Peter Checkland retires from operational research

Noted British management scientist, developer of soft systems methodology (SSM) and emeritus professor of systems at Lancaster University Peter Checkland announced his retirement from a life in academia during his plenary presentation at The OR Society’s Diamond Anniversary Conference, OR60, to an audience of several hundred.

Peter’s final plenary address as an operational research (OR) academic took place in the Lica (Lancaster Institute of Contemporary Arts) building, at Lancaster University on 12 September this year. The title of his plenary was Reflections on Forty Years in the Management Field: A Parthian Shot (Friendly).

A Parthian shot, or more commonly referred to as a ‘parting shot’ these days is a barbed insult delivered as the speaker departs. It derives from the practice perfected by the Parthians of turning in the saddle, while galloping at full speed, and firing arrows at their pursuers.

40 years of engagement with ‘social’ and ‘management’ science, including OR ‘hard’ and ‘soft’

Peter Checkland

Peter talked about the origins of the term ‘operational research’. In the mid-1930s research into the use of radar (or RDF as it was then called) was carried out at the Bawdsey Research Station under AP Rowe. The idea of using radio waves to detect aircraft was not new and both the Germans and the allies knew of its potential. The technical feasibility of detecting aircraft was established but its operational achievements still fell far short of requirements. Rowe therefore proposed that a crash programme of research into the operational (rather than technical) aspects of the system should begin immediately. The term ‘operational research’ (research into [military] operations) was coined as a suitable description of this new branch of applied science.

Peter then talked about the use of OR in industry, discussing one of the first books on the subject, Operational Research for Managers, by Pat Rivett and Russ Ackoff (1963) which recognised the desirability of multi-disciplinary teams and that there were certain types of problem that often occurred. These they listed as: inventory, allocation, queueing, sequencing, routing, competition and search.

Peter Checkland Biography

Peter graduated with a first class honours degree in chemistry from St John’s College Oxford and worked in the field of chemistry for 15 years as a manager in ICI’s chemical business. At the end of the 1960s, he joined the pioneering department of Systems Engineering at Lancaster University, where he became Professor of Systems.

At Lancaster he led a team on a programme of action research which lead to Soft Systems Methodology. The SSM approach is now used and taught worldwide. Since the 1990s he has been Professor Emeritus of Systems in Lancaster University Management School.

Peter Checkland has also worked on the editorial board of journals such as European Journal of Information Systems; the International Journal of Information Management; the International Journal of General Systems; the Systems Practice and the Systems Research Journal. More information on the life and work of Peter Checkland can be found at

Selfie with Peter Checkland

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