Special Issue "Systems Thinking"

A special issue of Systems (ISSN 2079-8954).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 March 2018

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Cliff Whitcomb

Fellow, International Council on Systems Engineering;
Systems Engineering Department, Naval Postgraduate School, 1 University Circle, Monterey, CA 93943, USA
Website | E-Mail
Interests: systems engineering; systems thinking; multidisciplinary design; engineering competency development
Co-Guest Editor
Dr. Heidi Davidz

Systems Engineering; Aerojet Rocketdyne, P.O. Box 109680, M/S 704-31, West Palm Beach, FL 33410-9680, USA
Website | E-Mail
Interests: systems engineering; systems thinking; systems engineering capability development; digital thread; systems pathology
Co-Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Stefan Groesser

Professor of Strategy and Organization; School of Engineering, Bern University of Applied Sciences, Quellgasse 21 CH-2501 Biel; Dean of Studies BSc, Industrial Engineering and Management Science; Leader of the Research Group, Business Ecosystem Management (BEM); Deputy-Leader of the BFH-Centre for Energy Storage Research
Website | E-Mail
Interests: Business Models, Strategic Management, Simulation Methodology, Decision Making, Mental Models

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Thinking is the “systematic transformation of mental representations of knowledge to characterize actual or possible states of the world, often in service of goals” (Holyoak and Morrison, 2012). Thinking relates to reasoning, judgment, decision making, and problem solving. Systems thinking can be broadly considered the activity of thinking applied in a systems context, forming a basis for fundamental approaches to several systems disciplines, including systems engineering, systems science, and system dynamics. Although these are somewhat distinct fields, they are bound by common approaches in regards to systems. Whereas systems engineering seeks to apply a multidisciplinary, holistic approach to the development of systems, systems science seeks to understand the basics related to systems of all kinds, from natural to man-made, and system dynamics seeks to understand systems from the basis of the dynamics involved.

As man-made systems become more ubiquitous and complex, and the study of natural systems present new challenges to understanding emergent, dynamic behaviors, the process of sense-making based on systems thinking becomes critical.

This Special Issue will focus on the nature of systems thinking as it applies to systems engineering, systems science, system dynamics, and related fields. Topics of interest related to systems thinking include:

  • Systems engineering
  • Systems science
  • System dynamics
  • Management
  • Social sciences
  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • Strategic approaches to problem solving
  • Complex systems and emergence
  • Systems thinking in education
  • Reasoning, judgment, decision-making, and problem solving based on systems thinking

Contributors are invited to present case studies, approaches, models and theoretical frameworks to deal with topics related to systems thinking for both academic, disciplinary, commercial, and industrial applications.


Holyoak, K.J.; Morrison, R.G. Thinking and reasoning: A reader’s guide. In Oxford Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning; Holyoak, K.J., Morrison, R.G., Eds.; Oxford University Press: New York, NY, USA, 2012.

Prof. Dr. Cliff Whitcomb
Dr. Heidi Davidz

Prof. Dr. Stefan Groesser

Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Systems is an international peer-reviewed open access quarterly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 350 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • Systems thinking
  • Systems engineering
  • Systems science
  • System dynamics
  • Design thinking for systems

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission, see below for planned papers.

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: Case Study Research: A Complexity View of Relocation

Author: Jorja Wright

School of Business and Leadership, University of Charleston – West Virginia


The establishment of Northeastern Tech* in Anytown* is as an example of a new agent adjusting and interacting within an unfamiliar environment, Anytown, USA. Anytown is undergoing an economic redevelopment program in order to revitalize the city. This revitalization process is a wicked problem according to complexity theory. The complexity of this world warrants a new ontology or perspective in order to combat the events in the social science world. Anytown’s city leaders proposed and passed an economic redevelopment program because the city is experiencing a negative sequence of events.   A few of the negative events include: low performing primary educational system, environment not conducive for entreprenurial efforts, talent drain, poverty, and diversity. In other words, the contstant interaction amongst agents (city residents) and the environment can be considered complex responsive processes (CRP).

The concepts explored include small adaptations that led to Anytown’s Economic Development strategy and Northeastern Tech’s role in the plan. In complexity, co-evolution of elements exists due to complex adaptive systems (CAS). Complexity thinking explains a complex phenomenon, which in this case is the acclimation of a new organization, Northeastern Tech into the system of Anytown, USA. Northeastern Tech’s launch to this city is a major system’s event; the process of acclimating this new agent (Northeastern Tech) to the Anytown city is a CRP, and identifying and collaborating with the existing agents (i.e. other universities, businesses, and government organizations) is a social network formation. This case explains the CRP involved in relocation; specifically the introduction of a new organization, Northeastern Tech, to a changing environment. This analysis uses the case study approach, which allows a detailed understanding of nonlinear dynamics, patterns and events, and complex responsive processes as it relates to a new organization adjusting to an unfamiliar environment.

This paper:

(a) defines complex responsive processes (CRP), identity creation, and knowledge emergence; (b) presents knowledge emergence as it relates to complexity;

(c) analyzes the concepts of unplanned events, processes, and social networks as it pertains to the relocation process and CRP;

(d) concludes with possible implications of understanding CRP, specifically within an organizational context and how that context affects Northeastern-Tech Anytown’s sustainability.

Keywords: Complexity, knowledge emergence, complex responsive processes, systems thinking


*Denotes changed name.


Title: Natural Systems Thinking and the Human Family

Author: Dan Papero, Robert J. Noone, Laura Havstad and Rev. Randy Frost


Broadly speaking, natural systems thinking could be defined as a way of thinking that endeavors to conceptualize the functioning of living organisms as dependent on predictable forces at work within and around them.  Systems concepts help to bring the function of these variables and life forces into better view. Psychiatrist Murray Bowen over the course of several years and a major research project at the NIMH developed a theory of the family as a system. He considered his theory a natural systems theory, "... designed to fit precisely with the principles of evolution and the human as an evolutionary being". (Bowen, p. 360)[1] The human family system, a network of relationships, linking each family member to every other, responds dynamically to its environment and the conditions to which all members must adapt. Each family member’s behavior influences that of every other to some degree.

The collective behavior of the family unit cannot be understood by looking at the characteristics of the individuals who comprise it. An emerging systems paradigm in biology and evolutionary thinking focuses on collective behavior and appears consistent in principle with Bowen’s thinking about the family. The human family presents a highly integrated, interactive system of adaptation. Its roots extend along the path of hominid evolution and share common elements with other evolved collectivities. The complex development of the human brain appears to have co-evolved with the interactional processes of the family.


The Bowen theory provides the potential for an integrative theory of human behavior reaching beyond the focus on the physiology and psychology of the individual to the operation and influence of the family system. Such an integrative theory can offer broader explanatory and investigative pathways for understanding physical, emotional and social problems as they emerge in human activity.


[1] Bowen, M. (1978) Family Therapy in Clinical Practice. New York and London: Jason Aaronson.

Keywords: family, family system, natural systems thinking, Murray Bowen, integrative theory


Back to Top