Systems Theory

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  • Created by: charlotte
  • Created on: 29-04-14 15:28

Definition - Cutlip


'A system is a set of interacting units which endures through time within an established boundary by responding and adjusting to change pressures from the environment to achieve and maintain goal states'

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Systems Theory

  • Forms part of organisational theory and concerns:
    • The environment in which our organisation is based
    • An organisation's subsystems, and the relationships between these subsystems
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Open and Closed Systems

  • Traditionally organisations were considered as closed systems
  • Open social systems - permeable boundaries and interaction with the environment

Diane Witmer (2006)

'Open systems utilize resources from the environment as inputs, transform those resources during throughput, and produce an output of some sort'

Concepts of Open System Theory - Windahl (2009)

  • Input - Need energy, people, materials and information to maintain themselves
  • Output - Secures or threatens the system's existence
  • Transformation/Throughput - Changes inputs into outputs
  • Balance - Constantly transform inputs into outputs
  • Interdependence - Change in one part leads to changes elsewhere
  • Boundaries - Seperated from and linked to its environment through a boundary
  • Feedback - Influenced by and in turn influence the environment
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Closed PR

  • Not concerned with monitoring or evaluating
  • Communicates outwards only
  • Communicates status quo
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Open PR

  • Organises in pub from environment
  • Evaluates communications
  • Proactive
  • Parts of adaptive subsystem
  • Clear links to management
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Concept of Systems Management

(See mind map for diagram)

  • Boundaries
    • Seperated from and linked to its environment through a boundary
    • Can be defined as communication flows
  • Equifinality
    • Same final state can be arrived at from different intial conditions and by different paths
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Systems Theory and Communication

  • You cannot not communicate
  • Communications occurs at two levels
    • Content - what is said
    • Relationship - How it is interpreted
  • Communication is like chicken and egg dilemma
    • Flowing and dynamic nature of communications
    • Difficult to see a beginning to an end
  • Communication transsactions are between both
    • Equals
    • Non-equals
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Systems Theory and Two-Way Communication

Grunig and Hunt (1984)

'Systems theory seems especially useful for managing either a two-way asymmetric or two-way symmetric public relations department, both of which are designed to help the organisation deal with its environment'

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Application of Open Systems Theory to Communicatio

  • Inputs
    • Information
      • Environmental scanning 'to bring information into the organisation'
      • Research among publics
  • Outputs
    • External communications 'sends information into organisations environment'
  • Feedback
    • Response to communications
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Organisational Subsystems

  • D. Katz and R.L.Kahn (1978) identified 5 organisational subsystems:
    • Production
    • Maintenance
    • Disposal
    • Adaptive
    • Management

(See mind map for diagram)

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PR Supports Subsystems

  • Sometimes works with disposal system to promote a service or product
  • Supports a maintenance subsystem through employee communication
  • Supports the adaptive subsystem by bringing in new ideas from the enviroment
  • It is also part of management subsystem by helping to 
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System Theory and PR

  • PR people function at the edge of the organisation - a boundary role
  • 'They have one foot in the organisation and one outside it'
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Limitation - Witmer (2006)

  • Poor differentiation of time...from structure
  • Artificial delineation between systems and their environment
  • There is an underemphasis of the communications activities by which publics are formed
  • Inadequate conceptulisation of cultures in organisations
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Robert L. Heath

'Systems useful for understanding and improving the processes of public relations, but it fails to help practitioners and scholars understand what messages are strategically and ethically relevant to each of the many adjustments required for information to flow and relations to be in balance'

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