Michael C Jackson OBE (1951 – ) is Professor of Management Systems and former Dean of Hull University Business School. After studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University, he spent 4 years in the civil service before returning to academic life. He has since studied and taught at Lancaster, Warwick, Lincoln and Hull Universities, being appointed a full professor in 1989. Professor Jackson is a past President of the UK Systems Society, the International Federation for Systems Research and the International Society for the Systems Sciences.
Jackson’s most important contribution to the field of systems thinking has been his work on the development of the Critical Systems Thinking (CST) approach, which emphasises the role of power and politics in organisations. His aim for CST is ‘to reconstitute systems thinking as a unified approach to the problem management so that it can again stand at the leading edge in the development of the management sciences.’ (Jackson 2001). It outlines the strengths and weaknesses of many forms of systems thinking before suggesting a meta-methodology for the application of CST. Jackson’s study of the Frankfurt school of sociology, particularly Jürgen Habermas, were influential in his approach, leading him to discuss the distorting effect of power structures on the way systems thinking could be applied. Jackson says that he took Checkland’s lead in being critical of earlier systems thinking approaches (which Checkland characterised as ‘hard systems thinking’) before turning a similar critique upon Checkland’s (and other’s) version of soft systems methodology (SSM). His main points here were that SSM ‘views reality in subjective terms, saying that the social world is constructed by the actions, interpretations and perspectives of the people within it; and it is (at least implicitly) orientated towards consensus and the maintenance of existing social order, rather than focusing on conflict between groups and radical change.’ (Ramage and Shipp 2009 p171). With his University of Hull colleague Paul Keys, Jackson constructed a system of systems methodologies (SOSM) that classified systems problems on two levels – the nature of systems, running from simple to complex, and the other categorising systems approaches as hard, soft or critical. These latter groupings continue to form the main categorisations for systems approaches. As all methodologies are argued to have strengths and weaknesses, Jackson has spent considerable time documenting and discussing the various methodologies and how they might complement each other. His work on CST has had a lasting effect on others in requiring them to be more clear about the way power and politics will affect their methodologies.
Jackson, M 1981 ‘Critical systems thinking and practice’ European Journal of Operational Research 128 (2), 233-244
Jackson, M 2003 ‘Systems Thinking: Creative Holism for Managers’ Wiley and Sons: Chichester
Ramage, M and Shipp, K 2009 ‘Systems Thinkers’ Open University: Milton Keynes