Managing change with systems thinking in practice

This module is about effecting systemic and systematic change in uncertain and complex situations, change that can transform situations for the better. It 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 to avoid systemic failures and improve joined-up actions amongst stakeholders along supply chains, in projects, or even in social activism. It’s about learning to use systems thinking in practice to help you engage with and make change, and act accordingly in recognising the interconnected nature of organisations and environments.

Vocational relevance

By studying this module, you’ll 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’re 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 – especially system-change leadership
  • having to work with others to get something done – particularly where you want to feel good about working together
  • having to work across boundaries (internal or external)
  • undertaking tasks that involve professionals with different perspectives on issues (e.g. groups of policymakers and other practitioners; public sector agencies; groups including business, government and NGOs; health services; scientists and non-scientists; project teams, etc.)
  • having to engage others in what you are doing (i.e. building stake holding) 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 but being able to go beyond first-order change to enacting second-order change (change that changes whole systems)
  • project or programme development and/or delivery
  • participating in or managing multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary 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
  • governance reform and innovation.

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 develop by understanding what social learning and communities of practice are, and how you can participate in, and contribute to, both.


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

This 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.

The module assumes that everyone is engaged in some form of practice –as a professional, a manager, a parent or a student. Throughout, you’ll appreciate how your own understanding and practice can influence change. You’ll need to think about your own perspective and make explicit your assumptions. 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 must manage. This module introduces ‘systemic inquiry’, an alternative way to organise programmes and projects – to better manage the complexity and uncertainty associated with, for example, adapting our institutions, organisations and practices for living, managing and governing in a climate emergency.

The world of the future will require more skills and understanding of flexible and adaptive managing – placing 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. The module will make it possible for you to start to organise and manage this type of practice – a form of research accessible to all.

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’ to develop your understanding of how separate groups might better work together using systems thinking in practice. You’ll 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’ll aim to develop capabilities for working with others in a practical way to bring about systemic change. You’ll learn from your systemic inquiries to design learning systems that can effect change that’s systemically desirable and culturally feasible. Social learning and communities of practice are 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.

You can do most of the work online or offline. We encourage you to use online forums to interact with other students in appreciating multiple perspectives, including your own.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

We’ll assign you a tutor with experience of both teaching and using systems thinking in practice (STiP). Your tutor will act as your first point of contact for module-related and study-related advice and support. Aside from individual and tutor group support, your tutor will work with a team of STiP tutors in providing a series of online tutorial sessions during the module.


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

Course work includes

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

Future availability

Managing change with systems thinking in practice (TB871) starts once a year – in November.

This page describes the module that will start in November 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in November 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 Nov 2024 Apr 2025 £1660.00

Registration closes 03/10/24 (places subject to availability)

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

Future availability

Managing change with systems thinking in practice (TB871) starts once a year – in November.

This page describes the module that will start in November 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in November 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 supported by module books. Practical exercises, video demonstrations, online discussions and web-based multi-media teaching ensure that the ideas become grounded in your own experience.

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. Other alternative formats of the module materials may be available in the future.

This module utilises web-based multimedia teaching and materials delivered online. If you use specialist hardware or software, contact us about how accessible this will be to assistive technology, before you register.

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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