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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.

Systems Thinking and Complexity

Why join the course?

Systems thinking provides theory and practical tools for seeking solutions to messy social and organisational problems at local, regional and global levels.

A system’s behaviour emerges from interactions between its elements. Systems thinking starts with qualitative diagrams but as the number of elements, relations and feedback loops increases we need the computational approach of complex systems science.

Using real-world examples the course provides methods and tools for your own examples, enabling you to apply systems and complexity thinking in your personal and professional life.

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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?

  • Available now
  • Date to be announced

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • 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.

What do people say about this course?

This course fits in rather well with some other courses I have taken over the past couple of years so I will definitely go on to the sister course, Global Systems Science, to continue the scaffolding of knowledge. This is a lovely intellectual odyssey to begin 2017. A big 'thank you' to the team for putting the course together.

Jim Chen

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

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  • Access to this course for 4 weeks
  • Includes any articles, videos, peer reviews and quizzes

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  • Unlimited access to this course
  • Includes any articles, videos, peer reviews and quizzes
  • Tests to validate your learning
  • Certificate of Achievement to prove your success when you complete the course