Conclusion: Systems Thinking and Complexity
This article concludes the Systems Thinking and Complexity course by showing how the ideas we have considered are designed to be used for policy and action.
This course began with an action-oriented definition of system, and it ends with an action-oriented discussion of how systems thinking and complexity can be used in policy. One of the purposes of this course is to make a bridge between the mainly qualitative systems thinking community and the mainly quantitative complex systems community as a policy-oriented synthesis.
Rather than see the qualitative and the quantitative in opposition, the diagram below suggests there is more of a spectrum, from the verbal and diagrammatic modelling and reflection to technical and graphic modelling and reflection.
The application of systems thinking can be compared to a design process which starts out by broad-brush sketching and ends with the detailed specification of all the parts and how they fit together to make the whole. The process has to start somewhere, and ‘working up’ a description as a system map and interaction diagram is an excellent way to start.
In applications of systems thinking the process is always iterative, with information being added at each iteration. Multiple cause diagrams and sign graphs give insights into how the system functions, and this is an inevitable precursor to more formal computer modelling.
As presented on this course, systems thinking is purposeful. Our definition of a system includes it doing something what it does and having been identified as being of particular interest to an individual or group of people. Developing a systems model is often a collaborative process with many iterations.
On this short course we cannot go further into the details of complex system science. However, more details are available on the sister course to this, Global Systems Science and Policy.
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We hope this short course on systems thinking and complexity has given you useful methods of analysis and mental tools to enable you to analyse the systems that interest you.
What do you think?
Did this course teach you useful new things? Do you feel able to draw the various kinds of system diagrams and apply the Formal Systems Model? Were you expecting something that was not included? Did you need more (or less) exercises? Take the post-course survey and write your comments below. They will help us improve the course for its next presentation.
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