Bob Williams

Bob Williams

“You cannot do everything. You cannot see everything. In that sense the idea of ‘holism’ is an impossibility. Setting boundaries, deciding what is ‘in’ and what is ‘out’, what’s ‘important’ and what’s ‘unimportant’ involves tough choices, but every endeavour is bounded. While it is perfectly reasonable to acknowledge different perspectives, someone somewhere decides which perspectives prevail (Williams & Van’t Hof, 2014, p.42) – emphasis added.

Boundary judgments determine which empirical observations and value considerations count as relevant and which others are left out or are considered less important. Because boundary judgments are informed by both “facts” and “values,” they play a critical role when it comes to assessing the meaning and merits of a claim (Werner, 2005) – and thus its critical relevant to evaluation.

Following on from the two day Systems Thinking Retreat held on 24-25 May 2015, a small group of evaluators reconvened for a one-day workshop on Critical Systems Heuristics (CSH), facilitated by Bob Williams.

Critical Systems workshop group

CSH (Werner Ulrich, 1996) and later elaborated  in collaboration with Martin Reynolds, is an approach used to surface, elaborate, and critically consider boundary judgments, that is, the ways in which people/groups decide what is relevant to the system of interest (any situation of concern).

CSH is a framework of reflective questions based on practical philosophy and systems thinking. The basic idea of CSH is to support boundary critique – a systematic approach to critically handling boundary judgments. CSH is concerned not only with purposive evaluation, where the system or project has a predefined goal and the focus lies in evaluating the means of reaching it, but also more broadly with purposeful evaluation, where both the means and the ends become subjects of inquiry.

Judy Oakden & Angelique Praat

Judy Oakden & Angelique Praat

Nan Wehipeihana and Shaun Akroyd

Nan Wehipeihana and Shaun Akroyd

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a lot to get to grips with in CSH, particularly its application in evaluation. The one day workshop was a good starter but more reading, practical case examples and discussion is necessary to get a more deeper understanding of CSH. Some useful resources and readings include:

Resources

Our thanks to Bob Williams for initiating and facilitating this one day introductory workshop on CSH.