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The Science of Conceptual Systems: A Progress Report

Authors:
  • Foundation for the Advancement of Social Theory

Abstract

In this paper I provide a brief history of the emerging science of conceptual systems, explain some methodologies, their sources of data, and the understandings that they have generated. I also provide suggestions for extending the science-based research in a variety of directions. Essentially, I am opening a conversation that asks how this line of research might be extended to gain new insights – and eventually develop more useful and generally accepted methods for creating and evaluating theory. This effort will support our ability to generate theory that is more effective in practical application as well as accelerating the development of theory to support advances in other sciences. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10699-015-9425-z
... According to Wallis (2016), the SOCS is aimed at the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of conceptual systems whilst using rigorous methodologies. At least three streams of research on structure suggest that structured knowledge is useful for changing the world positively and reaching desired goals. ...
... According to Wallis (2016), IPA is primarily used to analyse conceptual systems from text on paper to determine their structure (Wallis 2016). The IPA methodology uses the policy document's text itself as data (Wallis 2016: 585). ...
... According to Wallis (2016), IPA is primarily used to analyse conceptual systems from text on paper to determine their structure (Wallis 2016). The IPA methodology uses the policy document's text itself as data (Wallis 2016: 585). ...
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In comparative policy analysis (CPA), a generally accepted historic problem that transcends time is that of identifying common variables. Coupled with this problem is the unanswered challenge of collaboration and interdisciplinary research. Additionally, there is the problem of the rare use of text-as-data in CPA and the fact it is rarely applied, despite the potential demonstrated in other subfields. CPA is multi-disciplinary in nature, and this article explores and proposes a common variable candidate that is found in almost (if not) all policies, using the science of conceptual systems (SOCS) as a pathway to investigate the structure found in policy as a lynchpin in CPA. Furthermore, the article proposes a new text-as-data approach that is less expensive, which could lead to a more accessible method for collaborative and interdisciplinary policy development. We find that the SOCS is uniquely positioned to serve in an alliance fashion in the larger qualitative comparative analysis that supports CPA. Because policies around the world are failing to reach their goals successfully, this article is expected to open a new path of inquiry in CPA, which could be used to support interdisciplinary research for knowledge of and knowledge in policy analysis.
... The science of conceptual systems (SOCS) is aimed at the pursuit of knowledge and understanding of conceptual systems using rigorous methodologies (Wallis, 2015). Briefly, in the 1950s, Kelly (1955), Cronbach and Meehl (1955) proposed that the concepts in our minds existed in some kind of interrelated structure, a kind of conceptual system. ...
... From above, the classical approaches that are particularly focused on empirical evidence and data, not so much on the structure and complexity of the policy document itself, have proven to be an important component of and limitations to policy success (Wallis, 2015). To address that shortcoming, "science two" methods were developed, which is to analyse policy from post-positivistic perspective; these advancements are discussed hereunder. ...
... The impact of the MH Policy on the decision taken by the department's senior leadership and the GMMP as a result of that will be analysed. The IPA methodology that determines systemicity and complexity, according to Wallis (2015) has the following six steps: ...
Article
This article examines the use of integrative propositional analysis (IPA) to assess the internal logic structures of policy, to complement policy analysis and evaluation for improved implementation. Integrative propositional analysis is a methodology that studies causal logics of conceptual systems and is used to evaluate a policy’s internal coherence. The study is aimed at evaluating the assessment of the internal logic of the Gauteng Mental Marathon Project (GMMP) implemented in the Gauteng province in South Africa, which served as a strategic plan from the National Mental Health Policy Framework and its implementation outcomes. The qualitative methodology was adopted using a triangulation of secondary data. Data for the study were collected from YouTube video testimonies, textual records of the Life Esidimeni Arbitration, the Health Ombudsman’s report and the arbitration judgement of Judge Motseneke, including other media commentaries. The findings suggest that the GMMP failed for three reasons. Firstly, the low structure of the policy reflects a poor understanding of the situation. Secondly, the low levels of structure also contribute to poor communication between officials, which, thirdly, is a supporting factor in the policy not being followed according to the plan. The IPA provides a useful pathway to improve policy implementation by examining the internal logic structure of a policy; this then allows for effectively improving the quality of policy decisions.
... 'The difference in stability of conceptual systems may be understood in terms of systemic structure which may be measured using Integrative Propositional Analysis (IPA) (Wallis, 2016a). Those with higher levels of structure are more open to data but less open to changes in conceptual components. ...
... On the other end of the structural scale are highly systemic theories, the best of which have all of their component concepts included in loops (Wallis, 2019) and all of their concepts are transformative-concatenated from other concepts (Wallis, 2016a) such as Ohm's law (I = E/ R). Using Ohm's law as a theory (represented diagrammatically in Figure 6), it may be seen that each concept, by itself, is perfectly predictable-but only if the other two are known. ...
... From a structural perspective, that is for developing theories of improved structure for improved usefulness in practical application, there now exists a range of techniques within the broader structural methodology. In that methodology, IPA may be used to evaluate the Complexity (i.e., 'simple complexity', complicatedness or the number of concepts within the theory) and Systemicity (measure of systemic structure) of theories (Wallis, 2016a) and to integrate/synthesize theories within and between disciplines (Wallis, 2014b(Wallis, , 2020c with objectivity and rigour. ...
Article
Terms like ‘levels’ and ‘nested’ are used to describe relationships between components of conceptual systems (theories, models etc.). However, they have not been fully explored. This paper investigates levels to better understand how theories are structured and so how we may develop more useful theories and models to better support more effective practice. We find a horizontal dimension (represented by causal connections between concepts at one ontological level) and a vertical dimension (represented by connections of emergence between concepts of differing ontological levels). This view of emergence offers a new way to structurally distinguish between conceptual components of a theory, thus supporting a new approach to building theories that better reflects our systemic world. A third, perspectival, approach may be applied to aid in the understanding of both dimensions. A typology is proposed as are conventions for diagramming theories and new criteria for improving the structure of theories.
... Therefore, questioning the effectiveness of the supply chain social responsibility literature becomes justifiable when considering the limitations of the approaches mentioned above it developed. This literature risks being based on simplistic assumptions and worldviews, making it incapable of offering adequate solutions that are both creative and holistic (Wallis, 2016). One might ask: Could it be the case that the literature addressed the messes of interest from only a single worldview, resolving some of its factors while overlooking others? ...
... This mapping study gathered evidence about the literature's use of principles from four systems thinking paradigms: functionalism, interpretivism, emancipation, and postmodernism. The aim was to uncover the literature's fundamental principles, assumptions, factors it considers significant, factors it neglects, and its fundamental strengths and shortcomings (Wallis, 2016). This mapping study involved 436 journal articles from 10 different databases. ...
... In this paper, each of the paradigms mentioned above was used as a lens or frame through which we can understand how the relevant literature addressed the messes of social responsibility, the supply chain, and its social context (Wallis, 2016). For instance, part of the literature might define the messes of interest as optimization problems, whereas some other parts might define them as power struggles. ...
Article
Given its material impact on bottom lines, social responsibility became essential to supply chain sustainability strategies. The authors of this paper reviewed the relevant literature and discovered its reliance on approaches like corporate social responsibility and its marginalization of systems thinking. This situation undermines the contributions of this literature, as it could be reductionist from a systemic perspective. Reductionism limits solutions to suboptimizations incapable of achieving multifinal and holistic outcomes. To assess this literature, the authors conducted a mapping study to analyse its distribution over four systemic paradigms: functionalism, interpretivism, emancipation, and postmodernism. The results showed that it clustered unevenly around these paradigms and lacked pluralism in perspective. This paper is significant as it revealed the innate inability of most of the supply chain social responsibility literature in offering creative and holistic solutions. Therefore, this literature can only resolve some social responsibility factors allowing the persistence and resurfacing of social responsibility messes.
... The third stream, the Integrative Propositional Analysis researches the structure of conceptual systems between and within multiple disciplines (Wallis 2016). It is premised on the idea that the higher the level of structure in a conceptual system the more useful it is in practical application. ...
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In Rosen’s Anticipatory systems theory, it is generally accepted that modelling relations correctly is important to improve anticipatory capacity. Recently it was accepted that social systems can also be seen as anticipatory systems in which their internal predictive models are generally meaning facilitated through information. However, it is not clear how these externalised models in social systems are measured, thus how “good or bad” they are before deciding on a course of action. Drawing on the Science of Conceptual Systems, these models are regarded as conceptual systems, which include, policies, theories, code of ethics, etc. that guide human decisions and action. In this study using the Integrative Propositional Analysis methodology, the structure of the models provides a useful measure for their anticipatory capacity. The more structured models encode the natural environment more accurately, enhancing their social utility. This research is expected to support inter-, multi-, and transdisciplinary scholars and practitioners.
... Wallis and Valentinov (2017) argue that interrelated or connected morels that are more structured/systemic, based on their causal connections, are more amenable to evaluation. Wallis (2015) suggests that a causal relationship provides a clearer and more so testable hypothesis, which is also important for actionable knowledge, and it also supports multiple forms of validation, in this case from a structural perspective. Furthermore, evaluation is possible from logic models as they, according to Rogers (2008), may be used to coordinate data reporting and other activities for those involved in the policy. ...
Article
A balanced approach using an integrated combination of strategies, namely, demand reduction, supply reduction and harm reduction, was suggested to be implemented in a balanced way to the policy vision of a South Africa ‘free of substance abuse’. Responding on the call for a comprehensive review of the National Drug Master Plan 2013–2017 to ensure consistency in policy approach, this article explores the integrative propositional analysis (IPA)‐based analysis to evaluate ‘how systemic’ and integrated were the policy strategies applied. The analysis draws insights from the internal consistency of the policy and provides complementary evidence on the systemic breakdown of the policy, which correlates with previous studies. The findings are indicative of the usefulness of the IPA‐based tools to more pragmatically develop policy that better reflects the systemic/integrated relationship of the three strategies based on their conceptual systemic integrity. This research has implications for interdisciplinary scholars and practitioners, of policy and theory.
... The Integrative Propositional Analysis method was developed to analyse the systemic structure of conceptual systems (theories, models, strategic plans, etc.) (Wallis 2016). Like other streams of research, Integrative Propositional Analysis shows that theories are more useful in practical application when they have more structure. ...
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The vast majority of municipalities in South Africa are experiencing a number of serious issues including the lack of service delivery, the limited provision, and maintenance of infrastructure and the most important issue of adequate financial management. The measurement of a region’s financial health may be seen as one component of the overall well-being of a specific municipal entity. Various scholars and academics attempted the measurement of financial health, such as the Brown ten-point test and other indexes. Notwithstanding, these indexes struggled to truly contemplate the various indexes of financial management. The primary aim of this study was to formulate a Financial Health Index (FHI) for local government that successfully quantify all the elements of financial health in a quantitative method. The specific index focused on four elements of financial health namely income and expenditure, liquidity ratios, solvency ratios and profitability ratios. The study area is the Sedibeng District Municipality, which includes the Midvaal, Emfuleni and Lesedi Local Municipalities. Data were utilised by means of the annual financial statements obtained from National Treasury. Overall, the results concluded that the Midvaal Local Municipality had the highest index score of 75% out of all three municipalities within the study area, indicating its good financial wellness. The utilisation of the Financial Health Index (FHI) could be useful in measuring the financial health of local municipalities in South Africa and assist policymakers in the identification of key financial issues for strategy development.
... SOCS includes multiple streams of research showing that our practical understanding of organizations is improved when our conceptual systems (e.g., theories, models, mental models, and morals) are more complex and more systemic (cf. Gentner & Toupin, 1986;Suedfeld, Tetlock, & Streufert, 1992;Wallis, 2016). Generally, having a model with more feedback loops provides a more useful representation (Wallis, 2019b). ...
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To a great extent, the effectiveness of a government may be traced to its constituting documents which serve as a guide or map for how it is supposed to function. From a systems perspective, we may expect a more systemic Constitution to inform the operation of a government that is more systemic and so more effective. This paper uses Integrative Propositional Analysis (IPA) to conduct a preliminary evaluation of the systemic structure of the US Constitution. The analysis finds that the US Constitution has a vanishingly low level of structure. This previously unrecognized lack of structure provides a new explanation for why the nation is increasingly misgoverned (and/or more difficult to govern) and why divisions are deepening between partisan groups, leading to argument and conflict. A path forward is suggested to develop a more systemic Constitution and more effective governance; one supporting a more just, prosperous, and sustainable society.
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