Sussman to Present "Understanding and Designing Complex Sociotechnical Systems" at MIT SDM Systems Thinking Webinar Series

Joseph M. Sussman By Teresa Lynne Hill
March 26, 2013

MIT Professor Joseph M. Sussman believes that everyone, no matter what their profession, needs to understand the complex sociotechnical systems inherent in today’s most significant problems—plus what goes into designing solutions to the challenges they present. At his April 8th webinar, "Understanding and Designing Complex Sociotechnical Systems", Sussman aims to reach out to all attendees—engineers, managers, policy makers, healthcare professionals, educators, students, and more—across industries and disciplines, throughout the world.

Sussman believes that while command of technical factors is necessary to understanding what he calls "critical contemporary issues" (CCIs), such as climate change, economic growth, mobility, large-scale manufacturing, health, and developing country megacities, more integrated knowledge is needed to address them. He will define sociotechnical systems, describe their components and characteristics, discuss how they intersect, and argue that design solutions must focus not only on the advanced technologies that characterize contemporary life, but also on their relationship to the organizations and institutions through which they function. After defining the various kinds of complexity inherent in sociotechnical systems, he will discuss examples drawn from various fields including transportation and health.

A member of the MIT faculty for 45 years, Sussman is the JR East Professor in the MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Engineering Systems Division. He is renowned for his work on transportation issues, including regional strategic transportation planning (RSTP), intelligent transportation systems (ITS), and high-speed rail in the U.S. and abroad. He is the author of the definitive textbook Introduction to Transportation Systems, and the recipient of many awards and honors in both disciplinary contributions and teaching. In his honor, ITS Massachusetts established the annual "Joseph M. Sussman Leadership Award" in 2002.

Sussman has worked extensively in computational applications to engineering problem solving, particularly in the transportation field, and contributed to the development of the Integrated Civil Engineering System (ICES) one of the most widely used computer systems in the engineering world. He developed the CLIOS (Complex, Large-Scale, Interconnected, Open, Sociotechnical Systems) Process designed to deal with many critical contemporary issues. He is currently developing a new methodology for regional strategic transportation planning (RSTP) embedded in the CLIOS Process, integrating ideas from strategic management, scenario-building, and technology architectures.

In an era in which all institutions — and especially research universities — must contribute to the solution of the global problems we face, Sussman’s goal is to educate "T-shaped" professionals who are able to integrate the vertical axis of in-depth technical expertise with a broad appreciation (horizontal axis) of institutional, managerial, and other socially-related fields of view.

Attendees at Sussman’s webinar will find new ways to view and understand complex sociotechnical systems and to think about designing solutions to address the challenges they present from one of the foremost thinkers at MIT. The MIT SDM Systems Thinking Webinar Series is honored to present Professor Sussman’s webinar.

Joseph M. Sussman, JR East Professor in the Engineering Systems Division and Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at MIT
Photo by Barry Hetherington