expectations
- University Administrators and Funding organizations confusions concerning how to make good use of the monetary allocation or resources available to the university

The next step was to identify potential or real conflict in the diagram as shown in figure 2.0d

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Figure 2.0d: Rich Picture - Information, Material and Monetary Flow

A number of potential or real conflict areas were identified, the red splash is used to identify these areas; they include:

- Faculty and University Administrator: How to effectively allocate available money to all cost centers like teaching, research, development etc.
- Researcher and Publisher: Which publisher should the researcher sent the research paper to? What the criteria are for publish a paper?
- Research Field and Researcher: Where to get raw data, the problem of getting accurate data in social research; are the respondent sincere?
- Funding: The decision of who to fund?
- Internet: Bandwidth problem and system availability
- Teaching: Conflict between what to do per time, researching or teaching?

The next step is identification of sub-systems.

3.0 Defining Subsystems

The basic criterion for selecting subsystems is the strong internal interaction within related components. We identified ten subsystems as shown in figures 3.0a, 3.0b and 3.0c.

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Figure 3.0a: Rich Picture - showing subsystems 1 - 4

Subsystem 1- Research Supervision: This handles the process of impacting the act and science of researching into research students

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Application of Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) in a Swedish State University Resource Allocation Problem
Blekinge Institute of Technology
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application, soft, systems, methodology, swedish, state, university, resource, allocation, problem
Quote paper
Owoseni Adebowale (Author), 2010, Application of Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) in a Swedish State University Resource Allocation Problem, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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