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Online course

Systems Thinking and Complexity

Learn how to use systems and complexity thinking to address a variety of social, managerial and policy problems.

Free:

  • Access to the course for its length + 14 days, regardless of when you join (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps)
  • Access to quizzes and assignments
  • No access to course tests
  • No certificate

Upgraded:

  • Unlimited access to the course, for as long as it exists on FutureLearn (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps)
  • Access to quizzes and assignments
  • Access to course tests
  • A Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course

Find out more

Systems Thinking and Complexity

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Why join the course?

This free online course addresses the practical problems that arise in social systems in the context of management and public policy at local, regional and global levels. It is problem-oriented, providing you with both the theoretical understanding and practical tools, to find and implement solutions to organisational and social problems.

Use systems thinking to solve complex, real-world problems

The course will look at the nature of social, managerial and policy problems, considering a variety of real-world examples: community action; crime and policing; health and social welfare; transportation; smart cities; energy; Europe and Brexit; and mass education for Africa and Latin America.

You will discover how a systems thinking approach can be used to understand and help to seek solutions to these problems, and explore the nature of complexity, why systems are complex and how complexity science can help.

Apply systems thinking methods and tools to your own area

The course will provide you with systems thinking methods and tools, to apply to your own problems and share with other learners in the discussions.

By the end of the two weeks, you will be able to:

  • define a system and apply the definition to a variety of social systems;
  • recognise the features of particular systems that make them complex;
  • analyse a system that interests you, to identify problems and formulate it in systems terms;
  • and apply advanced systems thinking to seek solutions to the messy management, business and policy problems you face.

Learn with the UNESCO UNITWIN Complex Systems Digital Campus

The course has been developed by the UNESCO UNITWIN Complex Systems Digital Campus, which federates international expertise on systems thinking and complex systems science.

Throughout, you will learn with Professors Joyce Fortune and Jeffrey Johnson – internationally recognised experts in systems thinking and complex systems science, who have taught and acted as consultants addressing practical issues in this area for many decades.

Systems Thinking and Complexity complements the UNESCO UNITWIN Complex Systems Digital Campus course on Global Systems Science and Policy.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 5 secondsWhat is a system? A system is formed from a set of interacting parts, every part affects, and is affected by, every other part Systems have subsystems. Sometimes systems go wrong. So how can we get the best out of a system, and how can we prevent systems from failing? Systems thinking looks at the interactions and not just the parts. It sees the whole. This insight alone can help you understand problems, and can help you avoid systems failure. But some systems are inherently complex. These complex systems require specialised methods and computer tools to understand, design and manage them. This course will introduce you to systems thinking, and show how it can be used to address problems in our increasingly complex world.

What topics will you cover?

The key themes in the course are

  • systems are defined to be assemblies of components, connected together in an organised way where the components are affected by being in the system and the behaviour of the systems is changed if they leave it.
  • the organised assembly of components does something, and the assembly has been identified as being of particular interest.
  • systems thinking is holistic, and the behaviour of the whole cannot be inferred by looking at the parts in isolation.
  • piecewise improvement of the parts of a system does not necessarily lead to an improvement of the whole.
  • drawing systems diagrams provides a methodology to create a representation of the system in its environment, including establishing the boundary between them.
  • system diagrams enable the interactions between the parts of systems to be made explicit and understandable as the drivers of the system’s dynamics.
  • systems diagrams show the existence of feedback loops, some of which are essential to control the system.
  • some feedback loops can make systems inherently unpredictable, while others may cause the system to become unstable.
  • the Formal Systems Model provides a robust framework for analysing systems and has been used in many studies for identifying systems failures.
  • some systems are inherently complex and unpredictable and they require new computational methods from the Science of Complex Systems to investigate their behaviour in a policy context.
  • systems thinking and complexity can be integrated into Global Systems Science which coordinates Complex Systems Science, Policy Informatics and Citizen Engagement to address the urgent local and global policy issues of the modern world.

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

What will you achieve?

  • Apply systems thinking to a wide variety of social and technical systems
  • Apply the method of drawing systems diagrams to represent systems and their dynamics
  • Apply the Formal Systems Model to practical situations
  • Apply knowledge of feedback loops and their likely impact on system behaviours
  • Apply the concepts of Complex Systems System to understand why systems are unpredicatble
  • Collaborate with others analysing and improving systems

Who is the course for?

This course is suitable for:

  • managers in the private and public sectors responsible for commercial and policy problem-solving in their organisation;
  • scientists wanting to take their research into practical applications;
  • officers of organisations such as UNESCO, the European Commission, and ministries in national governments;
  • young people wanting to engage in problem solving;
  • citizens wanting to formulate arguments for or against top-down policies;
  • or members of the general public motivated by curiosity or wanting to understand better the world we live in.

Who will you learn with?

Jeffrey Johnson

I am Professor of Complexity Science and Design at the Open University & Deputy President of the UNESCO UniTwin Complex Systems Digital Campus. I am interested in interdisciplinary science for policy.

Who developed the course?

The Complex Systems Digital Campus is an international network of individuals and institutions working together to promote research and education in complex systems science and in integrative sciences

Free:

  • Access to the course for its length + 14 days, regardless of when you join (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps)
  • Access to quizzes and assignments
  • No access to course tests
  • No certificate

Upgraded:

  • Unlimited access to the course, for as long as it exists on FutureLearn (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps)
  • Access to quizzes and assignments
  • Access to course tests
  • A Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course

Find out more

Get extra benefits, upgrade this course. For £49 you’ll get:

Unlimited access

Upgrading will mean you get unlimited access to the course.

  • Take the course at your own pace
  • Refer to the material at any point in future

If you’re taking a course for free you have access to the course for its duration + 14 days, regardless of when you join. If you upgrade the course you have access for as long as the course exists on FutureLearn.

Access to tests

When you upgrade you’ll have access to any tests during the course.

  • Validate your learning
  • Ensure you have mastered the material
  • Qualify for a certificate

To receive a Certificate of Achievement you need to take any tests and score over 70%. You don’t get access to tests if you choose take to a course for free.

A Certificate of Achievement

Upgrading means you’ll receive a Certificate of Achievement when you complete the course.

  • Prove your success when applying for jobs or courses
  • Celebrate your hard work
  • Display on your Linkedin or CV

To receive a Certificate of Achievement you need to mark 90% of the steps on the course as complete, and score over 70% on any course tests.