The Genesis of a Meta Methodology for Human Systems Inquiry -- Arne Collen

ISSS Meeting at Asilomar, June 28-July 2, 1999 
  • Paper Session, June 28, 1999, 1:30 p.m., chaired by Arne Collen 
These participant's notes were created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker's presentation(s) and comments from the audience. These should not be viewed as official transcripts of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. These notes have been contributed by David Ing ( at the IBM AdvancedBusiness Institute ( ).
Arne Collen

Introduction for the SIG: 

  • 10 papers over two days. 
  • Human systems inquiry: puts human beings first (over other systems), with the second emphasis on inquiry. 
  • Particular focus on applications and case studies. 
  • Interest in technology and complexity, which is the theme for this conference. 
Interest in duality of human beings and methodology 
  • Would like to look at ways in which methodology (including technology) is giving rise to pressure to try to look at new ways of understanding, as globalization occurs. 
  • Looking critically and constructively in the systems movement, if people say that general systems theory will help address complexity with people in globalization, can the methodology live up to the claim? 
    • If we move to macro level processes, are our methodologies appropriate? 
Paper about the points of origins of what moves a research to a more complex situation in methodology. 
  • Table: suggests methodologies are becoming more complex. 
  • As we advance technologies, they help us with this complexity, but also create more complexity. 
Confluence of human activity:

Human globalization: 

  • Drives many changes: urbanization, tourism, deforestation, ... 
  • Research should become more macro. 
  • Will tax resources available to researchers. 
Range of established research methods: 
  • e.g. micro-levels genetic engineering. 
  • e.g. macro: global satellites. 
e.g. satellite photo of United States, lit up at night 
  • How does this influence research? 
Most research applies to small groups 
  • Collective forms: focus groups, teams, ... 
  • Methods: Interviews, questionnaires, observe performance, ... 
Rapid advances in communication and data processing, allow extension of reach to more macro levels. 
  • e.g. observe suburbanization, movement in financial markets, spread of disease, access to knowledge, consumer purchases. 
  • Current methodological streams: new transdisciplinary research frontier. 
USA Today article: Visions of an info skyway 
  • Globalization leads to more emergent outcomes. 
  • 1994: Craig McGaw and Bill Gates proposed a worldwide satellite network, which would cover 95% of the surface of the earth. 
Thesis of paper: recognize this predicament. 
  • How to advance the human methodologies, with the globalization; 
  • or are we expecting the old methodologies to work? 
Evidence that this is happening
Shift From To
Sampling: Universe: who? where? Multi-verse
Variables Univariate: one or a few simple variables Multivariate: looking at interactions
Factors (or causes which impact on human beings) Single factor (or source) Multi-factor
Person Single Many: e.g. organizational learning
Researchers Solo (with lots of dissertations) Team (often when outside of academia)
Disciplinary Mono Multi- or cross-disciplinary, not restricted by knowledge domains or original fields of study
Methodology Uni-method Multi-method, even using methods that appear to be in conflict with each other.
Paradigm (philosophical assumptions) Mono- Cross-
Context Within (as defined by researcher) Between (jumping context, e.g. similarity between California and international)
Research Design Within / between types (which fits with decision-making) Mixed type designs
Analysis Within / between Mixed (not restricted to old ideas, e.g. surveys are only quantifications)
Project Single projects Programmatic (understanding long-term effects)
Level of Systems Heterarchical or hierarchical (Working a particular level) Mixed
Institutional Review Board (review of projects for ethical impact on human beings) One Two or more -- each researcher may have to go through multiple IRBs
Funding Source (e.g. government, business, industry) One Few -- maybe three or four sources to which to be accountable

Means complexification ---->

Could also look for <---- simplification.


Business is more heterarchical: 
  • More network structures, as discussed in this morning's plenaries. 
What about human liberty? 
  • Didn't hear the word (used by psychologists) in this morning's talks about enmeshment. 
  • e.g. when someone gets sick, their social environment enmeshes them. 
  • The future of the U.S.: a country of minorities, when an national issue will become coalitions. 
    • Response: Parliamentary systems are about minorities, and the U.S. doesn't have a parliamentary structure. 
The problems depend on the domain (e.g. business, politics) 
  • The issue is can you leave the context? 
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This page was last modified by David Ing on October 6, 2002.