Human Systems Intervention

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Human Systems Intervention (HSI) is the design and implementation of interventions in social settings where adults are confronted with the need to change their perspectives, attitudes, and actions. Depending on the philosophical and theoretical orientation of the intervener, the process can be approached as a planned, systematic, and collaborative activity.

The field of HSI is based on social science research that seeks to understand social change and to improve the effectiveness of intervening in a diverse range of social systems. Researchers and practitioners who work in this area view human collectives (small groups, teams, community groups, public and private sector organizations, etc.) as systems that behave in ways generally consistent with general, open, or complex adaptive systems theory[1][2] They see social change as a process of adaptation and learning that can be studied and supported at individual, group, and larger social system (organizational or network) levels. The field views human systems as dynamic and changing, and as existing within a wider social context with which it has a mutually influential relationship. Some practitioners design and deliver OD Interventions that rely on action research and action learning approaches.

Human Systems Intervention Models[edit]

HSI draws on insights from a variety of academic disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, social psychology, management science, human relations, and community development. Chin and Benne created one of the early frameworks for intervention strategies, arguing that an intervention can be informed by coercive, rational, or normative strategies.[3] More recently, Daniels and DeWine added a fourth strategy, the interpretive approach, based on principles of social constructivism.[4] Proponents often argue that interveners must be aware of the systemic interactions occurring within a human collective, and seek to help members of the collective to gain awareness of how their interactions are contributing to the maintenance of ineffective patterns of behavior.[5] Some argue that interventions should be seen as designs intended to augment a human system's capacity to problem solve and learn.[6][7][8] The training of human systems interveners can emphasize the need for self-managed learning that encourages self-awareness, interpersonal communication, data-gathering and diagnostic skills, and a recognition that dialogue is a foundational element in system change.[9]

The soft systems methodology (SSM) developed by Peter Checkland is another example of human systems intervention model, one that is designed specific to human activity, particularly in projects that require cultural intervention. It is multi-staged and is formulated with two core concepts, namely: 1) the hierarchy in systems and the emergent properties at various levels; and, 2) communication and control in human systems.[10] This model is based on the framework of ordering our thoughts "by making conscious the concept of wholeness inherent in the word 'system.'"[10]

The HSI models often rely on assessment tools. For instance, there is the case of the so-called Linking Human Systems Intervention model, which focuses on the evaluation of the strengths and themes of resilience instead of vulnerability in the struggle with hardship; the level of stress; the resources available, and the balance of stressors and resources, among others.[11]


HSI practitioners often do research and/or practice in the areas of group development, small group leadership, knowledge transfer, organizational development and change, diversity management, management coaching, human resources, and community intervention. Education and training in HSI can be obtained from a variety of sources, including a Masters program in Human Systems Intervention at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.[12] This integrates theory, values, and skills in the fields of organization development and human systems intervention for those who want to become experts as process consultants.[13] Other programs include:

A similar program exists in Switzerland called Human Systems Engineering.


  1. ^ Bateson, Gregory. (1979). Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity. Bantam, New York.
  2. ^ Senge, P.M. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday.
  3. ^ Chin, R. & Benne, K.D., (1976). General strategies for effecting changes in human systems. In Bennis, W. G., Benne, K. D., and Chin, R., Eds., The Planning of Change (Third Edition). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
  4. ^ Daniels, T. D., and DeWine, S. (1991). Communication process as target and tool for consultancy intervention: Rethinking a hackneyed theme. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 2, 303-322.
  5. ^ Block, P. (1999). Flawless consulting: A guide to getting your expertise used (Second Edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer.
  6. ^ Argyris, C. (1990). Overcoming organizational defenses: Facilitating organizational learning. Needham Heights, MA: Simon & Schuster.
  7. ^ Argyris, C. and Schon, D.A. (1978). Organizational Learning: A theory of action perspective. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.
  8. ^ Schön, D. A. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. New York: Basic Books, Inc.
  9. ^ Taylor, M., de Guerre, D., Gavin, J., and Kass, R. (2002). Graduate leadership education for dynamic human systems. Management Learning, 33, 349–369.
  10. ^ a b Banathy, Bela (2013). Designing Social Systems in a Changing World. New York: Springer Science & Business Media, LLC. p. 159. ISBN 9781475799835.
  11. ^ Becvar, Dorothy (2012). Handbook of Family Resilience. New York: Springer Science & Business Media. p. 467. ISBN 9781461437994.
  12. ^ "Human Systems Intervention (MA)". Retrieved 2018-07-12.
  13. ^ Wankel, Charles; Stachowicz-Stanusch, Agata (2012). Handbook of Research on Teaching Ethics in Business and Management Education. Hershey, PA: IGI Global. p. 214. ISBN 9781613505120.

Further reading[edit]

  • Kahn, W. A. (2004). Facilitating and undermining organizational change: A case study. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 40, 7-30.
  • Kleiner, A. (1996). The Age of Heretics: Heroes, Outlaws, and the Forerunners of Corporate Change. New York: Doubleday.
  • Reddy, W. B. (1994). Intervention Skills: Process Consultation for Small Groups and Teams. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Schwarz, Roger. (2002). The Skilled Facilitator: A Comprehensive Resource for Consultants, Facilitators, Managers, Trainers, and Coaches. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Smircich, L. (1983). Implications for management theory. In Eds. Putnam, L., and Pacanowsky, M.E. Communication and organizations: An interpretive approach. Beverley Hills CA: Sage Publications.

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