Critical Systems Thinking and Design

“ Requirements engineering must address issues of power,
politics and human social values.”

Critial Requirements Engineering in Practice, IEEE software (forthcoming, preprint)

In a recent project, I began to introduce critical perspectives from Systems Thinking into the practice of systems design. Critical Systems Thinking combines Systems Thinking with Critical Theory. It aims to enable reflection, emancipation and critique of the boundary judgments that are made, inevitably, in systems design in the broadest sense.

Visible and invisible boundary judgments

What matters most is not the set of visible boundary judgments – what is in scope? – but the boundaries that normally remain implicit and invisible: Who can speak to this issue? What is valid knowledge on that question? What legitimates the use of this argument? Critical Systems Thinking tries to make visible the system of beliefs, values and facts that form the silent basis of systems design arguments and justification.

In a recent article, my co-authors and I combined a standard Requirements Engineering approach with the iterative application of Critical Systems Heuristics (CSH). CSH is an approach developed by Werner Ulrich to make visible the boundary judgments that establish what counts as valid statements and justification in social processes such as systems design. It provides a small-scale heuristic framework that proved to be very powerful.

I am very interested in exploring the use of CSH in other contexts and in other perspectives from this area. We are currently working on several successor projects. Feel free to get in touch if you have a design project that you would like us to get involved with!