What you will study
The module is structured as two parallel streams of study – a ‘Tools stream’ and a ‘People stream’. Together the streams will enhance your capacity to engage strategically with complex situations of significance to you. Your focus may be upon:
- situations at a local, regional or international level; and/ or
- situations concerning organisations, institutions or networks.
You might be working in any of a wide range of domains. Previous students of Systems Thinking in Practice have worked on situations associated with:
- education, training and professional development
- sustainability and environmental decision making
- finance and economic planning
- international and community development and social justice
- health and social care
- IT and cybersecurity
- engineering, manufacturing, logistics and procurement
- creative and performing arts
You will learn how to understand inter-relationships and engage with multiple perspectives. You will build your capacity to utilise these skills to work with others across silos within and between organisations to secure ethically sound and politically just improvements. You will gain practical skills with an understanding of their application in different contexts. You will also explore some cognitive processes and some issues of individual and social psychology in order to help you appreciate the challenges of applying systems thinking in practice.
The Tools stream teaches five systems approaches. In each case you examine the ideas behind the approach and examples of its use. You will explore how to apply the tools and ideas from each approach in situations of interest to you. You will reflect on how you can integrate the tools and ideas from each approach into your existing practice repertoire.
The five systems approaches covered in TB871 are derived from three traditions underpinning systems thinking:
- Tradition 1 (feedback): System Dynamics and the Viable Systems Model, historically dealing with inter-relationships and interdependencies
- Tradition 2 (perspectives): Soft Systems Methodology and Strategic Options Development and Analysis with Cognitive Mapping, historically dealing with multiple viewpoints
- Tradition 3 (boundaries): Critical Systems Heuristics, historically dealing with contentious issues of ethics and politics.
These five approaches cover the fundamental concepts and essential elements across the main traditions of systems thinking. You will be actively encouraged to draw freely upon ideas and tools from across the traditions of these approaches.
This stream complements the Tools stream by exploring a wider horizon of linguistic, cognitive and psychological dimensions towards making strategy. The series of five topics in this stream are designed to support you in making practical use of the systems thinking tools (and other conceptual tools) by building your understanding of how the thinking and psychology of specific individuals, social groups and the human species can impact on strategic interventions. You will examine how, as a practitioner, you can bring ideas and tools from the systems approaches to life within the ongoing flux of events, people, and ideas.
Two books, written for this module, provide the core subject matter:
- (set book) Systems Approaches to Managing Change: a practical guide (Reynolds, M. and Holwell, S., eds (2020 2nd edition))
- (reference book) Systems Thinkers (Ramage, M. and Shipp, K. (2020 2nd edition)).
The module aims to help you engage with and improve complex situations in all areas of work and civic and social life subject to change and uncertainty. In addition to appreciating the traditions of systems approaches you will acquire practical skills in the techniques of these approaches that will enable you to think and act differently. You will develop your systems thinking practice by integrating an understanding of cognitive processes and individual and social psychology into your work with others.