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Where next for problem structuring methods?

Eden, C. and Ackermann, F. (2006) Where next for problem structuring methods? Journal of the Operational Research Society, 57 (7). pp. 766-768. ISSN 0160-5682

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Over the past two decades three problem structuring methods have become particularly well known: soft systems methodology (SSM), strategic choice (SC), and strategic options development and analysis (SODA) (Rosenhead and Mingers, 2001). Discussion of these methods often focuses upon the differences. In order to develop an effective future for problem structuring methods, we believe it might be more appropriate to focus on their similarities. It is likely to be the similarities that have driven their success, as organizations, and managers, seek to find ways of managing complex messy problems. Indeed, other than the originators of these three methods, who are, not surprisingly, very fussy about the way in which each of the methods are used, the majority of users tend to use parts of each of the methods in a contingent manner (sometimes combining parts from one method with those from another with little regard for the theoretical underpinnings). Each of the originators has been upset at this lack of purity, which they argue shows a misunderstanding of the theoretical and practice backgrounds to the methods. If a stronger focus could be placed on similarities then it would enable potential users to understand the underlying principles and so increase the probability of more sympathetic and successful applications. Thus, it is the similarities of the underlying aspects of the methods that will break down the debate about purity, and allow a future development that derives from the wider practice.