Enquiring into skills development with SSM: a South African experience

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Since the first democratic elections in 1994, vocational education and training (VET) in South Africa has undergone major changes in order to equip the country to enhance its skills base, and to face post apartheid and globalization challenges. Part of the change has involved the adoption (by some players) of ‘Mode 2’ ideas of knowledge production as suggested by Gibbons and those studying the sociology of knowledge in modern societies. Mode 2 production is trans-disciplinary and uses socially accountable forms to generate scientific knowledge in contrast to ‘Mode 1’ which is mainly based on single scientific disciplines and knowledge generation by the scholarly community. The objective of this adoption in the South African context is to enable a variety of stakeholders to be involved both in enhancing research in South Africa and responding to the needs of different economic sectors. However, the dynamics of stakeholder interaction can be complex. In this paper, we report on a skills capacity building intervention involving the application of Systems Thinking approaches and methodologies in a South African setting. Our intervention was informed by the use of soft systems methodology (SSM) as a means of assisting different groups of researchers firstly to share their perceptions about research in the skills development context, and secondly to collaborate together in generating suggestions for improvements. A key objective was to improve the interactions between researchers and other stakeholders in the organization of skills development research projects. The use of SSM methodology enabled us to ‘qualify’ the nature of these interactions. It also gave us clues about particular issues (e.g. power) that need to be tackled to improve capacity building in this ar
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-97
JournalSystems Research and Behavioral Science
Issue number1
Early online date1 Apr 2008
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2008


  • skills development
  • knowledge production
  • soft systems methodology
  • intervention
  • power

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