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Interpretive structural modelling:
a methodology for structuring complex issues

by F. A. Janes, BTech. MSc, CEngg MlEE, MInstMC - Senior Lecturer, Dept of systems Science, City University, London

Source - Trans Inst MC Vol 10 No 3 August 1988 (10 Pages 13 Figures)


This paper discusses the nature of Interpretive Structural Modelling (ISM) as methodology for dealing with complex issues. Aspects of managing complexity relating particularly to the use of ISM with a group of participants are explored. These include the interrelations between the issue, group and methodology, and, between content, context, process and product. Languages for modelling structure are briefly examined, and ISM is presented as a computer-assisted modelling approach incorporating words, graphics and mathematics. The steps of using ISM in practice are considered in the context of group work. Each step is elaborated upon and important features discussed. The use of Nominal Group Technique as an idea-generation method which may be used in conjunction with ISM is outlined. An example of an application is given concerning the structuring of a set of objectives to produce an Intent Structure.

Keywords: Complexity, structure, modelling, digraph. process, group work.

Extracts from paper

1. Introduction

… ISM is particularly useful for working with participants in a group in which structured debate can help the participants to reach a consensus. …

2. Aspects of managing complexity

3. Languages for modelling structure

4. The Interpretive Structurall Modelling process

5. Application of ISM

6. Conclusions

ISM combines three modelling languages: words. digraphs and discrete mathematics, to offer a methodology for structuring complex issues. It readily incorporates elements measured on ordinal scales of measurement and thus provides a modelling approach which permits qualitative factors to be retained as an integral part of the model. In this it differs significantly from many traditional modelling approaches which can only cope with quantifiable variables.

In this paper ISM has been described in the context of working with a group of participants having access to ISM software on a computer. The steps of ISM have been described as a process taking place within a process context. The inputs to the process are the different knowledge and perceptions of the issue owned by the participants. This content knowledge will itself exist within an issue context. The process yields outputs in the form of products and learning by the participants. The role of a facilitator when using such a methodology is important in guiding the group through the steps of the process and keeping them focused on the issue so as to ensure the most productive use of their time.

A number of benefits accrue from the use of ISM. These include focused debate, clarification of thinking. group learning and team building. In addition there is an emphasis on clarifying terms and clear specfication of relations so that the user created visual model are easily understood.

ISM may be used on its own when the elements of the issue are already known. Where this is not the case, Nominal Group Technique may be introduced as one step in the ISM process to assist the participants in generating and clarifying the elements to be structured. When used together. NGT and ISM provide a powerful methodology for structuring complex issues. The application examined deals with an Intent Structure for a post-graduate course. However, the methodology is applicable in many situations in which a participant group wishes to gain a better understanding of a complex issue.

Trans Inst MC Vol 10 No 3 August 1988