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Managing systemic change: inquiry, action and interaction

This module views change as inescapable in managing everyday situations ranging from personal to workplace to society in general. Rather than passively accepting change this module will equip you with skills to shape the nature and direction of change. It will develop your abilities to manage change with others so as to avoid systemic failures and improve joined-up actions amongst stakeholders along supply chains, in projects or, even, social activism. It is about learning to use systems thinking and practice to help you engage with change and act accordingly to recognise the interconnected nature of organisations and environments.


Start End Fee Register
01 Nov 2015 Apr 2016 Not yet available

Registration closes 30/09/15 (places subject to availability)

Click to register
This module is expected to start for the last time in November 2017.

What you will study

This module is based on the assumption that everyone is engaged in some form of practice – whether as a professional, a manager, a parent or a student. Through the module you will appreciate how your own understanding and practice can influence change. The module begins by exploring the nature of change and systems practice and why there is a need to manage systemic change. It goes on to address a simple but profound question: what is it that you do when you do what you do? It then considers the implications of practice in a networked or interconnected world, where groups, teams, organisations and even nations will have to be smarter in their ways of working together.

Some claim that we now live in a world of short-term projects with pre-specified goals that can no longer deal with the complexity and uncertainty we have to manage. You will be introduced to systemic inquiry, which is an alternative way to organise programmes and projects, so as to be better able to manage the complexity and uncertainty associated with living in a world where complex and uncertain issues like adapting to climate-change and sustainability are increasingly important.

The world of the future will require more skills and understanding of flexible and adaptive managing – we will have to place more emphasis on learning as we go and making sure the learning changes our practice and organisations. A promising way to do this is with systemic inquiry and systemic action research. The module will make it possible for you to start to organise and manage this type of practice – a form of research (with a small ‘r’) that is accessible to all people.

More effective collaborative working will be a demand placed on more and more people. This will make new demands on meetings, teams, projects, committees, as well as interagency and cross-professional and cross-cultural groups. This module will consider the theory and practice of ‘social learning systems and communities of practice’ in order to develop your understanding of how different groups might work together better using systems thinking in practice. You will be able to critically evaluate your own processes, structures and experiences in your working groups, communities of practice and networks and consider possible alternatives for the future.

Through developing an understanding of social learning systems and communities of practice you will aim to develop your own capacities for working with others in a practical way to bring about systemic change. Social learning and communities of practice are also at the forefront in managing. This material will be particularly useful to those who have encountered organisational structures that unhelpfully separate interconnected issues of change ( managing them in ‘silos’), or those who need to develop skills to work with multiple organisations.

In summary, the module aims to help you to engage with and improve complex situations that involve change in all areas of work; evaluate your own social structures and experiences of working groups, communities of practice and networks; and consider possible future alternatives.

Vocational relevance

By studying the module you will be able to take stock of your past experience, examine issues in your own working life, make sense of them using a range of innovative ideas, tools and techniques, and extend your competence as a professional. In our contemporary world, where all organisations face increasing uncertainty and complexity, the experience of our students is that successfully completing our systems modules not only benefits them personally but is of great benefit to the organisation in which they are employed.

The module will meet the needs of anyone engaged with taking action in situations that involve complex inter-connections, multiple stakeholder interests and have problematic boundaries. It will meet these needs by providing practical and conceptual foundations for managing in the broadest sense.

This module is ideal for those people who are in situations such as:

  • inspiring innovation and/or creativity
  • providing leadership
  • organisations where you have to work with others to get something done – particularly where you want to feel good about working together
  • positions where you have to work across boundaries (internal or external)
  • tasks involving professionals with different perspectives on issues e.g. groups of policy-makers and other practitioners; public sector agencies;  groups including business,  government and NGOs; health services; project teams, etc.
  • having to engage others in what you are doing (i.e. building stakeholding) either within or external to your organisation or project
  • those where you and others are uncertain about the nature of the problem and thus what would constitute a solution (i.e. dealing with wicked problems)
  • developing new policies that will affect a wide range of people
  • managing change of some form or another
  • project or programme development and/or delivery
  • participating in or managing multi, inter or transdisciplinary research
  • interdepartmental working parties, groups, committees
  • managing a staff team
  • policy development or implementation
  • working more effectively with your colleagues and communities in developing your practice.

From the module you will begin to appreciate the limitations of many current ways of thinking and learn how they can exacerbate complexity, creating unintended consequences that can lead to systemic failure. When you finish you should be able to think and act differently, not only as an individual but in your working with others. Your ability to work with others will be developed by understanding what social learning and communities of practice are, and how you can participate in, and contribute to, both.


There are no entry requirements, but we do assume that you have already done some study up to HNC, HND or bachelors degree level in a relevant subject area, or have equivalent experience from your employment.

Your spoken and written English must be of an adequate standard for postgraduate study. If English is not your first language, we recommend that you will need a minimum overall score of 6 and minimum score of 5.5 in each of the four components: reading, writing, speaking and listening under the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Please see the IELTS website for details.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.


TU812 is a compulsory module in our:

TU812 is an optional module in our:

This module can also count towards F13 and F37, which are no longer available to new students.

Some postgraduate qualifications allow study to be chosen from other subject areas. These qualifications allow most postgraduate modules to count towards them. We advise you to refer to the relevant qualification descriptions for information on the circumstances in which this module can count towards these qualifications because from time to time the structure and requirements may change.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

If you have a disability

Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader. Alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future. 

This module utilises web-based multimedia teaching and materials which are delivered online. If you use specialist hardware or software you are advised to seek advice from our Student Registration & Enquiry Service about how accessible this will be to assistive technology before you register.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.

Study materials

What's included

This module is a blend of online activities and text-based material, that are supported by a study guide and module books. Practical exercises, video demonstrations, online discussions and web-based multi-media teaching are used to ensure that the ideas become grounded in your own experience.

You will need

You will need a broadband connection to the internet to download video material. A dial-up connection will not be suitable.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as it includes online activities, which you can access using a web browser.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer since 2008 you should have no problems completing the online activities.
  • If you’ve got a netbook, tablet or other mobile device check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you use an Apple Mac you will need OS X 10.7 or later.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information (including details of the support we provide).

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. You will be able to contact your tutor by phone, email and post. There is a student online forum. 

Contact the Postgraduate Technology & Computing (PTC) Office (telephone +44 (0)115 971 5566, or email) if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

There is no examination but in its place an end-of-module assessment that tests your achievements in relation to the learning outcomes of the module and is also designed to leave you with a ‘product’ that is potentially useful in your own context where a need for managing systemic change exists.  

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in November 2014. We expect it to be available once a year.

How to register

To register a place on this course return to the top of the page and use the Click to register button.

Distance learning

The Open University is the world's leading provider of flexible, high quality distance learning. Unlike other universities we are not campus based. You will study in a flexible way that works for you whether you're at home, at work or on the move. As an OU student you'll be supported throughout your studies - your tutor or study adviser will guide and advise you, offer detailed feedback on your assignments, and help with any study issues. Tuition might be in face-to-face groups, via online tutorials, or by phone.

For more information about distance learning at the OU read Study explained.

Course facts
About this course:
Course code TU812
Credits 30
OU Level Postgraduate
SCQF level 11
FHEQ level 7
Course work includes:
3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Student Reviews

“I experienced the module as a fascinating journey that starts off by laying the basics of systemic thinking explaining where...”
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“Fascinating, very hard work, especially at the beginning if you have no systems background - I didn't. This is systems...”
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