Books : reviews

C. West Churchman.
The Systems Approach: 2nd edn.
Delta. 1979

C. West Churchman.
The Systems Approach and Its Enemies.
Basic Books. 1979

The systems approach to planning—in the form of operations research, systems analysis, and other kinds of comprehensive rational planning—has already revolutionized the way we fight our wars, design our cities, and run our businesses. And yet both we and the planners themselves are increasingly dissatisfied with this approach as a means of improving the human condition.

Here one of the originators of systems analysis, himself a leading practitioner who has applied the systems approach in fields as varied as education, city planning, public health, and management, argues forcefully that the critics—at least some of them—have a point: there are approaches to human affairs which, although not “rational,” are nonetheless powerful and indeed desirable keys to understanding human experience. Too often, Professor Churchman concedes, such ultimate realities are ignored, with the result that planning efforts are sterile, unsatisfying, and irrelevant. Drawing on his own experience as both thinker and planner, he shows, as few have done before, that until planners learn to stand back and consider the purpose of their designs from the broadest nonplanning point of view, those designs will continue to be both “inhuman” and largely unimplemented.