Open vs. Closed Systems

A while back [1], there was vigorous debate in the Systems Science community on modelling business systems as either open or closed systems. In open systems analysis, stress in placed on the inputs and outputs to the system, as well as the various stakeholders. In closed system analysis, the systems are analysed in terms of their self sustainability. Some systems authors claim social systems have autopoiesis [2], that is be self sustaining, which may be a requirement for the system to be seen as an agent. Even this may be too strong — perhaps persistence is sufficicient, and self sustainability is additional bonus.

Although there are implications for both styles of analysis, the question tracks back to the motivation of the system — whether it exists for the purpose of external stakeholders (open system analysis) or for its own sake (closed systems analysis). However, if the system is an agent, and if it has its own identity, it is a stakeholder in its own right. In this case, both open and closed analysis would be valid valid — closed analysis for understanding the position from the systems own viewpoint, and open analysis from other, external, stakeholder positions — recognising that stakeholders are also potential parts of the system itself.

Tied up in these discussions are the concepts of Identity and Boundaries, brough forward by Mingers [2], as are the concepts of Modularity [3], [4] and so also components and their relationship (Architecture)

As part of the multi-methodology appraoch accepted by both groups, it should be valid to use both an open systems and closed systems approach if the system has some sence of autopoiesis.

1. Various, 1992. International Jounrnal of General Systems, vol. 21, no. 2.
2. Mingers, J. 2006, Realising Systems Thinking: Knowledge and Action in Management Science, Springer, New York.
3. Baldwin, C.Y. & Clark, K.B. 1999, Design Rules: The Power of Modularity Volume 1, MIT Press.
4. Callebaut, W. & Rasskin-Gutman, D. (eds) 2005, Modularity: Understanding the Development and Evolution of Natural Complex Systems, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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