The TOP System for Environmental Management Instruction

By Aik, Chong-Tek; Ulinwa, I. Charles et al. | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview
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The TOP System for Environmental Management Instruction

Aik, Chong-Tek, Ulinwa, I. Charles, Tway, Duane C., Academic Exchange Quarterly


The case study method can be very useful in environmental management instruction, as well as in other teaching contexts. This is because the method is holistic and provides an in-depth view of situations and events, which is the kind of understanding that environmental managers and many other disciplines require. It is also important for environmental managers to learn that there are different perspectives from which to regard the complex problems and issues with which they must deal. The technical, organizational, and personal (TOP) inquiry method provides a set of such multiple perspectives. It is also a valuable tool that environmental managers can use in applying the case study method.


Because of the increasing importance of environmental management, it is crucial for industrial operations to develop effective ways to train environmental managers. Today, however, environmental management instruction often lacks the resources and methods for understanding the complexities and dimensions of environmental decision making situations. In formal instruction, current methods for teaching environmental management by using management science approaches are often very unitary. This leads to incomplete theory and explanations, which hinders sound decision making.

To be effective, environmental management training must take into account the complexity of the real-life decision situations faced by managers. Making the right decision in a particular situation may require the manager to consider numerous variables. Therefore, it is necessary for environmental management training to make sure its instructional methods are firmly based on the real demands of environmental management. One effective way to do this is to use case studies to instruct environmental managers in the kinds of situations they may face (Stem, 2000). Case studies give managers an in-depth look at real situations and provide insight into the ways that multiple variables relate to each other. In addition, they can illustrate principles of effective decision making in environmental management contexts. Another way to make environmental management instruction more relevant is through teaching managers to view problems and situations from multiple perspectives. Effective environmental management requires expertise not only in the technical aspects of ecological management, waste management, and other environmental issues; it also requires environmental managers to be knowledgeable about important non-technical factors related to their decisions.

One way to teach environmental managers a multi-perspectival approach is through introducing the technical, organization, and personal (TOP) inquiry system, which can be applied fruitfully in many contexts (Allison, 1971; Linstone, 1984). By understanding these three important dimensions as they relate to environmental management issues, managers can better prepare for the real life decisions that will face them. In conjunction with teaching the TOP system, environmental management instruction should include theories and concepts not only from science and technology but also from the social sciences and humanities, and it should use appropriate teaching methods that can capture all of the relevant domains of environmental study.

These methodologies--case study and the TOP inquiry system--are mutually reinforcing, and both can be profitably taught in environmental management programs. Moreover, elements of TOP can be used to help insure the rigorous application of the case study method in evaluating and doing case studies. Below, the case study method and its use for environmental management training will first be discussed. Then the TOP system and its use in environmental management instruction will he outlined. Finally, a way in which the TOP inquiry system can be usefully combined with case study will be described.

The Case Study Method

The case study method consists of an in-depth examination of one or a few events or cases over time (Yin, 1994).

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