‘Soft’ systems thinking and information systems: a framework for client-led design



Abstract. Since the mid-1980s there has been a growing interest in the application of soft systems methodology (SSM) to the information systems design process. This interest has resulted from attempts to overcome the recognized deficiencies of conventional computer systems analysis methods and techniques. A particular problem which has received attention over the past 5 years is the epistemological and operational differences between the investigative process of the pre-design stage and the technological specification. We suggest that this argument is somewhat unproductive and advocate a necessary rethinking about the nature of information systems and the use of technology to support their activities. A re-evaluation of the way that we set about designing computer-based information systems suggests that many of the problems of conventional systems analysis methods may be alleviated by an approach that allows the ‘client’, or ‘user’, to have a greater control over the identification, specification and development of their information system(s). The authors' belief in this course of action has led to the development of client-led design as an underpinning philosophy for user participation in the design of computer-based information systems. Client-led design draws upon and develops concepts and tools from ‘interpretive’, or ‘soft’, systems thinking and, in particular, can be seen as providing a framework for the type of subjective inquiry that Checkland & Scholes (1990) referred to as ‘ideal-type’ mode 2 SSM. This paper is related to the papers published in the Journal of Information Systems (Vol. 3, No. 3), which was a special edition to illustrate the influence of ‘soft’ systems thinking upon information systems design and development.