Wednesday, January 23, 2008

New 'Systems' course at the OU: 'Understanding systems: making sense of complexity' (T214)

If you are interested in developing your Systems Thinking skills then why not try this brand new course from the Open University (UK)?

As the course description says: 'You can’t always make sense of problems or issues by breaking them into parts. Systems thinkers instead pay attention to the connections and relationships between things, and to the different understandings and needs of the people involved in a situation. This course will introduce you to systems thinking and will help you to develop your understanding of some of the most important technological, environmental and social systems of our times. A systemic perspective focuses on different aspects of the situation in turn but within a framework that develops an awareness of interconnections and the effects these generate. This course will help you to make sense of complex situations, and develop your skills in understanding them as systems. When you consider the world in terms of systems, all sorts of connections and relationships are revealed, some of which go against common sense and accepted wisdom. You’ll learn simple techniques and ways of looking at things that will help you to explore your own understanding of complex issues and communicate your understanding to others.

In T214 you will develop your ability to think systemically by deepening your understanding of four different subject areas:

· communication systems and the internet

· earth systems and the environment

· social systems and organisations

· community systems and criminal justice.

These are presented in four blocks:

Block 1: Understanding the Internet: Communication Systems

This block introduces the concepts of emergence, self-organisation, complexity and networks through an examination of the internet as a system to connect physically remote intellects. You will learn to use network analysis, internet research and your own notes and reflections to make sense of this topic.

Block 2: Understanding the Environment: Earth Systems

This block focuses on systems concepts such as non-linearity and feedback. You will study the relationship between social and environmental systems, considering how different physical systems interact with human society to produce the present and future environment. The concepts of feedback, hierarchy and equifinality will be used to examine the dynamics of climactic change. The skills focus is on appreciating non-linear dynamics; producing multiple cause diagrams, sign graphs and indicators; and the basics of communication with others.

Block 3: Understanding Organisations: Social Systems

This block shifts the focus of the course from ‘hard’ to ‘soft’ systems. It introduces the concepts of perspective, purpose and boundary through an appreciation of organisations as systems. You’ll be introduced to the practice of critiquing boundaries and purpose through the techniques of producing systems maps and stakeholder analysis. You’ll comment on other students’ work and report on the difference between your own perspective and that reached by others.

Block 4: Understanding Communities: Criminal Justice Systems

The final block returns to the analytical themes of the course and relates them to the central concept of the system. It focuses on a local context: crime in the community. You will undertake a group project, but a large part of the block comprises preparation for your individual end-of-course assessment (ECA). The ECA draws in the analytical and practical skills taught through the rest of the course, and gives students an opportunity to critically compare the application of different concepts and systems approaches.

Systems thinking entails a new way of looking at the world, and this shift in thinking can be challenging. Almost everyone finds it easier to learn by using the techniques, and by exchanging ideas and experiences with other students. So study time is set aside to interact with other students, and together to learn more about systems.

This is made possible through the T214 web pages, which provide conferencing facilities and interactive activities where you can post questions and tips about the course and about systems thinking in general. At the end of the first three blocks, this interaction will feed into the development of your tutor-marked assignment (TMA). During the final part of the course, you’ll use the skills that you have developed to analyse a situation of your own choice in an ECA project.'

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Fiscal conservatism or perpetuating systemic failure?

Only days before new OZ PM, Kevin Rudd announced his on-going commitment to fiscal conservatism, my cousin, living in regional Queensland experienced first hand, and in traumatic ways, the systemic failure of the hospital system. Diagnosed with breast cancer she entered the local base hospital for her surgery, proceeded to go through all stages of the prep, including shower, change into gown etc, to then be told that she had to go to the private hospital in another part of town to have certain procedures done before the operation could proceed. Was she whisked off by ambulance, or even taxi? No! Her partner was forced to drive her in their own car in a city that is still unfamiliar and where they had a habit of getting lost!

Eventually they made it back to the base hospital and the operation began. By this stage she was both furious and traumatized! I am not sure what this says for hygiene management! To cap it all off, the next morning one doctor arrived and ordered the removal of lymph drainage tubes, followed half an hour later by her surgeon, who was, by accounts, furious that they had been removed! Soon after she was sent home!

My cousin lives in one of the electorates in North Queensland in which there was a strong swing to Labor. I doubt these electors will be impressed by the PM's re-commitment to fiscal conservatism if this means that there is no investment to break out of the systemic failing of regional health systems across the nation.