Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) provides a method for participatory design of human-centered information systems. It also provides an excellent approach to surfacing multiple perspectives in decision-making, complex problem-analysis, and socially-situated research. The analysis tools suggested by the method — which is really a family of methods, rather than a single method in the sense of modeling techniques — permit change-analysts, consultants and researchers to exercise reflexivity and to explore alternatives.

SSM is based upon a single concept: that we model systems of purposeful human activity (what people do), rather than data-management or IT components (the more usual focus of systems analysis). It is systemic, rather than systems-focused, calling upon the tradition of general systems theory (von Bertanlaffy, 1968) and inquiring systems (Churchman, 1971) in acknowledging the disparate elements of a situation. SSM is helpful for analysis approaches that wish to understand the connections, conflicts, and discrepancies between elements of a situation rather than attempting to subsume all elements into a single perspective.

Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) was devised by Peter Checkland and elaborated in collaboration with Sue Holwell and Jim Scholes  (among others) at Lancaster University in the UK. SSM provides a philosophy and a set of techniques for investigating a “real-world” problem situation. SSM is an approach to the investigation of the problems that may or may not require computer-based system support as part of its solution. In this sense, SSM could be described as an approach to early system requirements analysis, rather than a systems design approach. This website attempts to explain some of the elements of SSM for educational purposes. It is not intended as a comprehensive source of information about SSM and may well subvert some of Checkland’s original intentions, in an attempt to make the subject accessible to students and other lifelong learners … .


Checkland, P. (1999)  Systems Thinking, Systems Practice: includes a 30-year retrospective. John Wiley and Sons Ltd. Chichester UK. ISBN: 0-471-98606-2.

Checkland, P. & Scholes, J. (1999) Soft Systems Methodology in Action. John Wiley and Sons Ltd. Chichester UK. ISBN: 0-471-98605-4.

Checkland, P., Holwell, S.E. (1997) Information, Systems and Information Systems. John Wiley and Sons Ltd. Chichester UK. ISBN: 0-471-95820-4.

Checkland, P., Poulter, J. (2006) Learning for Action: A Short Definitive Account of Soft Systems Methodology and its Use, for Practitioners,

Churchman, C.W. (1971) The Design of Inquiring Systems, Basic Concepts of Systems and Organizations, Basic Books, New York.

von Bertanlaffy, L. (1968) General System theory: Foundations, Development, Applications, New York: George Braziller, revised edition 1976.

© Copyright Susan Gasson, 2014-17. Created 12 December 2014.

Exploring emergent design and the systemic analysis methods needed
for evolving goals & requirements

Copyright © Susan Gasson, 2009-2023.

All rights reserved. Please contact me for permission to use materials (normally free for educational users with permission).

Dr. Susan Gasson
College of Computing & Informatics
Drexel University
Philadelphia PA 19104