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 interning 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.

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]

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 similar program exists in Switzerland: 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.

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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