Skip main navigation

Taking stock of the course

We conclude the course, we celebrate your achievement, and look back at what we have learnt.
A person reaches the end of a trail, on the top of a mountain, and enjoys the view

And this brings our course to a close.

Congratulations on completing the fourth and last week. It was a delight to spend these weeks with you systems thinkers. It surely was as educative an experience for us as much as it was for you.

Let’s take a moment to go through what we have learnt together.

Week 1

In the first week, we set the tone of the conversation.

While we acknowledge the community of practice is doing wonders across fields, we witness a lack of a shared common ground when trying to agree on what sustainability actually means. This is a primary issue, for different reasons.

  • From a high-level perspective, if we don’t agree on where we want to go in the first place, it becomes harder and harder to get there.
  • This lack of awareness has very practical implications. It leads to an unbalance, where reductionist thinking takes over our solutioning approaches. If you remember, in this sense we talked about the difference between object-oriented and system-oriented understanding of sustainability.

While a certain degree of simplification might very well help us figure things out, we do need holistic perspectives. Not only these give us extra insight to embrace and understand the complexity of society. Also, they empower us to fine-tune our interventions accordingly, and by doing so, maximizing our impact. This starts from the formulation of system-oriented goals, that redefine our very definition of success at the start of a project, for example.

To develop such perspectives, we need to build a literacy that helps us understanding how such an important concept as sustainability relates to systems.

Week 2

In the second week, we took care of building our systems- and complexity thinking glossary.

  • We started by looking at the SiD Definition of Sustainability, breaking it down word by word. We got a grasp on what a system is, and what are the implications of acknowledging sustainability as a state. We saw that systems resemble organic entities and, as such, they are complex and dynamic.
  • We have seen that parameters of Resilience, Autonomy, and Harmony help us tracking the sustainability of a system. Getting savvy with the many ways they interact with each other in (positive or negative) reinforcing loops helps us finding direction when pursuing sustainable systems.

Week 3

After understanding that we need more systemic perspectives on things, and setting our vocabulary straight, it was time to make systems somewhat actionable.

We did so by outlining the anatomy of systems. This is composed by the Object Level, the Network Level, and the System Level. In Week 3, we used a bottom-up approach, and climbed the mountain to look at objects and networks.

  • We defined objects as the individual elements that together make up a system. These objects can be classified across a number of categories. To help ourselves getting a clear idea on these categories, we developed a tool to replace the traditional People, Planet, Profit framework with a more comprehensive and actionable one. This is called the ELSI tool, and encompasses spheres of Energy and Materials, Ecosystem and Species, Society and Economy, and Individual Health and Happiness. Using this tool, we practiced brainstorming the relevant elements that compose a system.
  • With networks, we looked into the relationships between objects. The network parameters, clustered into sets of Resilience, Autonomy, and Harmony, represent a powerful interface between the object and system levels. Getting acquainted with these help us understand how flows are structured within systems, and envision leverages for change.

Week 4

In the fourth and last week, we had a closer look at the system level.

  • We refreshed some notions about systems, system parameters, and integrated analysis via objects and networks.
  • We then looked into system behaviors and dynamics – emergent patterns typical of systems, to be found every day in society. Getting familiar with their names and characteristics improves our proficiency in understanding complex societal phenomena.
  • In the end, we sat down with Zuza and Tom, to have a chat about SiD, how it can be used, the power of systems thinking, and system dynamics.

What a ride! Please, feel free to share with us any thought or feedback on how you experienced the course. How will the concepts you learnt help you in your daily life and projects?

© Except Academy
This article is from the free online

An Introduction to Systems Thinking for Sustainability: SiD Theory I

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now