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Making strategy with systems thinking in practice

This module will enable you to take strategic action in complex interconnected situations, where contrasting understandings, motivations and interests can often lead to conflict. By integrating tools from five traditions of systems thinking into your practice, you will develop capability towards making choices with ethical awareness and political sensitivity. You will nurture capacity to strategically utilise both improved understanding of inter-relationships, and enhanced engagement with multiple perspectives. The module is designed to enrich your understanding of systems thinking whilst making practical progress on situations from your existing professional work and/or situations of more general interest to you.

Vocational relevance

By studying the module, you will be enhancing your role as a systems thinking practitioner; enabling you to make practical improvements to complex issues, by using a range of systems thinking ideas, tools and techniques. You will extend your competence as a professional to have an impact in ethically sound and politically just ways.

Students who have successfully completed previous Open University modules in Systems Thinking in Practice have benefited personally, as well as being able to contribute to organisations encountering the increasing volatility, uncertainty and complexity of modern life.

This module is ideal for people who:

  • work across numerous organisational, disciplinary, and political boundaries (internal or external),
  • encounter a wide range of often incompatible perspectives on issues and tasks
  • recognise the value of engaging with multiple stakeholders both within and beyond one’s immediate sphere of influence and seek to secure collaborative action amongst them
  • experience uncertainty about the nature of the problem and thus what would constitute a solution (i.e. dealing with wicked problems or ‘messes’)

You may be engaged in

  • project or programme development and/or delivery
  • multi-level group, organisational, institutional or professional change and transformation
  • policy analysis, development or implementation
  • product and service design, innovation and creativity
  • leadership, team management and professional development

Module

Module code
TB871
Credits

Credits

  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
30
Study level
To enable you to make international comparisons, the information provided shows how OU postgraduate modules correspond to the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ).
OU Postgraduate
FHEQ 7
Study method
Distance learning
Find out more in Why the OU?
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

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What you will study

The module is structured as two parallel streams of study – a ‘Tools stream’ and a ‘People stream’. Together the streams will enhance your capacity to engage strategically with complex situations of significance to you. Your focus may be upon:

  • situations at a local, regional or international level; and/ or
  • situations concerning organisations, institutions or networks.

You might be working in any of a wide range of domains. Previous students of Systems Thinking in Practice have worked on situations associated with:

  • education, training and professional development
  • sustainability and environmental decision making
  • finance and economic planning
  • international and community development and social justice
  • health and social care
  • IT and cybersecurity
  • engineering, manufacturing, logistics and procurement
  • creative and performing arts

You will learn how to understand inter-relationships and engage with multiple perspectives. You will build your capacity to utilise these skills to work with others across silos within and between organisations to secure ethically sound and politically just improvements. You will gain practical skills with an understanding of their application in different contexts. You will also explore some cognitive processes and some issues of individual and social psychology in order to help you appreciate the challenges of applying systems thinking in practice.

Tools stream
The Tools stream teaches five systems approaches. In each case you examine the ideas behind the approach and examples of its use. You will explore how to apply the tools and ideas from each approach in situations of interest to you. You will reflect on how you can integrate the tools and ideas from each approach into your existing practice repertoire.

The five systems approaches covered in TB871 are derived from three traditions underpinning systems thinking:

  • Tradition 1 (feedback): System Dynamics and the Viable Systems Model, historically dealing with inter-relationships and interdependencies
  • Tradition 2 (perspectives): Soft Systems Methodology and Strategic Options Development and Analysis with Cognitive Mapping, historically dealing with multiple viewpoints
  • Tradition 3 (boundaries): Critical Systems Heuristics, historically dealing with contentious issues of ethics and politics.

These five approaches cover the fundamental concepts and essential elements across the main traditions of systems thinking. You will be actively encouraged to draw freely upon ideas and tools from across the traditions of these approaches.

People stream
This stream complements the Tools stream by exploring a wider horizon of linguistic, cognitive and psychological dimensions towards making strategy. The series of five topics in this stream are designed to support you in making practical use of the systems thinking tools (and other conceptual tools) by building your understanding of how the thinking and psychology of specific individuals, social groups and the human species can impact on strategic interventions. You will examine how, as a practitioner, you can bring ideas and tools from the systems approaches to life within the ongoing flux of events, people, and ideas.

Two books, written for this module, provide the core subject matter:

  • (set book) Systems Approaches to Managing Change: a practical guide (Reynolds, M. and Holwell, S., eds (2020 2nd edition))
  • (reference book) Systems Thinkers (Ramage, M. and Shipp, K. (2020 2nd edition)).

The module aims to help you engage with and improve complex situations in all areas of work and civic and social life subject to change and uncertainty. In addition to appreciating the traditions of systems approaches you will acquire practical skills in the techniques of these approaches that will enable you to think and act differently. You will develop your systems thinking practice by integrating an understanding of cognitive processes and individual and social psychology into your work with others.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will be assigned an Associate Lecturer (AL) with experience of both teaching and using systems thinking in practice (STiP). The AL will act as your first point of contact for module-related and study-related advice and support. Aside from individual and tutor group support, your AL will work with a team of STiP tutors in providing a series of online tutorial sessions during the module.

Assessment

The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

Course work includes

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Future availability

Making strategy with systems thinking in practice (TB871) starts once a year – in May. This page describes the module that will start in May 2020. We expect it to start for the last time in May 2027.

Regulations

As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

    Entry requirements

    There are no entry requirements, but we do assume that you have already done some study up to HNC, HND or bachelors degree level, or have equivalent experience from your employment.

    Prior awareness, knowledge and experience of systems thinking would help you in benefiting from the material in this module. This could simply be in the form of engaging with some of the open source resources available, such as the introductory chapter Introducing systems approaches from the core Reader Systems approaches for managing change: a practical guide.  A full list of systems thinking resources is available on http://www9.open.ac.uk/mct-ei/research/applied-systems-thinking-practice/resources.

    Your spoken and written English must be of an adequate standard for postgraduate study. If English is not your first language, we recommend that you will need a minimum overall score of 6 and minimum score of 5.5 in each of the four components: reading, writing, speaking and listening under the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Please see the IELTS website for details.

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

    Register

    Start End England fee Register
    01 May 2020 Oct 2020 £1400.00

    Registration closes 09/04/20 (places subject to availability)

    Register
    This module is expected to start for the last time in May 2027.

    Future availability

    Making strategy with systems thinking in practice (TB871) starts once a year – in May. This page describes the module that will start in May 2020. We expect it to start for the last time in May 2027.

    Additional costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

    Study materials

    What's included

    The module is a blend of online activities and text-based material that are supported by two module books:

    • Systems Approaches to Managing Change: a practical guide (Reynolds, M. and Holwell, S., eds (2019 2nd edition)) of which you receive a printed version an ebook chapters.
    • Systems Thinkers (Ramage, M. and Shipp, K. (2019 2nd edition)) for which you will receive ebook chapters only.

    To help you integrate the ideas into your practice, the module will draw on your own experiences and make use of:

    • practical exercises
    • video demonstrations
    • online discussions with fellow students
    • web-based multi-media teaching.

    Computing requirements

    A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

    Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

    A desktop or laptop computer with either:

    • Windows 7 or higher
    • Mac OS X 10.7 or higher

    The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

    To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

    Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

    If you have a disability

    Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader (and where applicable: musical notation and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way). Other alternative formats of the module materials may be available in the future.

    There is a high level of illustrations and a requirement to be able to draw and interpret diagrams, or their equivalent. If you have a disability you may need to seek advice on the choice of your end-of-module project in order to minimise access problems.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.

    If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Disability support website to find more about what we offer.