Making strategy with systems thinking in practice

This module enables you to take strategic action in complex interconnected situations where contrasting understandings, motivations and interests can often lead to conflict. By integrating tools from systems thinking traditions into your practice, you’ll develop the capability to make choices with ethical awareness and political sensitivity. You’ll nurture your capacity to strategically utilise an improved understanding of inter-relationships and an enhanced engagement with multiple perspectives. The module enriches your knowledge of systems thinking while you make practical progress on your professional work situations or those of general interest.

Vocational relevance

By studying the module, you will be enhancing your role as a systems thinking practitioner; enabling you to make practical improvements to complex issues, by using a range of systems thinking ideas, tools and techniques. You will extend your competence as a professional to have an impact in ethically sound and politically just ways.

Students who have successfully completed previous Open University modules in Systems Thinking in Practice have benefited personally, as well as being able to contribute to organisations encountering the increasing volatility, uncertainty and complexity of modern life.

This module is ideal for people who:

  • work across numerous organisational, disciplinary, and political boundaries (internal or external),
  • encounter a wide range of often incompatible perspectives on issues and tasks
  • recognise the value of engaging with multiple stakeholders both within and beyond one’s immediate sphere of influence and seek to secure collaborative action amongst them
  • experience uncertainty about the nature of the problem and thus what would constitute a solution (i.e. dealing with wicked problems or ‘messes’)

You may be engaged in

  • project or programme development and/or delivery
  • multi-level group, organisational, institutional or professional change and transformation
  • policy analysis, development or implementation
  • product and service design, innovation and creativity
  • leadership, team management and professional development


Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU postgraduate modules correspond to these frameworks.
OU Postgraduate
Study method
Distance learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

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.

Tools stream
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.

People stream
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.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part. If you want to participate, you’ll likely need a headset with a microphone.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

Course work includes

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment

Future availability

Making strategy with systems thinking in practice (TB871) starts once a year – in May.

This page describes the module that will start in May 2025.

We expect it to start for the last time in May 2027.


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

Entry requirements

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

Gaining some prior awareness, knowledge and experience of systems thinking will help you benefit more from the course material – for example, by engaging with open educational resources on OpenLearn. A complete list of systems thinking resources is available on our School of Engineering and Innovation pages.

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 speak to an adviser.


Start End England fee Register
01 May 2025 Oct 2025 £1660.00

Registration closes 10/04/25 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in May 2027.

Future availability

Making strategy with systems thinking in practice (TB871) starts once a year – in May.

This page describes the module that will start in May 2025.

We expect it to start for the last time in May 2027.

Additional costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

Ways to pay for this module

We know there’s a lot to think about when choosing to study, not least how much it’s going to cost and how you can pay.

That’s why we keep our fees as low as possible and offer a range of flexible payment and funding options, including a postgraduate loan, if you study this module as part of an eligible qualification. To find out more, see Fees and funding.

Study materials

What's included

The module is a blend of online activities and text-based material that are supported by two module books:

  • Systems Approaches to Managing Change: a practical guide (Reynolds, M. and Holwell, S., eds (2020 2nd edition))
  • Systems Thinkers (Ramage, M. and Shipp, K. (2020 2nd edition)).

You’ll receive a printed version of each book, plus ebook chapters.

To help you integrate the ideas into your practice, the module will draw on your own experiences and make use of:

  • practical exercises
  • video demonstrations
  • online discussions with fellow students
  • web-based multi-media teaching.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

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 (and where applicable: musical notation and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way). Other alternative formats of the module materials may be available in the future.

There is a high level of illustrations and a requirement to be able to draw and interpret diagrams, or their equivalent. If you have a disability you may need to seek advice on the choice of your end-of-module project in order to minimise access problems.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.

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