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Class 5:

Applying Theory

UTA SSW, SOCW 6355


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


events/situations
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)

Definition
Types
Concepts
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
closed.
A variety of inputs is required to help a system to
remain open.
Implications

Need to create as open a system as possible to avoid


entropy.

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)
Implications

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.
Implications

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:

Inputs

processes

output

Criteria (feedback loop)

Implications

By identifying and mapping the cycles of


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

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.


Implications

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

mechanisms.
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.


Implications

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
survival
Implications

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


elaboration
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
Implications

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
goals
Put in boundary spanning roles if systems span
boundaries
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

known
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 = http://www2.uta.edu/ssw/trainasfa/ebpconcept.htm
Child abuse example http://www2.uta.edu/ssw/trainasfa/ebptdprs.htm
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)

Conclusion
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