Date of Award

Winter 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering Management & Systems Engineering

Committee Director

Charles B. Keating

Committee Member

Resit Unal

Committee Member

Ariel Pinto

Committee Member

Vickie Parsons


The purpose of this research was to develop and deploy a new systems thinking instrument to assess individual capacity for systems thinking using an inductive research design. While technology has been increasing exponentially, the corresponding methods to harness those technological advances, and the problems they have spawned, is lagging. While there is a broad collection of systems based methods, techniques, technologies, and tools that can be used in dealing with complex problems, these are predicated on an individual's capacity for engaging a level of systems thinking commensurate with their effective, deployment. Research based methods to determine individual capacity for systems thinking were not found in the literature.

This research addressed the literature gap by developing an instrument to determine the individual capacity for systems thinking. To establish the characteristics for systems thinking, over 1000 systems based articles were analyzed and coded. Following grounded theory, as articulated by Strauss and Corbin (1990), a rigorous methodology was executed to inductively build the framework for systems thinking characteristics. Specialized software to support grounded theory, Nvivo (QRS International, version 10, 2014) was used to navigate and manage the large amount of qualitative and quantitative data for the research. A mixed method approach was used to collect and analyze qualitative and quantitative data in the initial instrument development. After deriving the set of systems thinking characteristics, a non-domain specific systems thinking (Sc) instrument was constructed to capture and measure the state of systems thinking at the individual level. The instrument consists of 39 binary questions with fourteen scored scales to measure seven main systems skills preferences.

Following a pilot study for application of the instrument, it was administered to 242 participants. To establish validity, multiple validity checks including face validity, internal validity, conclusion validity and content validity were performed. Reliability testing was also conducted, including Cronbach's Alpha Test and Parallel Test, with excellent results.

The results of the research show significant promise for the instrument to capture the capacity of individuals to engage in systems thinking. The document concludes with directions for future research and implications for practitioners related to the capacity of individuals for systems thinking.