**DSRP** is a theory and method of thinking, developed by systems theorist and cognitive scientist Derek Cabrera. It is an acronym that stands for Distinctions, Systems, Relationships, and Perspectives. Cabrera posits that these four patterns underlie all cognition, that they are universal to the process of structuring information, and that people can improve their thinking skills by learning to use the four elements explicitly.[1]

Cabrera distinguishes between the DSRP theory and the DSRP method. The theory is the mathematical formalism and philosophical underpinnings, while the method is the set of tools and techniques people use in real life settings (notably in education).

DSRP was first described by Derek Cabrera in the book Remedial Genius.[2]: 13 In later writings, Cabrera describes D, S, R, and P as "patterns of thinking", and expands upon the implications of these thinking skills.[3][4] The DSRP theory is a mathematical formalism of systems thinking and cognition, built on the philosophical underpinnings of constructivism and evolutionary epistemology. The DSRP method is used in education and has influenced educational reform as well as in management of learning organizations.[5]

In 2008, a special section of the journal Evaluation and Program Planning was dedicated to examining the DSRP theory and method.[6]

The 2015 self-published book Systems Thinking Made Simple is an updated treatment of DSRP.[7][8]

DSRP consists of four interrelated structures (or patterns), and each structure has two opposing elements. The structures and their elements are:[9]

There are several rules governing DSRP:[10]

These rules illustrate that DSRP is a modular, fractal, nonlinear, complex systems process. The four DSRP structures do not occur in a stepwise, linear process but in a highly interdependent, complex way.

DSRP theory states that these four structures are inherent in every piece of knowledge and are universal to all human thinking, and that any piece of information can be viewed using each of these structures to gain a deeper understanding of that information. The order in which the operations take place does not matter, as all four occur simultaneously.[11]

Gerald Midgley pointed out that the structures of DSRP have analogues in other systems theories: distinctions are analogous to the boundaries of Werner Ulrich's boundary critique; Stafford Beer's viable system model explores nested systems (parts and wholes) in ways analogous to the "S" of DSRP; Jay Wright Forrester's system dynamics is an exploration of relationships; and soft systems methodology explores perspectives.[12]: 318

Any piece of information can be analyzed using each of these elements. For example, consider the U.S. Democratic Party. By giving the party a name, Democratic, a distinction is drawn between it and all other entities. In this instance, the Democratic Party is the identity and everything else (including the U.S. Republican Party) is the other. From the perspective of the Republican Party ("identity"), however, the Democratic Party is the other.