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Class 5:

Applying Theory


Advanced use of Information Technology in the Human Services
Professor Dick Schoech
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Overview of Class
Use of Theory
Systems Theory
Decision Making Theory
Other Relevant Theories

Definition & Use of Theory

Definition of Theory (from theory at a glance)

Systematic way of understanding a broad variety of

set of concepts, definitions, and propositions that explain or
predict events/situations by illustrating the relationships
between them

Uses of theory

Provide a conceptual framework & building blocks

Provide a common vocabulary
Challenge practice wisdom about why, what, and what if
Guide practice and its evaluation, e.g., variables to measure

Systems Theory
(should be a review of SOCW 3306/5306)

Application of systems theory

Systems Theory Definition

Systems are elements in interaction
Systems thinking vs. traditional thinking

Systems Types: Open Vs. Closed

An open system interacts with its environment.
A closed system receives no inputs from its

environment & entropy or decay sets in.

Systems have different levels of being open or
A variety of inputs is required to help a system to
remain open.

Need to create as open a system as possible to avoid


Systems Concepts: Hierarchy

Systems are nested in a hierarchy, that is,

systems consist of subsystems and systems

operate within environments (e.g., Russian
Nesting Dolls)

Need to specify what level of the hierarchy you

are focusing on as that level becomes the
system of interest.

Systems Concepts: Boundaries

Boundaries are the interface between a system and its

subsystems or a system and its environment.

Friction occurs at the boundaries of a system, e.g.,

Where rubber hits the road, when planes take off and
land, between an agency and its client.

By examining the boundaries of a system, we can

often isolate the friction and its causes.

May need boundary spanning roles to ease friction

Systems Concepts: Inputs, etc.

All systems have:




Criteria (feedback loop)


By identifying and mapping the cycles of

inputs, processes and outputs, we can define
a system better and learn a lot about how it

Systems Concepts: Goal Seeking

Systems tend to be goal seeking, that is, they move in

the direction of goal achievement.

Systems without well defined goals often go in many

different directions.
The primary goal of a system is survival. All goals will

be sacrificed in order for a system to survive.


Need to make sure IT applications have a widely shared

goal among the stakeholders

Systems Concepts: Cybernetics

For a system to work properly, it must have control

Control mechanisms

Accept information about system outputs

Evaluate information using goal related criteria

Use the feedback as additional inputs

Cybernetics is the study of feedback & control.


Examining the feedback and control mechanisms of a system

will allow you to see causes of system failure

Systems Concepts: Equilibrium

Systems tend toward a state of non-change called

homeostasis or equilibrium
Systems that are most amenable to change are

those that are failing (survival is threatened) and

successful and can take risks without threatening

Assume any changes you propose will be resisted

Assume that no system will change unless it

receives new inputs

Systems Concepts: Elaboration

When systems change, they tend to move in

the direction of differentiation and

Systems like change only if it allows them to

become larger entities like themselves

Systems Concepts: Synergy

Systems working well experience synergy

where the total system output are greater

than the sum of all inputs.
Synergy is also called nonsummitivity

For synergy to occur, subsystems must not

maximize, but sacrifice optimization and
cooperate for the good of the overall system,
e.g., Teamwork.

Systems Theory Application

Applications are information models of the application
Expect equilibrium and thus resistance
Build in continuous feedback and improvement
Most applications are changes to the old system, so

understanding the old system is one of the first steps

Since all systems are goal seeking, have well defined
Put in boundary spanning roles if systems span
Since systems like elaboration and differentiation, have
ways to limit application scope, e.g., balance between
user, manager, and IT needs.

Networks Vs Industrial Thinking

Innovation is more importation than optimization
To discover the unknown, must abandon the successful

Things more plentiful are more valuable (fax machine)
Wealth follows things that are free (shareware)
Abandon a product/occupation/industry when it is at its best
Seek sustainable disequilibrium to keep things in churn
It is more important to do the right job than to do the job right
Seeking opportunities is more important for leaders than
solving problems
Source: Kevin Kelly, Wired Magazine, Sep 97, p. 140+

Decision Making Theory

Key Concepts

Optimizing = find best option

Satisficing = find one of many acceptable options

Evidence based decision making (URLs to be updated)

Generic Steps =
Child abuse example
Text, Figures 7.5, 7.6, 7.7
Genetic basis of decision making

Other Relevant Theories

Theories for behavior change applications
Theory of planned behavior (norms+attitudes+self efficacy>intent to change=behavior change)
Stages of change theory (precontemplation, contemplation,
preparation, action, maintenance, and termination)

Social learning theory (stimulus-response)

Cognitive behavioral theory (thoughts influence emotions
which then influence behaviors)

Game theory (learn by doing, fun is best, motivate using challenge)

Resiliency theory (reduce risk factors, increase protective factors)
Ecological theory (involve family/work/community)
Diffusion of Innovation theory (examine people, innovation, situation)

Systems and decision making theory are basic

to understanding most applications

In an evidence informed practice model, theory

should explain and guide design application and

its success
Theory behind the design influences results
Behavior change theories are relevant since

resistance to adoption usually exists