Category Archives: Reading Group

The importance of being process by David Blockley

This is the first article of our web-based reading group:

Blockley, D. I. (2010). The importance of being process. Civil engineering and environmental systems, 27(3), 189-199.

The full text of this journal paper can be found through this link, and its abstract is posted below.


The purpose of the paper is to outline the particular interpretation of systems thinking developed at the University of Bristol over the last 30 years. The importance of process and uncertainty are central themes. Put at its simplest, systems thinking is joined-up thinking. It is getting the right information (what) to the right people (who) at the right time (when) for the right purpose (why) in the right form (where) and in the right way (how). The three ideas at the heart of delivering systems thinking are thinking in layers, thinking in connected loops and thinking about new processes. Everything has life cycle and hence is a process – but one that is set in the context of a system containing other connected processes – some at higher and some at lower levels of definition. All processes have attributes that are characterised using why, how, who, what, where, when. There is a need to integrate hard and soft systems. This requires us to be very clear about the meaning and usage of the terms subjective and objective when we argue that engineering judgement is both valid and important. It is argued that truth is to knowledge as the inverse of risk is to action. The three attributes of uncertainty are stated as FIR – fuzziness, incompleteness and randomness. Robustness and its inverse, vulnerability, are crucial, though often ignored. Systems thinking is not simply an engineering approach; rather it is a philosophy for solving many practical problems such as joined-up government, social work, dealing with climate change and terrorism. Finally it is argued that our journey to 2030 requires us to adopt an evolutionary observational approach using systems thinking.

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