The first of our system dependency and analysis workshops have taken place in Larissa and Rome. As both problem domains are complex socio-technical systems, we are using the Soft Systems approach developed by Peter Checkland to analyse the key systems, their interdependencies and vulnerabilities.

Each workshop involved a team of people comprising both technical staff and those who are users of the systems. At this early stage of the analysis, we facilitated the participants in drawing “Rich Pictures” of the key systems, which we defined as being those systems that are “mission critical” (the systems without which the city administration would cease to function) and those systems containing personal or sensitive data.

Rich Pictures are cartoon-like representations of a problem situation. They are an extremely powerful tool, and can be used to develop both a high-level and a detailed understanding of problem domains. They are able to capture and represent both the technical aspects of a system and its sub-systems, but also the social, cultural and political aspects, which underlie and interact with the technical components of a problem domain or system.

The creation of the pictures takes place in a collaborative setting in which all of the participants are able to contribute their personal, tacit and often unique understanding of the situation being depicted. The participants are able to express their understanding and their differing views of a situation and in doing so, are able to express their ideas and insights. Most importantly, they are able to refine and develop their own understanding of a situation in the light of the understanding and insights expressed by the other participants. Ultimately, the outcome of the process is that an extremely detailed, complete and robust agreed understanding of the problem domain emerges – the first and most important step towards the development of a solution.

Chris Wills
Caris Research, UK