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Revisiting the whole systems approach: designing supply chains in a turbulent world

Mohamed M. Naim (Logistics Systems Dynamics Group, Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK)
Jonathan Gosling (Logistics Systems Dynamics Group, Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK)

The International Journal of Logistics Management

ISSN: 0957-4093

Article publication date: 19 July 2022

Issue publication date: 18 January 2023




The systems approach is an exemplar of design science research (DSR), whereby specific designs yield generic knowledge. DSR is increasingly being adopted in logistics and operations management research, but many point to neglect of the human aspects of solutions developed. The authors argue that it is possible to look back at the history of the systems movement to seek precedent for ‘dealing’ with the social components, providing a methodologically pluralistic ‘research design’ framework. Thereby, systems approaches are foundational to providing a design-based ‘science’ to progressing the logistics and supply chain management field, dealing with contemporary topics such as resilience.


The authors undertake a discursive assessment of relevant streams of engineering, social science and systems research, with a conceptual development of how the latter influences supply chain design approaches.


Building on a phenomenological framework, the authors create a generic design science research design (DSRD) that enables researchers to choose and integrate the right tools and methods to address simple, complicated and complex problems, dealing with technological, process and social problems.

Research limitations/implications

The DSRD provides a framework by which to exploit a range of methodological stances to problem solving, including quantitative modelling perspectives and ‘soft’ systems social science approaches. Four substantive gaps are identified for future research – establishing the root cause domain of the problem, how to deal with the hierarchy of systems within systems, establishing appropriate criteria for the solution design and how best to deal with chaotic and disordered systems.


The authors argue that the systems approaches offer methodological pluralism by which a generic DSRD may be applied to enhance supply chain design. The authors show the relevance of the DSRD to supply chain design problems including in reducing supply chain dynamics and enhance resilience. In doing so, the study points towards an integrated perspective and future research agenda for designing resilient supply chains.



The authors thank the Editor in Chief and the anonymous reviewers for their comprehensive engagement with the paper, giving detailed and constructive critiques during various rounds of review. Their challenging has allowed them to reflect on their own thinking and encouraged them to extend the literature hence greatly enhancing the depth and reach of their paper. The authors hope that the paper provides a platform for not only their own future research but also that of others. Also, they do not claim the paper to be definitive but rather hope to encourage debate and collaboration within our logistics and supply chain community as the world we live in feels to be ever more fractured and close to tipping into ‘chaos’.


Naim, M.M. and Gosling, J. (2023), "Revisiting the whole systems approach: designing supply chains in a turbulent world", The International Journal of Logistics Management, Vol. 34 No. 1, pp. 5-33.



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