Sunday, January 24, 2010

Significant investment in new Systems courses and programs by The Open University UK

The Open University UK has recently approved and developed a suite of new awards and courses to be called 'Systems Thinking in Practice'.

The overall program will comprise three possible awards. The first is a Postgraduate Certificate in Systems Thinking in Practice (C72) of 60 OU credit points. A new course due for first presentation in May 2010, ‘Thinking strategically: systems tools for managing change’ (TU811) is a compulsory 30 point course for this award together with another 30 point OU option, or where credit transfer has been arranged, a partner option.

The second award is a Postgraduate Diploma in Systems Thinking in Practice (E28) of 120 OU points. To be awarded the PG Diploma the PG certificate plus another 60 points of study must be completed. ‘Managing systemic change: inquiry, action and interaction’ (TU812) is a 30 point compulsory course with TU811 (above).

The third award is the MSc in Systems Thinking in Practice which is made up of the PG Diploma plus a further 60 points of study.

As a result of the investment made by The Open University in the new Systems awards four new books have been produced and co-published with Springer. The first, now published, Systems Thinkers, is devoted to the individuals who are generally recognised as systems thinkers. This work presents a biographical history of the field of systems thinking, by examining the life and work of thirty of its major thinkers. It discusses each thinker’s key contributions, the way this contribution was expressed in practice and the relationship between their life and ideas. This discussion is supported by an extract from the thinker’s own writing, to give a flavour of their work and to give readers a sense of which thinkers are most relevant to their own interests.

The second book in the series, ‘Systems Approaches to Managing Change’ due for release shortly, is devoted to the main methodologies that have been developed by Systems scholars and are often deployed as part of systems practice. In their book the five methodological approaches covered are:

  1. System dynamics (SD) developed originally in the late 1950s by Jay Wright Forrester
  2. Viable systems method (VSM) developed originally in the late 1960s by Stafford Beer
  3. Strategic options development and analysis (SODA: with cognitive mapping) developed originally in the 1960s by Colin Eden
  4. Soft systems methodology (SSM) developed originally in the 1970s by PeterCheckland
  5. Critical systems heuristics (CSH) developed originally in the early 1980s by Werner Ulrich.

The third book, Systems Practice: How to Act in a Climate Change World, due for release in May 2010 deals with a simple logic:

  1. What are the situations where systems thinking helps?
  2. What does it entail to think and act systemically?
  3. How can practices be built that move from systemic understanding to action that is systemically desirable and culturally feasible?
  4. How can situations be transformed for the better through systems practice?

The book is introduced against the backdrop of human induced climate change. It is argued that climate change and other factors create a societal need to move towards more systemic and adaptive governance regimes which incorporate systems practice. The systems practitioner referred to in this book is anyone managing in situations of complexity and uncertainty – it is not a specialist role or that of a consultant or hired ‘intervener’. Thus the book is structured so as to build a general model of systems practice.

The fourth book, a reader edited by Chris Blackmore called Social Learning Systems and Communities of Practice, also due for release in May, is concerned with how social and critical learning systems and communities of practice can inform future systems thinking in action. Her focus is on practice in multi-stakeholder situations that call for collaborative or concerted action within groups.

This is a significant and timely commitment by The Open University. In a research report just released by The Work Foundation called Exceeding Expectation: the principles of outstanding leadership, the first key finding was that outstanding leaders ‘think systemically and act long term….Outstanding leaders achieve through a combination of systemic thinking and acting for the long term benefit of their organisation. They recognise the interconnected nature of the organization and therefore act carefully.’


Blackmore, C. P. (Ed.). (2010) Social Learning Systems and Communities of Practice. Springer: London.

Ison, R.L. (2010) Systems Practice. How to Act in a Climate-Change World. Springer: London.

Ramage, M. and Shipp, K. (2009) Systems Thinkers. Springer: London.

Reynolds, M. and Holwell, S eds (2010) Systems Approaches to Managing Change. Springer: London.


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