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Applying systems thinking to real world challenges

As presented on this course, the use of systems thinking is motivated by the desire to plan and manage systems better and to analyse systems so that they can be redesigned when they fail.

This week of the course will use the case study of the fatal shooting of Jean-Charles de Menesez by police in 2005 in the mistaken belief that he was a terrorist. We will see that systems thinking can point to a number of failures within the policing system. According to the Independent newspaper, there were seven mistakes that cost De Menezes his life [1]. The point here is not to criticise the police – system failures occur in all organisations – but to show how systems thinking can be used to understand failures and to avoid them in future.

As you watch the video in the next step, bear in mind the questions below. You do not need to search for further information (although of course you are welcome to do so).

You will be asked to consider:

  • the purpose or mission of this system,
  • whether the decision-making subsystem was effective,
  • whether there were adequate resources made available; and
  • whether the components were appropriately connected within this system.

This exercise is intended to give insights into how such failures may occur and how they may be avoided in the future.


[1] Mark Hughes, Seven mistakes that cost De Menezes his life, The Independent Newspaper, Saturday 13 December 2008  

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This article is from the free online course:

Systems Thinking and Complexity

UNESCO UNITWIN Complex Systems Digital Campus