Rational Thinking in Complex Qualitative Business and Management Research Using Systems Methodologies.





systems thinking, holistic integrity, problem structuring methods, soft OR, applied business research, dissertations


This paper describes the application of Systems Methodologies when dealing with complex qualitative business and management research studies, when seen in their true light, as “wicked projects”. It will demonstrate the power, flexibility and effectiveness of these approaches.   This paper focuses on studies undertaken by mostly part-time postgraduate students on Business and Management related degrees who are managers in their full-time roles. Such research studies in the “messy” real world often deal with complex, difficult, unstructured and ill-defined problematic situations, with many stakeholders, multi-perspectives, uncertainties, soft factors.  Hence “wicked projects”.   Systems methodologies and Soft OR (Operational Research) are very suitable approaches for structuring the research project, gathering data, carrying out rigorous analysis, and enabling clear, unbiased and rational thinking. They provide the researcher with a fully informed holistic approach.  They have been employed successfully by the author, when supervising, or in collaboration with students undertaking research studies or dissertations.  Soft systems methodologies are not mainstream, and thus are often ignored in university research methods courses, and rarely mentioned in business research methods books. Yet they help the student design the project, help the supervisor guide the project, enable clear communications between the participants in the research, and aid collaboration. They are highly efficient and effective, and will deliver “joined-up thinking!”  The paper will describe the studies carried out, and methods and techniques chosen. They have proved of real value to the students, not only in their degrees but also in the learning and development needed for their ongoing managerial roles, to the organisations in question, and to advance knowledge in the particular field.

Author Biography

Julian de Villez, University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, UK.

Julian de Villez is a senior lecturer and researcher in soft systems thinking and soft OR (Operational Research) at the University of Hertfordshire’s Business School. He has also taught and carried out research in Economics and Information Systems. Interests include the application of soft systems methods to projects and Business and Management research of all kinds.