Peter Checkland honoured by OR Society
Published 28 January 2007
Professor Peter Checkland has been awarded the prestigious Beale Medal by the OR Society, in recognition of his sustained and significant contrubution to the philosophy, theory and practice of operational research (OR). Professor Checkland's infuential soft systems methodology (SSM) is internationally recognised.
Born in 1930 in Birmingham, Peter Checkland was educated at George Dixon’s Grammar School and St John’s College Oxford, from where he graduated with 1st class honours in chemistry in 1954. Following a 15-year successful research career at ICI Fibres he joined Lancaster’s pioneering Department of Systems Engineering in 1969 as Professor of Systems.
At Lancaster, for the next 30 years with colleagues and Masters students, he led a programme of action research, much of it organised through the UK’s first university consultancy company, ISCOL. From this continuous cycle of intervention in ill-structured management problems and learning from the results, emerged a fully developed SSM. Critical to this development was Peter’s recognition that purposeful human activity can be modelled systemically. Rather than SSM models attempting to map the real world – impossible because there are multiple candidates for what counts as the real world in complex situations – the models are devices for learning about the real world. In short, SSM becomes a process of inquiry, a learning system.
Peter’s work is published in four key books, including the seminal Systems Thinking, Systems Practice now in its 25th year of print, and in many articles in leading journals. In 1983 and 1985 three of these papers appeared in JORS and have influenced the development of ‘soft OR’ in a profound way, which now joins optimisation, mathematical programming and simulation as part of the OR topography. In an academic world in which ideas too often imitate fashion, and too many words are written, Peter Checkland’s constant pursuit of rigour and relevance in tackling complex management problems is hugely welcome, and a model for others who follow.
Professor David Brown
Department of Management Science, Lancaster University Management School