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Conclusion: Systems Thinking and Complexity

The article concludes the Systems Thinking and Complex course by showing how the ideas taught are designed to be used for policy and action.

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.

From systems thinking to complexity science

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.

If you want to contact us now or after the course has finished send an email to

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.

Prove what you’ve learned with a certificate

If you want a record of your course, you can upgrade your course for a Certificate of Achievement when you are eligible.

The Certificate of Achievement is a great way to prove what you have learned on the course and is evidence of your Continuing Professional Development. This is a personalised certificate and transcript, detailing the syllabus and learning outcomes from the course. It comes as a printed certificate as well as a digital version which you can add to your LinkedIn profile. To qualify, you must have marked at least 90% of the steps in the course complete and achieved at least 70% on the test.

Upgrading will also give you unlimited access to the course and access to tests. You can go at your own pace and return to the material whenever you like, with access to the course for as long as it exists on FutureLearn.

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Systems Thinking and Complexity

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