Friday, March 16, 2012

IFSA 2012 PhD course in Systems Thinking and Practice

Announcement of the PhD Course

Systems Thinking and Practice in PhD Research: Making connections to Farming Systems Research
(3 ECTS)

Date: 29 June – 5 July 2012 including 4 days of IFSA Symposium. Download a PDF version of the course description. You can also download a flyer for print and further distribution remember to do double-sided print).

Making connections among issues of farming, food, rural areas and environment and negotiating boundaries for research in these areas is becoming more and more complicated.  The context of the increasingly multifaceted complexity of sustainable development of food production and consumption is particularly challenging for PhD research.  It is a context that is a core part of the IFSA community’s experience.  The purpose of this course is to help you, the PhD student, develop your skills in contextualizing your research and making connections among issues using systems thinking.  It is also designed to help you build on what other researchers have done.
Through joining this course you can expect to:
  • gain an overview of the intellectual traditions of Farming Systems Research,
  • make links to the history of IFSA,
  • strengthen your research through developing understanding of systems theories and methodologies
  • have opportunity to reflect on strengths and weaknesses of different systems methodologies in relation to your own PhD research
  • get added value from your participation in the Århus Symposium by also becoming part of a parallel critical learning systems community that has a PhD research focus
  • develop appreciation of multiple perspectives on contemporary issues
  • work across multiple disciplines
The course will be held in connection to the 10th IFSA Symposium and draw on the gathering of specialists and researchers within this field.  Its design draws on tried and tested ways of experiential learning. The course will be grounded in a project of your own choice, preferably based on your PhD work.  In your time in Aarhus you will participate in an inquiry with three main parts – before, during and after the symposium. It will also involve some preparation and follow-up.

  • Before the course, you will be asked to complete an assignment in which you describe and reflect on either (i) your understanding and use of system theories in your project; or (ii) the rationale you have followed, or would follow, in making a choice to include, or not, systems theories in your PhD research
  • The pre-symposium part of the course will be offered in a workshop format consisting of a mixture of student presentations, lecture inputs and group work.  It will take place over two and half days starting on the morning of Friday 29th June and finishing at mid-day on Sunday 1st July.
  • The part of the course that runs in parallel to the symposium will provide mentorship and help you plan your attendance at the most relevant workshops for you at the IFSA symposium.  It will also provide an opportunity for joint reflection and feedback on the afternoons of Monday July 2nd and Wednesday July 4th.
  • After the symposium, on Thursday July 5th, you and the other students will gather for half a day to recapitulate and work in groups, and agree on the assignment to be completed based on possible improvements of your own PhD study design, or future research trajectory, linking it to systems thinking and practice.  The course will end at mid-day.
  • Background and resources
    This PhD course will benefit strongly from the fact that many outstanding researchers within farming system approaches will be gathered at the Symposium of the International Farming Systems Association.  Contributions specifically to this course will come from experienced researchers who have been a part of the IFSA community for many years.  They will include lectures and/or workshops that
    • introduce systems theories;
    • consider different systems approaches and methodologies suitable for researching issues of farming, food, rural areas and environment:
    • bridge the different systems approaches – soft, hard, critical, viable etc.
    • explore how to deal with handling of complexity and modeling
    • critically review focuses on action, learning and reflexivity
    • explicate social systems and learning systems approaches
    • explore the relationship between systems approaches and transdisciplinary research
    The key literature for the course will be:
    Ika Darnhofer, David Gibbon and Benoit Dedieu (2012) The farming systems approach into the 21st century: The new dynamic. Forthcoming,  Springer, Berlin.

    The following references provide additional background
    Noe, E., Alrøe, H.F. & Langvad, A.M., 2008. A polyocular Framework for Research on Multifunctional Farming and Rural Development. Sociologia Ruralis, Vol 48 (1)

    Noe, E & Alrøe H.F., 2005. Combining Luhmann and Actor-Network Theory to see Farm Enterprises as Self-organizing Systems. Cybernetics and Human Knowing. 13(1):34-48

    Blackmore, Chris (Ed.). (2010) Social Learning Systems and Communities of Practice. Springer: London. (For online extracts)

    Ison, Ray (2010) Systems Practice: How to Act in a Climate-Change World. Springer: London. (For online extracts)

    Ramage, Manus and Shipp, Karen (2009) Systems Thinkers. Springer: London. (For online extracts)

    Reynolds, Martin and Holwell, Sue. Systems Approaches to Managing Change. Springer:London. (For online extracts)

    Course Assessment
    To obtain the course certificate you will be required to:
    • complete a pre-course assignment as outlined above
    • participate in the lectures and group discussion.
    • participate in one of the relevant working groups of the IFSA symposium.
    • after the Symposium, complete assignment that discusses improvements to your own PhD study, or future research trajectory design, linking it to systems thinking and practice.
    Registration for the Course
    Registration for the course is done in relation to the IFSA symposium. If you follow the link to ‘Registration’ at you will be able to register for the course

    For further information
    Egon Noe Tel.: +45 8715 8038  Email:
    Course Team:
    Associate Professor Egon Noe and Professor Nadarajah Sriskandarajah
    Guest lecturers:
    Professor Ray Ison
    Senior Lecturer Dr Chris Blackmore
    Associate Professor Hugo Alrøe

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